Council Watch: Same old crew
 Alibi V.20 No.41 • Oct 13-19, 2011 

Council Watch

Same Old Crew

There were no new faces at the Wednesday, Oct. 5 City Council meeting. The day before in the municipal election, incumbent Councilors Brad Winter and Trudy Jones beat two candidates vying for their seats. Councilors Debbie O’Malley and Rey Garduño faced no opposition.

City Clerk Amy Bailey gave a brief update on the election. She said there were a few problems with computer networks on election day, but they were handled quickly. The Oct. 4 municipal election was the first to allow folks to vote at any of 49 centers.

It was a packed meeting, but noticeably absent were the dozens of people who have regularly showed up to request a Department of Justice investigation into Albuquerque police. Instead, electronic signs and a special tax assessment district for the Volcano Cliffs area drew a few people to the meeting.

There was a lot of talk about the electronic sign ordinance but no action. The Council postponed a vote after confusing floor amendments were slung about and attendees expressed a range of opinions on the bright, blinking signs. Some commenters pointed out LEDs use less power. Others said the lights distract drivers. One veterinarian said his electronic signs promote healthy pet messages. The topic will be picked up at a future meeting.

Councilors also deferred rolling back the city’s green building code [“Building Code Backpedal,” Oct. 6-12].

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Floating Money

There is $3 million without a destination after voters rejected the mayor’s ABQ the Plan bond proposal. Voters said “no” to a measure that tied $25 million for reconstructing the Paseo del Norte and I-25 interchange to $25 million for a sports complex. Mayor Berry and three city councilors introduced a bill to earmark the $3 million for the Paseo project. Berry said the reconstruction is good for the entire metro-area and has always been a priority for his administration.
O’Malley and Councilor Ken Sanchez introduced a bill for the $3 million as well. But their measure keeps the money available for city operations if there is a shortfall or allows it to shore up staff in several departments, including parks, public safety and libraries. Sanchez said voters sent the message that they don’t want tax dollars spent on pet projects but on basic city services. The two bills will be debated at the next meeting. The interchange is part of the federal and state highway systems. When the state and the feds have at least $360 million available, it will be rebuilt. A $3 million tease from city residents is not going to make things go faster. Too bad the state Legislature dealt the project a blow by leaving the Paseo interchange off their statewide infrastructure and road improvement plans.

Under either Council proposal, the $3 million will not do much of anything, so maybe the money is better tucked away in an investment fund. Then a real conversation can be had with city residents about neighborhood projects that would increase their day-to-day quality of life.
Red Means Stop

In last week’s election, voters sent an advisory message to the City Council to do away with the red-light camera program once and for all. Councilor Dan Lewis introduced a bill that would eliminate the lenses within 60 days. The measure has to make its way through several committees before the Council votes on it sometime in November.
The nonbinding citizen’s vote was 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of doing away with the cams. Councilors do not have to abide by the outcome. O’Malley and Councilor Isaac Benton have said they are inclined to leave the cameras in place because they make intersections safer overall. The relationship between government and citizens is in decline. It would do this government body good to abide by the voters’ clear message. The city could look into placing officers at the most dangerous intersections—maybe even as a cadet-training method. The Council needs to listen to its constituents, put a practical solution in place and move on to other issues.
Legal Fees

It was cha-ching time again for outside attorneys who are hired by the city. Nine local law firms shared $1.3 million to represent the city in 27 cases. The city contracts out for legal services when there is a conflict of interest or a special area of litigation required.

Zoning, employment and civil rights issues make up the bulk of the suits filed against the city.
Garduño pulled the nine items out of the consent agenda. He asked Interim City Attorney Robert Kidd about the percentage of cases outside attorneys handle. Kidd said roughly 75 percent of the legal work is done in-house, and 25 percent is farmed out. He added that the legal department would give a midyear report to update the Council on these costs.

Kidd said the annual legal budget for contracted lawyers is a “little north of $2 million” and the city comes in under budget most years. It seems with former Mayor Marty Chavez’ no-settlement policy out of the way, the number of cases heading to trial should be much smaller. Good settlement negotiations can provide relief for both sides.