Alibi V.21 No.32 • Aug 9-15, 2012 

Council Watch

All Tied Up

During public comment at the Monday, Aug. 6 meeting, activist Don Schrader reminded attendees of the anniversary of Hiroshima with a graphic oration describing burning flesh falling off victims’ bodies after the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Councilors returned from their summer hiatus for a contentious meeting. Sparks flew between Councilors Dan Lewis and Rey Garduño over whether the redistricting plan that was passed before the break by the Republican majority was politically motivated. The approved plan puts a large number of minority voters into one massive Valley swath in order to create another district on the Westside. It also eliminates Isaac Benton's District 3, which includes the UNM area, Downtown and Barelas.

So Benton sponsored a measure to add four Council districts instead. With Harris absent, a tie killed his measure that would have asked voters to weigh in on the issue in November. (Ties are considered failed votes in Albuquerque. A bill only succeeds with a simple majority.)

Benton introduced another resolution for a cooperative transition to the redistricting plan that’s in place. He will step down at the end of his second term when an additional Westside councilor is elected in 2013.

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The next meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 20, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. You can also view it on GOV TV 16 or at
Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Chief Beef

Councilor Ken Sanchez introduced an amendment to the City Charter that would allow the public to vote for a police chief instead of having the mayor appoint one, which is what happens today. The amendment would put the elected position before voters in 2013. It also creates a process for removing the chief in case of malfeasance: There would be a public hearing on the matter, and the Council would determine whether the chief should be fired.
The Council won’t address the measure until the next meeting, but some have already made their positions clear. Mayor Richard Berry and Councilor Brad Winter have indicated to the press that they do not support this measure. Councilor Debbie O’Malley said she thinks the idea should at least be discussed. Some say electing a police chief would enable voters to weed out a bad one. Others say it will make the position even more political. There is no surefire way to eliminate corruption or good-old-boy shenanigans. For example, Arizona’s notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is an elected official. Instead, we need strong, responsive leadership from the Mayor’s Office.
How Big Is a Big Box?

Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association and the Westside Coalition of Neighborhood Associations asked the city to interpret the big-box ordinance because of the proposed Walmart at Coors and Montaño. The Council decided to hold a full public hearing at a later date. But this decision did not come until after a smoldering debate about which councilors should be allowed to vote on the issue. Garduño has recused himself from voting on previous Walmart issues.
Garduño said he was advised by a city attorney to exit the debate because he had participated in a protest at Coors and Montaño about a year ago. Garduño’s picture showed up in the Albuquerque Journal.

“I am against large retail facilities. Big boxes have no right to be built in a neighborhood where it will be negative for the community,” he said at the Council meeting. Garduño went on to challenge councilors who have accepted campaign donations from people involved in the case, in particular Lewis who received $200 from an engineering firm working on the Walmart project. Lewis recused himself even though city legal said he did not have to. But he said he didn’t want to hurt the integrity of the process.
You’d have thought a monthlong break would smooth some feathers at the Council table, but Garduño and Lewis can be as different as night and day. Retired assistant city attorney turned Council adviser Bruce Thompson said campaign donations are not a reason to recuse. If they were, he said, people would make contributions solely to disqualify elected officials. In this issue, Lewis and Garduño may even be on the same side. Lewis has previously voted against this Walmart.

I agree with Councilor Sanchez, who said it is an injustice to the constituents that all nine councilors will not be able to hear the case and determine what constitutes a big-box store and where it can be built.