The Burque City Council tackled a light agenda at its Monday, Jan. 4, meeting. Councilor Don Harris was excused and the other eight handled city business smoothly. Gotta give some kudos to the council for the patience it takes at some meetings to listen to some citizen commenters. A group of regular commenters seems to have formed while new voices pop up. Some have well thought out speeches that have people nodding along in agreement. Others lead listeners on a journey through the reality of the public’s right to free speech, in two minutes or less, sometimes even dropping an occasional cuss word.
Councilor Klarissa Peña sponsored a proclamation supporting the upcoming Albuquerque Public Schools bond/mil levy election. The $575 million bond package will not raise taxes and provides funding for building renovations, technology upgrades and new capital projects at the 143 schools that make up the metro area school district. Councilor Peña said APS has roughly $3 billion dollars in renovation, upgrades and projects on its wish list. It is easy to vote; there are early voting centers and the polls will be open Tuesday, Feb. 2, 7am to 7pm.
Councilors heard a presentation from the Public Service Company of New Mexico about the year long project of relocating the overhead power lines along the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit route. Building of the dedicated ART lanes is planned for a 9-mile stretch of the Central corridor from Coors to Louisiana. Aubrey Johnson, PNM’s Vice President of Operations, said they will be working in five segments over the next year to reset power poles along the ART route. He said PNM is working with the other utilities that handle lines on their poles to facilitate a smooth transition for businesses and residents. PNM will work its way east along Central tackling the stretch in the following segments: Coors to Atrisco, Atrisco to Eighth Street, Eighth Street to Oak, Oak to Monte Vista and Monte Vista to Louisiana. Johnson said crews started at Coors in December and have already set 15 new poles.
Councilors Diane Gibson and Isaac Benton asked Johnson about putting those unsightly power lines underground. PNM said they are not funding undergrounding of the power lines along the route. “This goes above and beyond our contractual obligation, it would add to the complexity of the project and add costs to the property owners,” Johnson said. He also said if the city wants to cough up the money then PNM would do the work. Benton said PNM did an estimate for the city and it is about $1,000,000 a mile to bury the power lines. Johnson said the new overhead lines will look cleaner with larger poles and bundled wires going from the poles to the properties.
City coffers were $719,850 lighter on Sept. 30, 2015 due to federally mandated changes at the Albuquerque Police Department. Councilors received a report that outlines the money spent implementing the US Department of Justice settlement agreement during the first three months of the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Those months were July 1, 2015 through September 30, 2015. Some of the cha-ching highlights include: $63,000 for use of force investigations, training and reporting; $10,886 for policy and procedure compliance of specialized tactical units; $57,000 for crisis intervention training, reporting and compliance and $243,932 for Federal Monitor James Ginger. Councilor Pat Davis summed it up when he commented that “a lot of these things are things we should have been doing before.”
Councilors didn’t get enough answers out of the three finalists for the city’s head watchdog. Councilor Pat Davis led the push to set a public session for the council to come up with more questions for the candidates. The finalists are retired Air Force Col. Joseph Grasso, former Assistant District Attorney and former Independent Review Officer Robin Hammer and former Police Officer Vickie Duran. An independent committee had already screened the three and ranked Grasso at the top. Public speakers at the meeting asked the council to select Grasso, not Hammer. As the Independent Review Officer, Hammer was tasked with investigating citizen complaints against the police department, but in the 2014 Department of Justice report she was criticized for some of her work as the IRO. A public work session will be set and the council will revisit this in February.