Council Watch: Councilors Cleaning House

One Long Zoom Call Later, City Council Tackles Corona Questions

Carolyn Carlson
5 min read
COVID-19 warning sign over I-24
We wouldn’t need reminders like these if everyone just wore their damn masks. (Clarke Condé)
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Burque City Councilors earned their summer vacay after a nearly 6 1/2 hour Zoom meeting, clearing their government table of a myriad of items.

Workers Lose With Masks

Controversy smacked down two out of three bills meant to bolster workers making less than $12 an hour. One of the bills struck down would have put about $25 bucks in the pockets of worker bees such as grocery store stockers for each shift.

The measures caused a bit of hollering by the local business community. Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders came out swinging, saying these measures will put undue burden on the already struggling business owners. The local Realtor’s Association said the trickle-down effect would force the closures of small businesses, which would hurt the very workers they are trying to protect.

Local chile kingpins took to the news peddlers to plead the small businesses case. Restaurant owner Dan Garcia said his family’s delicious business is down at least 60 percent. He said adding the sick leave and hazard pay would put them in a precarious position. The folks slinging the tasty green and red over at Tomasita’s said their food quality would suffer because they would have less employees to make their food from scratch. The Tomasita folks, who are from Santa Fe, said that if they knew Burque city leaders were going to implement this type of business legislation they would not have put a restaurant here. Frontier Restaurant owners participated in a rally prior to the June 29th special meeting, saying this would hurt their business

Proponents of the bills insist they would provide a small amount of help to the minimum wage employees who have stayed on the job throughout the months-long pandemic. Councilor Lan Sena sponsored the trio of bills along with Councilor Isaac Benton. Sena said many of these folks are people of color who were already struggling to stay afloat. She said it is people of color who are being impacted the most by the potentially deadly virus, and they tend to be the ones working at the grocery, drug and other store that stayed open during the quarantine.

Another doomed bill was withdrawn after some debate. This one would have required employers to allow up to 80 hours of sick leave. This sick leave ordinance proposal is similar to the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act that requires businesses with under 500 employees to provide leave for COVID-19 reasons. The feds reimburse these costs through tax breaks. Councilors Sena and Benton have promised this bill will be back in August. Bernalillo County passed a paid leave ordinance last year, but it is only applicable in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Councilors did give the greenlight for requiring employers to provide personal protection equipment like masks and gloves to their workers. This bill also makes businesses post visible signs saying patrons must wear masks. But because of jerky people who like to hassle underpaid employees, the businesses are not required to confront those who choose to spread germs and viruses. Often, those people are not wearing a mask simply to provoke a confrontation. This bill came with some cha-ching, $1 million in coin, to help the city provide masks to businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Businesses who are not complying will get a warning the first time someone snitches, then a $50 penalty each time thereafter.

Since the meetings are being held via Zoom, citizens are not allowed to be present in the chambers to voice their opinions. But this did not stop hundreds of people from submitting about 364 pages of comments on both sides of these issues.

Taking Care Of Business

Councilors plowed through a stack of business needing attention before they head out for whatever type of vacation they can carve out during these weird times. Some of the city biz taken care of include:

*An important memorandum of understanding between the city, Bernalillo County and the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico to form and operate a Homeless Coordinating Council to work together to implement solutions to address homelessness on our Burque streets. One of the priorities is creating a multi-service compound or Gateway Center to build a community to address the housing, medical and behavioral health needs of our homeless neighbors.

*Taking advantage of almost free money, Councilors gave the thumbs up to file 53 grant applications for mostly annually recurring Federal and State grants such as about $2.5 million for firefighters to continue to save us from ourselves, $768,000 for air pollution control, about $12 million for family and community services programs, another handful of millions for police programs. The list continues on for many more millions.

*Councilors approved The North Corridor Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan, which proposes to spur business, infrastructure, housing and other activities to revitalize and aid in tackling the blight along the Fourth Street corridor going north from Downtown.

*The planning department got the go-ahead to do the first round of Community Planning Area Assessments. These are done about every five years to get input from the community about how they think city policies, regulations and projects are going in different areas of the city. If you want to weigh in, find your local neighborhood association as it will be in the city’s notification loop.

A stack of other items got pushed off until Burque councilors head back on August 3, unless a special meeting is called during July.

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