Bills listed on the agenda at the April 7 City Council meeting took a backseat to city employees, who spoke about their needs before the city’s $65 million shortfall triggers drastic budget cutting.
Three planning bills passed. Councilor Isaac Benton’s revision of the Barelas Sector Development Plan passed after much praise from community residents about the inclusiveness of the process. Measures also passed designating the Lovelace complex on Gibson as a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area (MRA) and funding an East Gateway MRA.
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Please Tell Me You’re Making That UpDuring public comment, dozens of people stood in support of Albuquerque transit workers. Kip Bobroff of Albuquerque Interfaith said 267 bus drivers were being treated irresponsibly and unjustly. Drivers’ complaints included being terminated for engaging in union activity, receiving lower pay than solid waste drivers and unsafe conditions on night routes.The protesting workers, now represented by the New Mexico Transportation Union (NMTU), want to vote on being represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).Ronald Medina, president of the Blue Collar Union, said four employees had been run over by trucks at the landfill. Medina said kennel personnel at the animal shelters didn’t have safe cages to transport animals or enough disinfectants for cleaning, and were beheading cats and dogs with rusty machetes.
Councilor Ken Sanchez said workers had every right to choose who they want to represent them. Councilor Don Harris worried about the Council getting illegally involved in a labor dispute. Councilor Debbie O’Malley asked City Attorney Bob White what the city was doing to protect workers’ rights. White said the labor board would soon make a decision about the election.Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Perlman said the administration had no involvement in the matter except for facilitating discussions. Benton said he used the Route 66 bus at night and shared the drivers’ safety concerns. Council President Brad Winter said if the Transit Department is running on intimidation and fear, “that’s not right.” Councilor Sally Mayer left the chamber to speak further to Medina about conditions at the kennels.
To follow up, the labor board decided on April 8 to allow the transit workers to vote whether to be represented by AFSCME or NMTU on April 25.Mayer said the beheaded animals were suspected of having rabies. She said Medina said they were supposed to be euthanized first. In a phone interview, Animal Welfare Director Jeanine Patterson said Medina’s comments were “absolutely false.” Patterson said the department had “great new disinfectants” that were working beautifully, and the shelters have many sizes of cages available to transport animals. She said suspected rabid animals were quarantined for 10 days. If they showed any signs of rabies, they were euthanized and their heads sent to the state lab.
Thinning Black LineSgt. Paul Heh asked the Council to vote down a recent contract between APD and the police union. Sgt. Heh said the contract was divisive, and the pay advantages for new recruits were pitting junior officers against senior officers, who were losing their seniority-based pay hikes. Saying no one had a chance to study the contract before voting on it, Heh suggested getting two senior officers, two junior officers and two supervisors together, going through the contract page by page and coming up with an acceptable revision.
Harris said the APD contract followed guidelines recommended in a regional study of police pay. Councilor Michael Cadigan said the contract would not come before the Council for four weeks, leaving time for negotiations. Councilor Trudy Jones said APD should be having the dispute “with your union” and asked why people would vote on a contract they’d never seen. Heh said, “A deputy chief was sitting by the ballot box.” He said people were being told they were getting a raise so just vote Yes.
How long has the city been promised 1,000 to 1,100 officers by Mayor Martin Chavez? Could Iraq be draining the pool of applicants for jobs that require wearing uniforms, taking orders, carrying firearms and possibly getting shot? Even if conditions were more favorable for recruiting, how long would those benefits keep drawing in the needed personnel? After all, if a good pay plan draws more recruits than normal this year, there will be fewer available next year. So the next pay plan has to be even better, and so on.
A Merciless GrillingDora Wang and her husband added city-approved window grills to their new house on 14th Street in the Fourth Ward Historic Overlay Zone. After a vehicle rammed into the house, the homeowners added another, larger protective metal grill. The Downtown Neighborhood Association disapproved of its “jarringly abstract design.”
Wang said they endured six city hearings about the grill. The opponents said the code bans exterior metal in the historic district. Benton and Cadigan concluded that the pertinent code section referred to metal used as wall sheathing instead of, say, stucco. The Council voted 8-1 to allow the screen, O’Malley opposed.
Pretty much any law, regulation or principle can be pushed to the point that it looks nonsensical. Yet the pressure to dilute and cheapen the fabric of the historical built environment creeps ever forward from one seemingly insignificant case to another.