Council Watch: Calling all sentinels
 Alibi V.19 No.37 • Sept 16-22, 2010 

Council Watch

Calling All Sentinels

More than 100 people have taken advantage of the city’s anonymous fraud-reporting program. The Efficiency, Stewardship and Accountability hotline is supposed to encourage people to report concerns and deter wasteful spending. City Inspector General Janet McHard told the Council at its Wednesday, Sept. 8 meeting that the new program is gathering reliable information.

“The tip line has been widely successful,” McHard said. “And we want it to continue.”

Though the hotline has received 103 tips since July 1, McHard said a huge obstacle is getting employees to feel OK about reporting fraud. “People don’t like to tattletale or be known as a snitch or whistleblower. Those are highly charged emotional words,” she said. “We have to help them overcome that.” To diffuse the language, some businesses are using the term “corporate sentinel,” she says.

You can report waste, fraud or abuse through, by e-mailing or by calling 768-3721.

The Efficiency, Stewardship and Accountability program also offers bonuses of up to $1,000 to employee teams that come up with workable plans to reduce waste. McHard said she has been receiving some great ideas. The bonus money is spent by the employees on department improvements.

Inspector General McHard acts independently to sniff out waste and abuse by city employees, officials, venders or contractors. Her position is not controlled by either the mayor or the Council. She does not poke around in agencies that have their own oversight, such as the police department.

You can report waste, fraud or abuse through, by e-mailing or by calling 768-3721.

The next city council meeting is set for Monday, Sept. 20.

Send your comments about the City Council to
Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Hang Ups

It’s been illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device for several years. But the legality of doing so at a stoplight’s been unclear. According to Police Chief Ray Schultz some people who’ve been ticketed argue in court that they were not actually driving and therefore should not have been given a citation.
A bill sponsored by Council President Ken Sanchez was intended to close that loophole. Councilor Debbie O’Malley said drivers don’t realize that using a cell phone while stopped is still dangerous. The measure passed unanimously. If caught taking or making calls without a hands-free device and sending or reading text messages, the fines begin at 100 bucks. I am still not certain hands-free talking while driving is any safer than hands-on talking while driving, especially in a city where drivers seem to have a hard time paying attention no matter what their hands are doing. It’s the talking that is distracting, not necessarily the holding.

In July, a federal law went into place regulating bank debit card overdraft fees. Big banks claim they will lose tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. To make up for that, some banks raised the amount they charge retailers that allow customers to pay with debit or credit cards. Sanchez sponsored a bill requiring businesses to post the amount they charge patrons using plastic.
Sanchez said he’s been hit with undisclosed swipe fees. O’Malley said she came across a retailer that was charging $5 dollars without disclosing it each time someone used their debit card. Without much debate, the measure was approved. It is unfair for big banks to ask businesses to make up for their lost revenue. Some retailers will choose to absorb the cost big banks imposed, but smaller businesses may have to pass that on to customers. Consumers can dodge the greed of big banks on this issue by using cash.
Everywhere the Signs

Westside neighborhood folks want to stop plans for two electronic billboards attached to a 52-foot-tall bell tower near Coors and I-40. Opponents said the West Bluff shopping center signs, each 125-square-feet, will distract drivers, cause more accidents and block views. The West Bluff property owner says that won’t happen because the adjacent stretch of Coors is elevated above ground level.
After what seemed like hours of testimony from city planners and Westside residents, councilors barely rejected the neighbors’ appeal and approved the electronic billboards. Party lines were clearly drawn with left-leaning Councilors Sanchez, O’Malley, Isaac Benton and Rey Garduño siding with sign opponents, and right-leaning Councilors Trudy Jones, Don Harris, Michael Cook, Dan Lewis and Brad Winter siding with the developer. The Council gave the flashy bell tower the thumb’s up on a 5 to 4 vote. The developer says the new sign is critical because passing traffic can’t see West Bluff stores, and this is causing a high vacancy rate in the relatively new shopping area. I’m not sure I believe this is the reason the shopping center is struggling. The entire Westside along Coors is overly packed with retail strip malls and shopping areas. In that respect, what difference will more signage make?