Alibi V.29 No.12 • March 19-25, 2020 

Council Watch

The Council in March

COVID-19, emergency powers and a new councilor

Councilors Davis, Jones and Benton
Councilors Davis, Jones and Benton
Eric Williams Photography

March came in like a lamb and will go out like a lion because, in our unprecedented times, local governments are infused with national and global concerns. The March 16 Albuquerque City Council meeting was held in a vacant chamber due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The empty chambers were the result of a statewide restriction on large gatherings. The only people allowed in were the councilors, city staff and credentialed media. Public comment was taken prior to the meeting. The meeting was available via Channel 16 GOV-TV.

Hot Topic

At the March 16 City Council meeting, over an hour was spent reviewing policies, procedures and actions being taken by the city in light of COVID-19. Councilors covered quite a bit of ground, making sure all the critical boxes were checked off, such as what is being done to help our most vulnerable residents. For more information on what is happening, check out cabq.gov/environmentalhealth/news/city-of-albuquerque-coronavirus-faqs. If you have non-health-related questions, call 833-551-0518, and if you think you may have symptoms, call 855-600-3453 ASAP.

Super Powers

On a 6-3 vote, City Councilors updated a 1968 ordinance passed to control Vietnam War protests. The update grants Burque’s mayor “super powers” in case of a civil emergency such as a riot or natural disaster and now in case of an infectious disease outbreak. The updated ordinance allows the mayor to reallocate city resources to fight future epidemics, close streets and places where large groups gather and make retailers set daily purchase limits on medical, health and sanitation items.

Councilor Brook Bassan introduced 10 amendments to whittle down the scope of the bill. Just about all of the either failed or were withdrawn. Her point, in a nutshell, is that government should not overreach in its powers. She added a little historical drama when she co-opted Benjamin Franklin, saying, “We are considering surrendering our freedoms.”

It seemed Bassan did not believe this was a real emergency, comparing COVID-19 to our normal flu and cold season. She called it hysteria. Bassan said most people will recover just fine. It is imperative to question government. It seemed like her opinion was that the real enemy is fear, yet it was her “fear” of government that dominated her remarks.

In a statement released prior to the meeting to address bill misconceptions swirling through the community, Keller spokesperson Jessie Damazyn said the City Council legislation does not ban guns or booze, nor does it set a curfew or close streets. She said stoking this kind of fear will only harm unified efforts to battle a public health crisis.

The real gist of this bill appears to simply allow the city to obtain federal and state funds to battle this public health emergency. Bernalillo County is set to look over the emergency preparedness items at their meeting on Tuesday night. So calm down, folks; no one is coming for your guns, your property or your freedoms but they may come after the spread of germs that do, in fact, have the potential to kill vulnerable citizens.

Welcome to the Table

Councilors welcomed Lan Sena to the governing body table. Councilor Sena was appointed by Mayor Keller to fill the Westside seat held by longtime City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who died in early January. Sanchez held the seat for 14 years.

Mayor Keller said there were many great applicants but Sena stood out to the vetting committee because she represents the growing future of the Westside residents by virtue of community involvement. Sena was born and raised in New Mexico and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in health administration. She is the first Asian American (Vietnamese) to sit on the Council—ever. Councilor Sena brought a refreshing voice to her first meeting on March 16, asking relevant questions and making pertinent comments.

Playing Ball

Little League ballpark agreements were sealed at the March 2 meeting, signaling the way to spring Little League Season—Thunderbird, Lobo, Petroglyph, Eastdale, Zia, Westgate, West Mesa and Roadrunner Ball Parks. Hopefully, the fields will be occupied by more than dreams and filled with players and fans in a couple months or less.

Buying Guns

Councilors approved spending $75,000 on hosting another gun buy-back event this year. Folks turned over 415 guns last year when a similar event was held. People can part with their guns with no questions asked about prior registration. An average of $75 for handguns and $100 for assault rifles was paid out at last year’s event for firearms in working condition. The money goes to buy back the guns so they don’t end up where they should not. The guns will be used for an art project addressing gun violence.

Pocketbook Priorities

Fiscal year 2020-2021 begins July 1 and will see budget priorities that include public safety at city parks, better pay for skilled city employees (such as those completing the backlog of rape kits), addressing homelessness, a fare-free city bus system, 100 new police officers and economic vitality infrastructure. These are some, among other priorities, that will filter down into a workable budget to keep the city running for another year. City Councilors will be working on the budget over the next few weeks, so if you want to weigh in, now is the perfect time to do so.

Stepping Up

The March 16 meeting saw Vaisu D. Bronk appointed to the ABQ Volunteers Advisory Board and Timothy J. MacEachen appointed to the Environmental Planning Commission. Board and commission meetings are halted for a bit due to the COVID-19 situation, but you can still step up to help keep our community moving forward.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com.

The next meetings of the Albuquerque City Council:
Monday, April 6 and Monday, April 20 • 5 pm
Vincent E. Griego Chambers
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Center
View it on GOV TV 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv