Bernalillo County Commissioners heard good news about a 24-year-old lawsuit, expressed support for saving bees and toads, funded new behavioral health housing and affirmed the county is immigrant friendly, all as part of a busy February.
McClendon v. City of Albuquerque is a 1995 class action federal lawsuit filed by Metropolitan Detention Center inmates over a number of shameful jail conditions existing at the time. The lawsuit is finally seeing some sustainable progress, according to Taylor Rahn, the county’s contract attorney. Rahn presented the latest reports. As of December 2019 the county is in 69 percent compliance with 81 out of the 253 standards mandated.
Rahn said it was phenomenal that MDC nearly doubled its progress in the last couple years after being stalled for so long. Rahn had good news, saying she believes progress will continue and the lawsuit will get dismissed after achieving full compliance within two years.
Back in the day, the jail was Downtown, and was run by the city. It was intended to house less than 600 inmates. But it was consistently packing in more than 900 inmates. It is now being operated by the county. To alleviate the overcrowding problem the joint entities built the Metropolitan Detention Center on the far Westside with a capacity for 1,950 inmates. It has an average daily inmate count of about 1,300 to 1,400. The City of Albuquerque was dismissed from the lawsuit in 2015 since it no longer operates the jail.
Over the last two decades a number of settlement agreements have fallen through. In 2015, an agreement was reached for the 253 requirements set by the Feds. It is an extremely complicated case. The progress is overseen by court appointed monitors who report back to the federal court. County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said it was difficult to say exactly how much the county spends to try to comply with the consent decree because there are so many hidden costs and the lawsuit has dragged on for so long.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will soon need a warrant specific to a person to access non-public areas of county property for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws. Currently ICE agents can walk into the jail’s records department without a warrant to gain access to a database with inmate information such as social security number, place of birth and addresses.
A resolution, led by Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, strengthens the County’s non-discrimination policies. That includes not allowing federal immigration agents access to non-public areas of county property. The crowd went crazy with approval when the measure was unanimously approved.
Quezada said he was not about stopping ICE from doing legitimate work. He just wants ICE to have a warrant for a specific person which is the proper process. The 2017 immigrant friendly county resolution said no county resources could be used to check immigration status. The updated one also precludes any county employee, or anyone acting on behalf of the county, from asking about immigration status. In addition, it bans county agencies, employees and contractors from doing the same while conducting county business. Exceptions include assisting the judicial branches of our state.
A staff attorney with ACLU of New Mexico said the resolution is one step in making sure the county is not complicit in assisting the Trump administration in targeting our current immigrant community, in a state where at some point in time, the bulk of the population has been part of an immigrant community.
Glyphosate (an herbicide marketed as Roundup) is a very bad thing for local toads, bees, humans and other creatures. It should not be used near water sources. Glyphosate has been linked to cancer in humans. Folks use it to kill weeds, because it is easier to spray a toxic chemical then to bend over and pull the pesky green thing out of the ground.
Commissioners begrudgingly agreed to defer full implementation of a moratorium on the use of glyphosate—that was agreed upon by the Commission back in October of 2018—on county property until more options can be found.
A county parks and recreation representative said they are in support of a complete glyphosate ban but are having a hard time finding any alternative products approved by the Department of Agriculture. She said the county has to use state and federally approved products. She said the costs of implementing the moratorium could reach more than $2.1 million over three years with an annual budget of over $1.1 million. This includes additional labor to manually pull weeds and other unsightly vegetation, other pre-emergence tactics and other hidden costs.
Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said those cost estimates were too high. “At one point we did not have this product,” she said. “What did we use then?” Maybe there are some job opportunities here.
Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty was not in agreement to defer the matter. She said the health of county residents, fauna and flora is more important than money.
One speaker said she lives near Candelaria Fields and keeps track of toad tadpoles. She said after one farmer used Roundup there weren’t any toad tadpoles for a couple years after. She said the baby amphibians are a litmus test for the environment; it is not good they are disappearing due to convenience herbicides and pesticides.
The county uses barrels of the herbicide, racking up $13,000 per year in glyphosate purchases. This includes along the Rio Grande South Bosque’s bike trail, according to another parks and recreation employee. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins did not like this practice, though the parks and rec employee tried to resolve her fears about using glyphosate so close to the ditches and river. He said they are careful when and where they spray. But Hart Stebbins, who rides bikes on that trial, wasn’t convinced. Neither were we. Hopefully a moratorium on glyphosate use is on the way.
The hunt is on for a site for an $8 million supportive housing project for citizens with behavioral health issues. The millions come from the behavioral health tax coffers. The county would like either an existing 40 to 60 unit apartment complex or vacant property to accommodate that range of units. Additionally, the county earmarked $1 million annually to operate the complex. It would provide on-site services and case management for the homeless or close to homeless with mental, behavioral or emotional challenges. There are plenty of citizens out there that need help and this tax works toward providing just that.