After a month's vacation, city councilors returned on Aug. 2 and ripped through legislation like a squad of superheroes. Crying “One for All and All for One,” they passed every bill unanimously.
Brad “Mr. Clean” Winter carried the administration bill scouring the city's Commercial-2 zones free of new adult businesses while easing prohibitions in manufacturing zones.
Sally “The All-Seeing Eye” Mayer's bill authorized video cameras for the city's two Animal Services buildings in hopes the cameras will prevent dog thievery and protect workers unjustly accused of animal cruelty.
Michael “The Renovator” Cadigan carried the administration's bill authorizing $6 million in bonds for a comprehensive upgrade of the Albuquerque Convention Center.
And Martin “The Pre-Emptor” Heinrich nipped sneeze inducing trees in the bud, along with dangerous, derelict buildings and badly behaved bars. Heinrich attempted to prevent future condemnations with an ordinance that sets licensing and inspection standards for vacant buildings. Another bill required a nuisance prevention agreement before issuing or transferring a liquor license. A third bill sponsored by Heinrich and Cadigan revamped the city's tree regulations.
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The Hurlers With her magic bracelets, Councilor Debbie O'Malley beat back swarms of flying discs hurled by disc golfers at Wildflower Neighborhood Park north of Alameda Blvd.
Wildflower area residents have protested the sport for nearly three years, saying the flying discs are dangerous, and golfers trespass in their back yards to retrieve them. Larry Caudill, president of the Wildflower Area Neighborhood Association, said he'd collected 82 discs from his back yard.
Disc golfers noted the financial benefit to the city from their fellow players and said their organized events weren't to blame for trashing the park.
Responding to the long-running complaints, Chief Administrator James Lewis defended Parks and Recreation Director Blanca Hise, saying the department had about 10 percent of the money needed to meet all demands. Lewis requested 60 days to address the issue.
Councilor Eric Griego said the Parks department never moved on issues--dog parks, soccer fields or disc golfing--until there was a crisis. Griego later requested that the Audit Department review policies, procedures and management of Parks and Recreation. The amended bill banned disc golfing in Wildflower Park immediately and specified that the city report in 60 days on a more appropriate location.
Sandra Richardson of the Parks advisory board questioned what the disc golfers were doing to defray expenses that the game players caused the city. Disc golfer Francisco Velasquez said he paid taxes on two businesses he owned and thought Albuquerque owed its citizens a place to play disc golf.
I must confess, I'd never heard of disc golf before, but it sounds like a decent sport. That doesn't mean the city's vast majority of nondisc golfers should have to support it, any more than they should have to pay golfers' fees on regular courses or team fees for other sports.
The Spanker Councilor Griego sponsored a bill setting up an Inspector General's office. At Griego's request, three people with I.G. experience spoke about the position.
Roland Malan, representing the national Association of Inspectors General, explained the difference between auditors and inspectors. Audits are public surveys of a broad range of records and activities. But inspections begin privately from specific tips, complaints or suspicions and then broaden when necessary, collecting evidence that may lead to criminal charges. Malan said care should be taken not to hire a "cowboy" for the Inspector General job who would run amok.
Art Gottlieb of the New Mexico Department of Transportation said his auditors and inspectors found that fraud, waste and abuse "ran into millions." Richard Maag of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department cited MVD clerks who embezzled. He said inspections in general found, "Approximately 6 percent of your workforce is stealing from you."
Rick Foley and Bob Casey of R.C.I. Inc. said the city already used their firm to do independent investigations. Asked about conflicts of interest, Casey said city entities that hired R.C.I. never instructed them to restrict the scope of an investigation. Griego requested a two-week deferment for further work on the bill.
Maag recommended that the mayor appoint an Inspector General for confirmation by the council. Carter Bundy of AFSCME said the union membership favored the IG position, because "nobody suffered more when bad guys are stealing." And Roland Malan said politics absolutely had to be kept out of the process.
Yes, indeed. Very seldom has the city considered a position so dependent on the character and experience of the person who holds the job. It's not "Who watches the watchers?" but "Who chooses the watcher?" and "What is the public perception of the watcher's integrity?"
The Road Warrior Councilor Craig Loy sponsored a bill raising fines on speeders in the city. The fines will now cost approximately $10 for each additional mile over the speed limit.
The bill passed unanimously with almost no discussion. Former police captain Loy said police could use the existing citation form but fill in a different ordinance number.
Sounds fine as long as common sense guides enforcement. People driving in a city continually slow down and speed up slightly over the limit.