At a special session City Council meeting last Monday, June 29, the council passed an amendment to a bill that will provide $1 million in city funding for the Albuquerque Black community. The bill, which was introduced by Councilor Isaac Benton, proposes adjustments to the fiscal year 2020 appropriations due to the impact of COVID-19 on city revenues and expenses. The bill, as amended, passed with a vote of 8 to 1.
This amendment, which was introduced by Councilor Peña, was proposed in part due to a statement from Mayor Keller on June 26, in which he announced the creation of a dedicated investment fund to create positive impact in the Black community. In the same statement, Keller called on the City Council to, “join the effort by investing $1 million of year-end reversion funding toward the same goals.” Keller mentioned loans for small Black-owned businesses as well as job training being potential recipients for this funding,
There was some opposition to the amendment from Councilors Jones and Borrego. While asking about the accounting and reporting that would be involved with the funding, Councilor Borrego said, “I support Black Lives Matter. And I think it’s very important that we have a program to help the Black community. What concerns me is that, you know, then we’re going to have the Hispanic community [asking for funding] and then the Indian community—or Native American community—and then women, and then small business owners, and youth programs. And so, I would like to know a little bit more about the structure and how this money is going to be used.”
Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair made clear that, “This is not the beginning of a train for funding certain affinity groups; this is actually recognizing that that train left a long time ago, and some folks were left off of it. And it’s correcting those imbalances of the past.”
Mayor Keller underlined the fact that this funding is not being reallocated from other departments or initiatives, but from unreserved year-end reversion funds. “Due to the City’s belt-tightening measures and successful efforts to get federal assistance and avoid measures like furloughs [due to the pandemic], the city government has funding that went unspent.”
The funding will be held in the One Albuquerque Fund, a non-profit city foundation that Mayor Keller launched at the start of the year. This fund collects public and private funding for initiatives like distributing housing vouchers to those experiencing homelessness and recruiting police officers from across the country. You can donate to the One Albuquerque Fund and their new Black community investment fund at onealbuquerque.org.
Councilor Peña says she was motivated to introduce the amendment, in part, by the current lack of city funding going toward the Black community. “I was looking at the city budget and seeing that we do provide resources for Hispanic groups and Native American groups—although we do need to provide more—and when reviewing it, I saw that we give very little to our Black community. And with everything that has happened in terms of the Oñate statue, I thought it was unfortunate that the Black Lives Matter movement was kind of hijacked by that moment, and that we needed to pivot and get back focused on systemic and institutional racism.”
There was some scrutiny in the City Council meeting about how and to what organizations the funding would be allocated, but Councilor Peña and Councilor Pat Davis made it clear that transparency and accounting would be prioritized.
In a phone call, Councilor Peña said that she supports self-determination to decide where the funding goes.
“The Black community will work together to decide what those funds go towards. They’ll follow a very transparent process. [In the council meeting there were] questions about them having to provide us reports. But I'm not going to ask this committee to do anything outside of our regular [reporting] process.”
Mayor Keller had the same sentiment in his statement. “We will work alongside the One Albuquerque Fund as they develop a transparent, community-led process for using this funding, and as with all programs like this, all City expenditures will be accounted for.”
Cathryn McGill, founder and director of the New Mexico Black Leadership Council, says, “All of the initiatives that we are doing at this time are subject to lots of scrutiny, because we have to evaluate if they’re surface involvement or substantive. Let’s be real—$1 million is a very small amount of money. It sounds like a lot to a layperson, but to an entire community? Is the intention behind the gesture enough?
“We’re spending several million dollars on a soccer stadium. There are a lot of comparisons that would put [$1 million] in context.”