Council Watch: A pleasant buzz
 Alibi V.19 No.25 • June 24-30, 2010 

Council Watch

A Pleasant Buzz

Councilor Debbie O’Malley read a proclamation for “Pollinator Week” in honor of urban bees at the Monday, June 21 Council meeting. Part-time beekeeper Chantal Foster, along with a handful of other city beekeepers, thanked the Council for declaring the city bee-friendly. Foster reminded everyone how important bees are in our ecosystem because they pollinate our crops, such as fruits, nuts and green chile. The proclamation encourages citywide bee-friendly practices, like avoiding commercial pesticides in home gardens.

“This is what Albuquerque tastes like,” Foster said as she gave the Council little jars of urban honey.

It was like Christmas for attorneys when the Council reached into its sack and handed out some bucks. Without discussion, the Council spent $1.58 million in contract payments to nine private legal firms. The nine firms handle 52 city-involved lawsuits, according to city records. The lawsuits include disputes ranging from civil rights violations and excessive force claims to zoning, real estate and employment issues.

One citizen at the meeting had questions: “What is the nature of these cases? Why does the city have so many lawsuits? And why do we need outside lawyers when we have a whole staff of attorneys?” asked city resident Bob White (no relation to retiring City Attorney Bob White) during the public comment section. The Council did not respond before approving the payments, which were tucked into the consent agenda.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
License to Kill

A half-dozen people addressed the Council regarding the recent officer-involved shooting that left 46-year-old Chris Hinz dead at his home on Thursday, June 10. Police said Hinz was intoxicated and carrying a rifle when he approached them. Police Chief Ray Schultz has said officers have to make quick decisions in situations where they feel their lives are threatened.
All of the councilors looked uncomfortable while friends and immediate members of Hinz’ family begged them to take a critical look into the fatal shooting of a man who was intoxicated but not a criminal. Hinz’ mother said she still has not heard from APD brass or the officers who killed her son about why they made that quick decision rather than try to help him. “He was a sick man but he was not a criminal,” she said. Hinz’ high-school-aged daughter said she was present when her dad was shot by the two police officers and does not understand why he was killed when a non-lethal option could have been used instead. Albuquerque should have a top-notch police crisis intervention team that can be called into situations where suicidal, intoxicated, drugged or mentally ill residents are involved. No one wants to see anyone, including police officers, get hurt. It makes no sense to shoot and kill a person when we tranquilize bears, wolves or other wild animals when they become a perceived threat. It seems non-lethal alternatives were used more frequently in the past, and the use of deadly force is on the rise again. It's once again time for APD to examine training and implementation of less-than-lethal choices for all its officers.
Arena Talk

Councilors Isaac Benton, Ken Sanchez and O’Malley introduced a resolution telling Mayor Richard Berry to work with Albuquerque Public Schools on sharing the First Baptist Church property at Central and Broadway in East Downtown. The city has its eye on the lot as a possible location for an arena. APS is looking to buy the property for a magnet charter school for the performing arts. APS has said it does not need the entire piece of property. The councilors’ proposal says the administration needs to take another serious look at a compromise: APS gets the east end, and the city gets the west end for a potential sports and entertainment arena to anchor more economic development Downtown.
Supporting councilors said Albuquerque needs convention business revenue, and in order to attract national-level conventions, the city needs a better hub. “I don’t see any other site that will work better than this property,” O’Malley said. City folks have long had their eye on that piece of real estate for an event center with an entertainment arena. Councilor Dan Lewis cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he did not see the urgency in the situation. Councilor Brad Winter recused himself because he works for APS. The public can comment at on whether the city should build a Downtown event center. In the ’70s, Gov. Toney Anaya tried to implement a statewide train system that would have been completed in the early ’90s. Naysayers blocked it, and our limited train system was established in the last few years at a much higher cost. The Downtown arena idea has been proposed and blocked repeatedly as well. Most progressive midsized cities have downtown sports and entertainment anchors to attract tourists and residents to a vibrant, diverse, safe downtown. We missed our chance to move Triple-A baseball into the area with its hundreds of thousands of fans per year. Albuquerque should add a multi-use sports and entertainment arena Downtown, or we can do it years from now at a much higher cost.