Alibi V.20 No.31 • Aug 4-10, 2011 

Council Watch

Bring in the Feds

Councilors’ ears were filled for more than two hours with pleading from activists and the family members of those shot by police. They said the Council should ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate city police.

Jewel Hall, president of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Council, presented a video that showed families talking about the death of their loved ones. Albuquerque Police Department officers have shot 19 people and killed 13 since January 2010.

“We are here formally to ask the Council to request the U.S. Department of Justice to come quickly and urgently to our city to conduct a top-to-bottom complete investigation of police brutality and excessive force,” Hall said. About 20 more people made the same request.

Councilors also voted to ask Inspector General Neftali Carrasquillo Jr. to look into questions surrounding Kathleen White’s car crash. They requested the inspector examine the actions of all city employees, including top brass, at the July 6 car accident involving the wife of former Public Safety Director Darren White.

A examination by Independent Review Officer William Deaton essentially cleared Darren White of serious wrongdoing. But it did lay blame on the responding officer for not pursuing DWI charges against Kathleen White. Councilors said they do not feel Deaton was in the right position to do an impartial, independent investigation. It is up to the inspector general to decide if he will investigate because he does not answer to the Council or mayor.

The Monday, Aug. 1 meeting went into overtime and lasted until midnight, with councilors catching up on business after the July break.

As midnight neared, councilors shot down Mayor Richard Berry's proposal to put four ABQ the Plan projects on the October ballot. Instead the Council OK’d asking voters if they want to put up cash to fund two enterprises: a sports complex and the first phase of the Paseo del Norte and I-25 reconstruction. The ballot bonds would give $50 million to those undertakings if approved by voters.

Bob Murphy is chairman of the volunteer committee charged with whittling down a list of 15 potential ventures to four. Murphy said the committee recommended a river boardwalk, a Bosque rafting and kayaking area, a sports complex, and a bike loop around the city.

The next full Council meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall.

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APD Aftermath

Hours after all the public comment, councilors approved a request for a federal investigation into the police department. The idea of the feds snooping around did not sit well with the administration. City attorney Rob Perry jumped to his feet and addressed the Council in an attempt to derail a Department of Justice probe. Perry said the Council does not understand what is really going to happen by asking for federal intervention. He said APD brass is getting a grip on the problems, and he suggested tabling the action. The Council should get more information before taking such a drastic step, Perry added.
As the midnight hour loomed, the Council approved the measure on a 5-to-4 vote. Councilor Dan Lewis broke rank from the four other Republicans to get the measure passed. Lewis said it was a necessary step in rebuilding trust in Albuquerque’s police force.

Councilor Isaac Benton noted a side benefit: Since the Council is asking the Justice Department to take a look, the city does not have to pay for an outside investigation.

Councilor Brad Winter questioned the procedural legality of the amendment. Councilors said they are fully in support of most police officers, who do a great job day after day.
First off, burying the vote far into the agenda does nothing to instill public trust. So many citizens attended the meeting because of this issue and had to wait more than five hours to see its resolution.

Kudos to Councilor Trudy Jones. She chastised Council President Don Harris for running such a disorganized, time-consuming meeting. The agenda could have been arranged so the two investigation requests followed public comment on APD.

City Attorney Perry has a point about inviting the feds into the police department. There’s no telling what will turn up or what the results will be. But the public and the department are unhappy, distrustful and at odds with each other. Besides, those officers who are doing their jobs honorably, honestly and ethically shouldn’t be worried about who is looking.
Uptown’s Megastore

Target is interested in constructing a two-story 165,000 square-foot store on the southeast corner of Indian School and Louisiana. Neighborhood groups said they oppose the addition of big-box stores because it will change the way the Uptown develops, bring more traffic into the area and take away from local retailers.

The Council had to vote on approving a sector plan that would allow retailers to build stores larger than 90,000 square feet.
Councilors passed the measure on a 7-to-2 vote, with Harris and Debbie O’Malley opposing. Harris said he was against the change because large retailers are inherently cannibalistic. They do not add to gross receipts taxes, he said, and they take business away from smaller operations. A longtime big-box challenger, O’Malley said the Uptown zoning change is a “crummy” thing to do to neighbors. “By approving this amendment we are cutting them off at the legs,” she said.

Benton and Ken Sanchez said they thought it was a good project, with a two-story Target giving the area an urban feel.
I am not a fan of giant retail chains, preferring to spend money at local shops. But Uptown is already designated as a shopping district, with dozens of outlets vying to draw dollars out of people’s pockets. While I understand O’Malley’s position, this location is appropriate for a Target. Consumers already flock to the area, and adding the Target may offer cheaper options in the sometimes-pricey shopping district.
Other Business the Council approved:

• A modified parking boot rule that allows lot owners to charge a max of $75 for boot removal. They will have to provide receipts and should be equipped to take noncash payments.

• An electronic sign ordinance that prevents certain kinds of light pollution. Digital commercial signs will have limits on how often they can blink, how bright they are and how many can exist in one area.

• An amendment allowing Old Town business owners to put small merchandise displays outside their stores. Under the city’s historic Old Town zoning, it was a crime to hang a chile ristra for sale outside an Old Town shop.
• Council members were pleased that there was some sort of consensus between the booters and the bootees. They said an equitable ordinance had been worked out.

• Benton was able get a ban on new, on-premises electronic signs in a 5-to-4 vote with Harris joining Benton, O’Malley, Sanchez and Garduño. Existing signs are grandfathered in and can remain but will be subject to brightness regulations.

• A couple of merchants who’d been caught hanging ristras outside their stores spoke at the meeting, and the Council agreed to amending that tough Old Town code.
There was enough on this agenda for two meetings. All three of these items were important enough to discuss when the public was still awake. But thumbs up for coming up with a seemingly workable consensus regarding the parking boots and the electronic sign ordinance. And good work making honest citizens out those ristra criminals menacing Old Town.