Alibi V.20 No.1 • Jan 6-12, 2011 

Council Watch

El Pinto vs. Los Cuates: Fight!

There was something blue lurking in the shadows of the Monday, Jan. 3 City Council meeting. A large turnout of police was expected to comment on the end of the take-home car perk, but no officers came to speak at the meeting. Instead, police union president Joey Sigala and a few others paced in and out of the room.

Turns out the police union filed a lawsuit against the city just hours before the meeting on the car issue. As of Jan. 1, officers living more than 11 miles from the Big I are required to leave their squad car at work. This leaves about 180 officers who live outside of Albuquerque to find other transport. The union says this violates their contract and causes safety issues.

This is the second lawsuit filed by the city’s police union against Mayor Richard Berry. The first was filed in July over the pay cuts the department took to balance city coffers. Councilor Don Harris called on Public Safety Director Darren White and questioned him about his recommendation to end the take-home car benefit and its true financial impact. White said this saves more than $600,000 a year, and that’s what the Council was looking to cut from the fuel and maintenance budget. Councilors indicated they want more information on what other departments do in order to revisit the issue soon.

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Sunport Hot Spot

Two local restaurants vied for lucrative concession spots at the Sunport. The spots include the former Garduño’s full-service restaurant space in the pre-security area, as well as another restaurant and a juice bar spot post-security. In one corner: El Pinto, which partnered with The Grove (no relation to the local brunch spot) and Jamba Juice. In the other: Los Cuates, which teamed up with Fresquez Concessions and Keva Juice. When a City Hall committee recommended the Los Cuates group, the El Pinto crew filed a protest, which was dismissed as meritless by the city administration. That decision left it up to the Council to decide who gets the 10-year contract. The El Pinto team had previously been part of another group that received the contract for the concessions about a year ago. One of the partners could not acquire the needed financial backing, and the deal fell through, causing the city to issue a new request for proposals. Albuquerque makes some cash on the deal either way: The contract includes a kickback for 11 percent of food sales and 17 percent of liquor sales.
The Council sought to make sure the request for proposals was done correctly. Councilors quizzed several staffers from of the airport, the legal department and Mayor’s Office over the process. Owners of Illinois-based The Grove, Inc. said the bid process had “stink all over it.” Los Cuates supporters cited a proven track record of good food and emphasized that all three of the entities are locally owned. Councilor Ken Sanchez pointed out that if the Los Cuates team gets the contract, then Fresquez will run 11 of the 13 food concessions at the Sunport. Councilor Dan Lewis said he did not think the bid process was tainted. Councilor Michael Cook said both were good proposals, but he was going to stick with the Los Cuates recommendation. That team got the contract on a 7-2 vote, with Councilors Ken Sanchez and Rey Garduño sticking up for the El Pinto group. This is a hard call, as both restaurants are great. But it causes pause when one company is running almost all of the Sunport concessions. Wouldn’t it be better if those traveling through our airport could choose from our best chile purveyors? Visitors would be able to truly taste New Mexico if Duran’s, Garcia’s and Monroe’s got to offer their excellent food, along with Si Señor from Las Cruces and the famous enchiladas from Santa Fe’s The Shed. But back to reality: It looks like the decision was made in part because the first contract involving El Pinto went sour. Still, it would have been better if El Pinto had earned the spot, preventing Fresquez from a near monopoly and better reflecting the delicious diversity of New Mexican food.