Rhetoric swirled through a long agenda at the more-than-six-hour Aug. 17 Albuquerque City Council meeting. Support for police and its military-style equipment, controversial development and adding more diversity on city boards and commissions brought out political posturing and lip service. A number of items were deferred until future dates.
Fifteen lucky speakers were able to provide their public comment via Zoom for the first time in months during the Aug. 17 Albuquerque City Council meeting. Public comment has been sorely missed during COVID-19 restrictions, as without citizen public input it is hard to see what the population wants. Meeting comments appeared to represent a cross section of agenda items with no one item dominating.
This reporter has a great fondness for the public comment segment of government meetings. With this meeting there is a new enjoyable distraction—checking out the Zoom backgrounds during the public comment section. Some residents didn’t let us into their kitchens or offices or whatever rooms they were broadcasting from, giving us only a name on a black screen. No fun, but playing it safe they were. Others let it all hang out behind them, giving those watching a little entertainment seeing how other folks decorate or don’t. It was just as amusing as seeing what hat regular City Council public speaker Geraldine Amato is wearing or if Don Schrader will be half naked while he eloquently orates his latest essay.
A resolution expressing support for Albuquerque police officers passed unanimously. The resolution sponsored by Councilor Brook Bassan is intended to show support for the women and men who make up the police force. It says the police worker bees have done the best job they can under the constraints of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement with the United States Department of Justice. Councilors gave shout-outs to their area commands while acknowledging there are some bad apples with badges, but that the majority of all of the officers and civilian employees are doing good work. It is hard to disagree with this sentiment because, of course, most of those in blue try to make the right decisions. But it is also necessary to keep eyes on the barrel, looking for the bad apples when they float to the top.
Sixty faith leaders from New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light signed a document saying they are not in support of the authoritarian and militarian style of law enforcement, including the use of used military equipment by police. A couple faith-based leaders Zoom-spoke on the importance of keeping the peace without inciting violence. According to a representative from the Albuquerque Police Department, city police have not received any military surplus items since 2016—but that may be cuz there is a waiting list. He said pretty much all of the items on the list are being used. He said there are no tanks or other exploding weapons of war. He said most of it is being used at the training range. The resolution formally would have ended the city’s future involvement in the 1033 program (which transfers the military’s extra or outdated gear to state and local law enforcement) and forced the department to get rid of all of the items it already has. The resolution also provides the list with a total of 10 item groups, comprising more than 100 gunsights, some lights, a storage container, a mine-resistant vehicle and an unmanned ground robot.
The council disagreed with each other; the measure failed on a 4 to 4 vote, meaning the military bling will stay. Sponsors Councilor Pat Davis, Issac Benton, Diane Gibson and Lan Sena voted yay and Councilors Cynthia Borrego, Trudy Jones, Brook Basson and Klarissa Peña voted it down. Councilor Don Harris was not present for the vote.
Councilors gave the Overlook at Oxbow, a controversial 23-acre residential development on the edge of protected Rio Grande wetlands on the city’s West Side, the okay to move forward. The 4-3 vote took 90 minutes of debate, with two councilors not participating in the vote. The project’s 69-home site plan has been in the approval process for two years. This is not over yet, as it is expected that the decision will be taken to court by the opponents.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, Albuquerque is listed as one of the top 100 eviction areas in the nation. Councilors approved $300,000 from the CARES Act Grant to go to the city’s Department of Family and Community Services to help vulnerable citizens. The money is available to city residents who are facing eviction. Some economic studies have shown that, due to COVID-related economic impacts, up to 40 percent of renters are vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. Chief Administrator Sarita Nair said, here in New Mexico, the State Supreme Court has put in place a stay on evictions until the public health order is lifted; but there are nuances in that stay, and evictions still occur.
Nice to see local folks taking seats on the city’s boards and commissions during the COVID-19 daze. Coincidentally, there was a resolution on the agenda looking to make the city’s boards and commissions more diverse. The resolution was approved and was sponsored by Peña, Borrego and Sena.
Those being appointed to a city board or commission were: Kaatje E. Van Der Gaarden to the Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Council; Makai Salazar, Tess V. Reynolds, Agustin J. Leon-Saenz, Mireya A. Macias, Kamryn K. Johnson and Samatha Thackaberry to the Youth Advisory Council; Joni K. Pierce and Paul Mondragón to the Albuquerque Museum Board of Trustees; Kenneth J. Carson Jr. to the Small Business Regulatory Advisory Committee; Taylor V. Bui to the Open Space Advisory Board; Michael J. Flowers Jr., and Cathy Intemann to the Greater Albuquerque Recreational Trails Committee; Deepesh Kholwadwala to the Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board; Regina Dubay to the Municipal Golf Advisory Board; Sandra Nemeth to the Library Advisory Board; Theresa Carson to the Albuquerque Development Commission; Maurreen Skowran to the Albuquerque Housing Authority Board; Dorothy Stermer and Jessica Cage to the Arts Board. Valerie L. Martinez to the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Juan Carrizales to the Airport Advisory Board; Jeremiah Gwin to the Biological Park Board; Joshua S. Martinez to the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices.