“New Approach” To Combat Nuisance Properties Nothing New At All

Channel 4 did an “investigative report” that was very weak and disappointing at best.

You can view it here:

https://www.kob.com/investigative-news/4-investigates-albuquerque-hotels-draw-hundreds-of-police-calls/5145408/?cat=500

The report was about the cities’ recent efforts to take civil code enforcement action against motels on central that have hundreds of calls for service for a variety of crimes, including auto thefts, assaults, domestic violence and violent crimes such as rape and murder.

It was reported that motels become “magnets for crime” and nuisance properties under the law and city ordinances.

The report featured Albuquerque City Council Pat Davis who talked about city ordinances and laws he has no real knowledge about.

Pat Davis said that for years, the city lacked a willingness to go after so-called nuisance properties.

Davis should know, he was part of the problem.

Those years the city lacked a willingness was from 2010 to 2017 under the previous Berry Administration, but Davis did not disclose that fact.

Davis went so far as saying there’s a “new approach” which makes hotel owners more accountable for crimes on their property.

No, Councilor Davis, it’s not a “new” approach, it was an approach that was abandoned, you know it and you should have disclosed it to Channel 4.

Davis went so far as to say:

“Neighbors are starting to demand we do more to address these problem properties and quite frankly we should. It’s not just the city fighting back, the court is willing to back us up … If you want a sort of scumbag motel in Albuquerque right now you look at what happened in the Sahara [hotel which is under a court order] and you realize that you could be next.”

Such bravado coming from a City Councilor who did absolutely nothing to help fund the Safe City Strike Force but voted repeatedly to fund the disastrous ART Bus project for millions and refusing to put it on the ballot.

SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE

In 2002, the Safe City Strike Force was formed to combat blighted commercial and residential properties.

Thirty (30) to forty-five (40) representatives from the Albuquerque Police Department, the Albuquerque Fire Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Planning Department Code residential and commercial code inspectors, Family Community Services and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office participated comprised the strike force.

Seventy (70) to one hundred fifty (150) properties a week, both residential and commercial properties would be reviewed by the Strike Force.

The Safe City Strike Force would handle referrals from the general public, neighborhood associations, the Mayor and the Albuquerque City Council.

The Albuquerque City Council would be given weekly updates on the progress made in their districts on the nuisance properties found.

The Safe City Strike Force routinely prepared condemnation resolutions for enactment by the Albuquerque City Council to tear down substandard buildings.

Over a period of 8 years, the Safe City Strike Force took civil code enforcement and inspection action against some 6,500 properties, both commercial and residential.

CENTRAL MOTELS

From 2002 to 2009, the Safe City Strike Force took code enforcement action against 48 of the 150 motels along central and forced compliance with building codes and mandated repairs to the properties.

The City Attorney’s Office repeatedly sought assistance from the District Court to secure injunctive relief against nuisance properties.

The Strike Force would even go so far as to evict tenants when conditions existed that endangered their health and wellbeing, such as leaking gas lines and open sewers.

The City would provide vouchers for temporary housing when there was an eviction.

The Central motels that were demolished were not designated historical and were beyond repair as a result of years of neglect and failure to maintain and make improvements.

The Central motels that the Safe City Strike Force took action against include:

The Gaslight Motel (demolished)
The Zia Motel (demolished)
The Royal Inn (demolished)
Route 66 (demolished)
The Aztec Motel (demolished)
The Hacienda
Cibola Court
Super-8 (renovated by owner)
The Travel Inn (renovated by owner),
Nob Hill Motel (renovated by owner)
The Premier Motel (renovated by owner)
The De Anza (purchased by City for historical significance)
The No Name
The Canyon Road (demolished)
The Hilltop Lodge
American Inn (demolished)
The El Vado (purchased by City for historical significance and now renovated and reopened)
The Interstate Inn (demolished).

The Safe City Strike Force was responsible for the demolition of at least seven (7) blighted motels that were beyond repair.

VIOLENT BARS

The Safe City Strike Force took action against violent bars on Central that were magnets for crime.

Many Central bars have hundreds of calls for service a year placing a drain on law enforcement resources.

A few of the bars located on or near Central that were closed or torn down by the Safe City Strike Force include the Blue Spruce Bar, Rusty’s Cork and Bottle, the Last Chance Bar and Grill and Club 7.

The Safe City Strike Force closed Club 7 and the owner was convicted of commercial code violations.

CONVENIENCE STORES

The Safe City Strike Force took enforcement action against a number of convenience stores on Central that had substantial calls for service to APD.

In 2005, The Safe City Strike Force identified convenience stores that had an unacceptable number of “calls for service” which resulted in the convenience stores being considered a public nuisance by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

Outdoor phones at the convenience stores used for illicit drug transactions were identified.

APD felt the convenience stores were relying upon APD to provide security at taxpayer’s expense rather than hiring their own private security company.

In 2005, as Director of the Safe City Strike Force, I was able to negotiate a stipulated settlement agreement with three major convenience store corporate owners of seventeen (17) convenience stores throughout Albuquerque and they agreed to pay for private security patrols.

FLEA MARKETS

The Safe City Strike Force was responsible for the closure of Louie’s Flea Market and the Star Flea Market, two Westside flea markets both on Old Coors Road South of Central.
Area residents felt the flea markets brought down property values.

Both flea markets had been around for decades and caused extreme traffic congestion on weekends they operated causing problems for the established or developing residential areas.

Both flea markets were found by the Albuquerque Police Department to be locations where stolen property was being sold and both had an excessive number of calls for service.

HOARDERS

Some of the most tragic and heartbreaking cases that the Safe City Strike Force dealt with involved “hoarders”.

Hoarding is a pattern of behavior that is characterized by excessive acquisition and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects or animals that cover the entire living areas or exterior of a home or property.

The Strike Force dealt with approximately 10 cases of hoarders.

One hoarder involved an elderly woman who was housing over 60 cats in her 1,200 square foot, three bedrooms home.

The home was not fit to be lived in as a result of contamination by the animals and walls had to be removed down to the studs to remediate the contamination.

Dead cats were found in her freezer.

The City removed the cats, cleaned up the property and placed a $40,000 lien on the home for the cleanup of the contamination.

Another hoarder had accumulated an extensive amount of items in his front and backyards to the extent that the area had become rat infested and the City forced a cleanup of the area.

KELLER COMMITMENT TO REINSTATE SAFE CITY STRIKE FORCE

Mayor Tim Keller made a firm commitment to reinstate the Safe City Strike Force when he requested $3.9 million for the city’s Code Enforcement Department and the Safe City Strike Force in the adopted 2018-2019 budget.

$ 1.5 million in additional public safety spending was added by the city council.

The Safe City Strike Force and the Planning Department received a funding bump up to $425,000.

$125,000 has been allocate to hire two additional code enforcement specialists.

$300,000 has been allocated to secure or demolish neglected structures.

The $300,000 for board ups of blighted properties is a good start, but significantly more will be needed to address the approximate 3,500 substandard properties throughout Albuquerque.

In 2009, the Safe City Strike Force had upwards of $1 million dollars consisting of federal grants and city council allocations.

COMMENTARY

Channel 4 needs to be far more diligent when it does investigative reports in getting to the truth of things rather than believing someone like Pat Davis who has been part of the problem and who has little credibility with his own constituents.

It is the Keller Administration that needs to be asked what efforts are being made now to combat blighted, slumlord properties, not a City Counselor who seeks publicity and who has no idea what he is talking about.

An “EPIC” Program To Reduce APD’s Use Of Force, Deadly Force

On Saturday, November 12, 2018, the City of Albuquerque hosted a Town Hall meeting to report on the progress of reforms at the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) under the Court Approved Settlement (CASA) with the U.S. Department of Justice.

A highly diverse audience with about 200 people attended the town hall meeting.

Most if not all the stakeholders in the federal lawsuit were present as well as community police oversight activists and community policing counsels.

Albuquerque City Counselor Cynthia Borrego was the only City Councilor out of 9 who attended the town hall meeting.

What was very disappointing is that Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was nowhere to be seen, even though his office is working through a significant back log of 30 plus APD police officer involved shootings to determine if police officers will be criminally charged in deadly use of force cases.

Mayor Tim Keller had a few opening remarks but the main speakers were Independent Federal Monitor James Ginger, New Mexico United State Attorney John Anderson, APD Chief Michael Geier, along with 4 others that spoke on specific APD programs.

Albuquerque is one of 18 law enforcement agencies throughout the country operating under a consent decree brought on by a DOJ investigation that found systemic problems.

In APD’s case, the DOJ found a “culture of aggression” within APD after reviewing as many as 18 “deadly use of force cases” and other cases of “excessive use of force” cases.

The City of Albuquerque has paid out $61 million in settlements over the last 9 years involving 41 police officer involved shootings.

The implementation of reforms under the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) began in 2014 after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found a “pattern and practice of excessive force” and a “culture of aggression” within the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

FEDERAL COURT MONITOR’S TOWN HALL PRESENTATION

During the townhall meeting Independent Federal Monitor James Ginger took front and center and summarized what is in his 8th report to the federal Court overseeing the reform process.

Since the reform project was launched in 2014, Ginger said APD’s new written policies are 99% compliant with the settlement agreement, and training on those policies is 75% compliant.

Operational Compliance is where sworn officers abide by the terms of the CASA agreement and if they fail to, supervisors note and correct the behavior.

The monitoring team found APD’s operational compliance is at 59%.

Ginger told the town hall audience that since the last report from November, 2017, APD policy compliance rose 5%, training compliance 9% and operational compliance 12%.

Ginger summarized the progress made by APD as follows:

“APD, in the last year, has made substantially more progress than just about any agency I’m familiar with, so my hat goes off to APD. … That is massive in one period. It reflects the work that Chief Geier and his people have done over the past few weeks and over the past few months, … We’re on the cusp … We’re closer almost every day [to achieving the reforms under the CASA].”

You can read the entire 239-page monitor’s report here:

https://www.justice.gov/usao-nm/page/file/1107721/download

During the town hall meeting 4 presentations were made by APD giving a rundown of the changes being made in “four key areas”:

1. Behavioral health
2. Use of force
3. Community engagement
4. The EPIC program aimed at improving police officer conduct to diffuse use of force incidents with police officers intervening on how another police officer is handling an incident.

It was the EPIC program presentation that received immediate attention of the audience.

The EPIC presentation received spontaneous applause on at least 4 occasions from the audience of community activists.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1245266/town-hall-celebrates-apds-implementation-of-reforms.html

APD’S EPIC PROGRAM

The acronym “EPIC” stands for Ethical Policing Is Courageous.

The EPIC program originated in the city of New Orleans’ Police Department, which like APD, is under a federal consent decree for civil rights violations.

EPIC aims to stem police officer misconduct and use of force and deadly force by police officers.

The program uses “hands-on scenarios” and role-playing enactments and demonstrations to teach police officers on how to defuse calls for service that start escalating and that could easily result in the use of excessive force or deadly force.

EPIC focuses on proactively preventing uses of force, rather than just punishing officers when damage is already done, including the killing of a suspect.

The primary purpose of the EPIC program is to provide police officers with effective and proper training to learn just how and when to intervene when they themselves see other police officer misconduct.

The EPIC program is designed to show police officers how to recognize problematic behavior in fellow officers that may trigger a fellow officer to engage in misconduct.

APD Lt. George Vega is in charge APD’s EPIC Program.

APD Lt. Vega is a 20-year veteran of APD and he is a native of Albuquerque.

Lt. Vega has been working on the EPIC program since May, 2018 and has traveled to the City New Orleans spending time to see firsthand how the program works.

Lt. Vegas has selected a well-seasoned and experienced management and training team including police officers dealing with crisis intervention.

APD Lt. George Vega explained that EPIC trains officers on how to intervene when they witness a fellow officer’s misconduct and to recognize problematic behaviors beforehand.

According to Lt. Vega, officers go through 8 hours of “peer intervention” training.

The peer intervention training includes 6 hours in a classroom and 2 hours that is scenario based.

Each officer is given a pin after the training to display on their uniform that they have been through EPIC training.

Lt. Vega told the town hall audience:

“EPIC involves each officer giving permission to their fellow officer to intervene when they are about to do something that could harm themselves, others, tarnish our profession and tarnish our community. …”

APD Chief Michael Geier has ordered the entire APD department to get the EPIC training and it started with all APD supervisors.

In a Channel 4 news report, Chief Geier had this to say about the EPIC program:

“We, all of us, buy into it – from myself down … And we could be ‘EPIC’d’ by an officer if we’re out of line, too. It’s looking out for one another, and again, how we treat the community depends on our own attitudes. … If we can prevent some of our own misconduct periodically and salvage some officers’ careers because just one mistake can [ruin their career]”.

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/albuquerque-new-orleans-police-apd-nopd-epic-ethics-training/4923376/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

What was exceptionally noteworthy is that New Mexico United States Attorney John C. Anderson attended the town hall meeting.

US Attorney Anderson brought with him a Deputy Assistant United States Attorney out of the Washington D.C. who works in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to discuss the history of the case.

With the firing of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the Trump administration previously signaling efforts to scale back consent decrees for police misconduct investigations, it was extremely important for the people of Albuquerque to see New Mexico US Attorney Anderson attend the town hall meeting.

United States Attorney John C. Anderson affirmed his office’s as well as the United States Justice Department’s commitment to the DOJ reforms and implementation of all the mandated reforms under the CASA.

The major goal of the Department of Justice consent decree is to correct a pattern of the use of “deadly force” and “excessive force” and to eliminate the culture of aggression.

The use of deadly force and excessive use of force policies with training is the primary purpose of the CASA settlement and it is where “the rubber hits the road” and the EPIC training program can accomplish that purpose.

The EPIC program is designed to show police officers how to recognize problematic behavior in fellow police officers they work with that may trigger a fellow officer to engage in misconduct and to actually intervene when they themselves see other police officer misconduct.

APD’s EPIC program offers real hope that indicates APD and its command staff have finally accepted the DOJ reforms and that real progress can be made in reducing use of force and deadly force that lead to the “culture of aggression.”

According to New Orleans Police Academy Instructor Roderic Carey:

“[EPIC] training has transformed [ the New Orleans Police Department] in regards to a culture shift … We have less complaints, now about 47% due to the EPIC program. … The subject is being irate with the officer, may also get frustrated and want to go hands-on with that subject. But another officer may intervene and say ‘Hold on. Just take a minute. Step away and I’ll talk to that subject. …”

ART’s “Proven Technology” Another Berry Big Lie

On Monday, November 13, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller met with Albuquerque Journal editors and reporters to tell them of the city’s plans to cancel the contract with Build Your Dreams (BYD) and return all the 60-foot electric buses manufactured and delivered for the disastrous ART Bus Project.

The day after his meeting with the Journal editors, Mayor Keller held a press conference to tell the public and explain his decision.

You can read the full article here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1246094/abq-rejecting-all-byd-art-buses-switching-to-non-electric.html

The ART Bus project has been delayed for well over a full year after it was dedicated operational back in November, 2017 by former Mayor Richard Berry.

Mayor Keller announced that the city has retained the services of private Albuquerque law firm Sanchez, Mowrer and Desiderio, PA to represent the city in the dispute with BYD.

The major principles in the private law firm are former New Mexico Speaker of the House Raymond D. Sanchez, attorney Frederick M. Mowrer who is also an attorney who represents the police union at times and former UNM Law School Dean Robert J. Desiderio, who sent the demand letter, all of whom are respected within the legal community and who have extensive litigation and trial experience.

The letter sent to BYD demanded that BYD take possession of the buses and the chargers by November 30, 2018.

The demand letter also put BYD on notice that the city intends to seek “damages, costs, attorney fees and any relief to which it is legally entitled to” under the law.

You can read the demand letter here:

https://www.cabq.gov/mayor/documents/byd-notice-of-rejection-nov-13-2018.pdf

Mayor Keller last month during a press conference gave an update on the ART Bus project and reported the problems with the buses.

The problems with the buses include:

1. The center and rear brakes had zero air pressure, yet the 60-foot-long articulated buses were able to move, meaning that the center and rear axle brakes were not working and the buses were relying on their front brakes alone.
2. Rear doors would open during bus operation without any action by the driver.
3. The buses have air conditioning outages.
4. Bolts flying off doors were reported
5. The electric buses do not have the required range on a full battery charge and the bus manufacturer still has not provided the extra charging stations.

Other problems reported by city officials include:

1. The lack of undercarriage protection.
2. Buses that wouldn’t stop when emergency doors were utilized.
3. Cracking on bus exteriors.
4. Mirrors not set up correctly.
5. Wiring problems and electrical system problems.
6. The handicap electric chair lock becoming unsecured when the driver turns on the air conditioner.

WEAK BATTERIES WITH AND A LITIGATION THREAT

The biggest problem associated with the electric ART buses relate to the batteries.

The electric buses delivered are supposed to operate for 275 miles, but city officials found the buses cannot go more than 177 miles before they need recharging.

The batteries are stacked in a metal shelf and when overheated could cause a fire.

Keller elaborated on the problems with the bus batteries by saying:

“We believe there’s not even close to adequate fire protection [when it comes to the batteries]. Right now, it would vent right in the middle of the bus and we would not be able to pull those out. They’re already heating up so they can’t take a charge. They’re not properly [stored] or cooled.”

BYD also has failed to construct additional charging stations on the Central Avenue route promised as part of an agreement with the city some months ago to address the problem with battery life.

Director of ABQ Ride Bernie Toon had this to say:

“We find that the fixes [from BYD] are half-measures, … There’s a class of issues that are ‘phantom electric issues’ that are incredibly difficult to fix because you have to literally start taking the bus apart to do it. You keep finding more [electric] problems.”

BYD has missed deadlines for delivery of all the buses initially slated for October 2017 and promised to fix the problems identified with those already delivered.

Lawrence Rael, the city’s Chief Operating Officer, had this to say about cancelling the bus contract:

“The mechanical pieces and issues we now find with the operation of the equipment are part of a long series of missed deadlines and missed issues with a company that I think have driven us to the point where we are today.”

According to Keller, going with another manufacturer means at least 18 months for delivery.

Keller said the whole matter may very well wind up in court with the city suing and had this to say:

“We’re no longer going to be guinea pigs [for BYD] anymore … Obviously, we very concerned about what we’ve been put through as a city by BYD, … I think down the road, we’re interested in being fairly compensated for what we have been misled on these buses.”

Keller revealed that the city has been actively looking for another bus manufacturer and the city has reserved “slots” for 15 new, non-electric buses from a “well established American company that makes buses all the time.”

The entire ART Bus Project cost taxpayers approximately $135 million when associated utility and road work on Central Avenue is included.

The $135 million does not include the closure of successful businesses along central because of ART construction and the destruction of the character of Route 66.

The City has finally been paid $75 million by the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Small Starts Program for the project and $14 million in federal funds designated to reimburse expenses related to construction on Central Avenue.

According to Chief Operations Officer Lawrence Rael, the federal funding that the city has received for the project is not in danger, with the exception of about $6 million specifically earmarked for the purchase of electric buses.

Rael reported that the Federal Transportation Administration will work with the city, depending on what technology the city ultimately decides to order from another manufacturer.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The fact that Mayor Keller met with the Albuquerque Journal editors the day before he announced his plans to the public to pull the plug on the bus contract reflects that Keller read the Albuquerque Journal’s November 6, 2018 editorial entitled “Halloweens Over But ART Woes Still Haunting Albuquerque”.

You can read the Journal editorial here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1242312/halloweens-over-but-art-woes-still-haunting-abq.html

Keller obviously felt he needed the blessing from the Albuquerque Journal editors on his decision because he knows ART was promoted by the Albuquerque Journal from the very beginning and it was the legacy project of their ultimate favored Republican Mayor Berry.

On July 13, 2016, then Mayor Richard Berry said the buses being purchased from BYD for the ART bus project would be electric and powered by batteries, not diesel, a move Berry said would save money and reduce pollution.

Berry also proclaimed that “electric vehicles are the way of the future.”

According to Berry, the BYD bus purchase would put Albuquerque in position to be the first city in the country to operate a fleet of 60-foot-long electric buses.

Berry proudly proclaimed the BYD electric buses would give the city’s bus rapid transit system a chance to earn a coveted gold environmental rating that no other rapid ride transportation system in the United State had at the time.

Berry proclaimed Albuquerque would have a chance to be the first city with 60-foot electric buses and said:

“I’m a fiscal conservative … This is a fiscally conservative decision. It’s a proven technology … I’m very comfortable with this.”

You can read the full Albuquerque Journal article here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/806990/electric-buses-to-be-used-for-art.html

Fast forward two and a half years later to November 12, 2018, and Mayor Tim Keller discredited Berry’s claim of “proven technology” when he said:

“No one will make an electric bus to our specifications because they say it’s not possible. … No other company will do it. There’s no option for electric. We’ll go with a version of clean diesel or gas, then we’ll look to phase in electric once the technology catches up.”

So much for “electric vehicles are the way of the future” while 16 ART Buses sit parked in a city lot.

Now the city will have to wait upwards of 18 months for a new bus order to arrive.

I suspect, giving the time it will take to order new buses and to manufacture the buses and for a manufacturer to get through any backlog of orders, no matter what slots the city feels it has secured, you’re probably looking at least 3 years before the buses are running along Central.

In three years, it will be 2021 and another election year for Mayor Keller if in fact he seeks reelection as anticipated.

In the meantime, the constructed platforms along the middle of Central will continue to go unused, deteriorate and probably be vandalized with graffiti.

It’s the stubbornness of city hall that never ceases to amaze me.

It’s the stubbornness of elected leaders who are reluctant to admit when they are wrong and make hard decisions when they know the truth and what should be done but they fail to act.

The Albuquerque City Council went along with this boondoggle and refused to place it on the ballot for voter approval, cramming it down voter’s throats and allocating millions.

The Albuquerque City Council has essentially stepped back and said nothing about the project for a full year while Keller flops around like a fish out of water trying to salvage the project.

Keller admitted two months after he was sworn into office on December 1, 2017, that the project was “a bit of a lemon”, but still wasted a full year of his first term trying to salvage the project to help save face for his predecessor.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/01/10/this-project-is-a-bit-of-a-lemon/

Keller’s threat of litigation after almost a full year in office seems very weak, seeing as he has known from day one the problems with the project and did little other than giving monthly reports and lip service to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) to secure funds promised for the project.

Keller should have instructed the City Attorney to file litigation for breach of contract, breach of warranties, misrepresentations and perhaps for Unfair Trade Practices.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/06/11/give-art-work-to-city-attorney-nm-attorney-general-and-district-attorney/

Keller has also refused to try and find any viable alternatives for the project, at least until now, and that is only looking for a new bus manufacturer.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/01/22/mayor-keller-should-scrap-art-bus-project-and-find-alternatives/

Keller knew how bad things were with ART, but refused to act decisively to mitigate the city’s damages and in doing so he too will have to be held accountable for a very bad project.

Keller is still stuck in a pile of dung left by his predecessor to clean up that will no doubt cost more with litigation costs and just may cost him a few votes because of his failure to act decisively once he was sworn into office.

Too bad, it did not have to be this way.

For more blog articles on ART see:

Dinelli Blog Articles On ART Bus Project Listed

Larry Ahrens: “Pray For New Mexico”; Radio Legend Returns!

Larry Ahrens is a longtime radio talk show host that graced New Mexico airwaves in the mornings for 30 plus years.

Mr. Ahrens is acutely tuned into the pulse of New Mexico politics because of his years in the radio business in New Mexico.

Larry and I are on clearly on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but we have also gotten along, we are friends, we have known each other for decades and we have always been able to have what I believe are productive political discussions.

One week after the 2018 midterms, Larry Ahrens offered his thoughts on the “blue wave” in New Mexico and what it may mean for our economic future in the age of Donald Trump.

PREFACE FROM LARRY AHRENS:

When I wrote this, I approached it from genuine concern about our economic future in New Mexico. We’re a state that depends quite heavily on government dollars. This is not a criticism of the voters of New Mexico. Voters really don’t think about these kinds of situations when they cast their ballots. This also not a partisan complaint about the results of the election. The slate of candidates on both sides were lacking a certain amount of experience and influence in Washington DC. But this is where we find ourselves today and I’m concerned.

TITLE: PRAY FOR NEW MEXICO

The people have spoken. The election has turned New Mexico from a Blue State to a Deep Blue State. The Democrats are rightfully delighted and they deserve to spike the football and do a dance in the end zone after the win. Like all New Mexicans I hope for good things to come. But I’ve also heard from several of my Democrat friends that this is their way of sticking it to President Trump. OK fine. But be very, very careful what you wish for.

It goes without saying that President Trump plays hardball. He rewards his friends and vanquishes his enemies. The man is tough and he knows the score.

This is the part that gets rather ominous. It’s uncomfortable to write this.
New Mexico is now politically powerless to prevent significant Federal closures of military bases and perhaps one or both of our national labs.

We are sitting ducks.

The President has already asked his cabinet to find at least 5% savings in all parts of government. All it would take is one phone call by the President to Defense Secretary Mattis who would order him to reassign the mission of Cannon AFB in Clovis or Holloman AFB in Alamogordo and send those military assignments to bases in Texas or Florida. That would happen so fast it would make heads spin. Or reassign Kirtland AFB to North Dakota, Arizona or somewhere else [friendlier] to Trump. The economic impact of any of those bases closing would be dramatic in our state. Maybe the word cataclysmic would better describe it.

How about our national labs? Sandia and Los Alamos are lifeblood to the economies in Albuquerque and the Santa Fe area. It’s not too far of a reach to imagine the mission of LANL being absorbed by our national lab facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee – a much friendlier Trump state. Same for Sandia National Laboratory.

Here’s a real Doomsday scenario – both Kirtland AFB and Sandia Lab get notice to close by the Feds and are assigned elsewhere. That move would literally break the economic back of Albuquerque for many years to come. It would affect every single aspect of local business and drive down property values in a big way.

Who’s going to stop it?

With this election New Mexico placed two freshmen Democrats into the House of Representatives. Both new members are well advertised as anti-Trump people. The other Democrat member Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is the same guy that was chairman of the committee coordinating the Democrats fundraising and recruiting efforts to unseat Republicans in Congress. I don’t believe Rep. Lujan will be invited over to the White House for lunch anytime soon.

Then there’s the U. S. Senate. New Mexico just re-elected Senator Martin Heinrich. Not exactly the most influential guy in DC. Truth be told Sen. Heinrich is not regarded by his Senate peers as someone very effective or even likeable. Also, the Senator is a virulent anti-Trump politician. Same is said about our other Senator Tom Udall. Not remarkable and vocal anti-Trump. If you don’t think President Trump hasn’t noticed then maybe I could interest you in buying the Montano bridge?

New Mexico no longer has a man like Sen. Pete Domenici to protect the Federal installations. We no longer have the all-star talent that fended off the closure of Kirtland AFB many years ago with the BRAC hearings. Those men and women have long since retired, left NM or have passed away.

New Mexicans are proud people. We like it when our state gets noticed or becomes famous for something. I hear the phrase all the time “That will put New Mexico on the map!” Well we’re on the map alright. We’re the big blue state in the middle of several red states on Trump’s map. He doesn’t need us. Our state is chump change in any reelection scenario he has. Don’t be surprised to see Federal dollars start draining away from our big blue anti-Trump state. President Trump rewards his friends (Texas, Florida, Tennessee etc.) and vanquishes his detractors.

See that image in your mind of a dollar bill with wings flying away? Over the next months and years that’s what New Mexico could likely experience. Federal dollars flying away to other states that are far friendlier to the current administration. It’s not going to be pretty.

POSTSCRIPT

Larry Ahrens has announced he is returning to radio after being retired for a few years.

His new show will be called “Coffee and Conversation” and it will be heard mornings 7 to 9 am on KDAZ Radio and simulcast on KCHF TV.

The target start date is January 7, 2019.

Stay tuned New Mexico!

Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission State Funded “Political Hit Squad”

The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) is a taxpayer and State funded Commission created by the New Mexico Supreme Court supposedly to improve the performance of all state judges.

In the 1980’s, Judicial Reform was initiated to get politics out the Judiciary with an appointment, election and retention election system of judges and impose strict requirements on the campaigns for Judges and the fund-raising activities of judicial candidates.

In 1997, the JPEC was established after the New Mexico Judiciary went from a system of strict partisan elections to a “hybrid” system of one partisan election followed by retention elections.

Once a judge is appointed or where elected first in a partisan race by 50% plus one of the vote, that judge faces a retention vote for subsequent terms and must garner 57% of the vote to be retained.

Any Judge who does not secure a “YES” vote from 57% of those voting on their retention are removed from office and the Governor then appoints a judge to fill the vacancy.

To fill court vacancies, the Judicial Selection Commission interviews candidates and submits a list of names to the Governor for appointment of one of the finalists.

The appointed judge must run in the next general election in a partisan race.

The JPEC does far more than just evaluate judge performance.

The JPEC issues recommendations that it publishes to voters for retention.

2018 MIDTERM ELECTIONS OF METROPOLITAN COURT JUDGES

During the 2018 midterm election, all 18 Metropolitan Court Judges were up for retention.

The JPEC did its customary confidential surveys to licensed attorneys, court jurors and others who interact with the Metro court and then published its recommendations to retain or not retain.

A story also ran in the Albuquerque Journal on the JPEC results of the survey that make recommendations to vote “YES” to retain or vote “NO” on retention.

You can read the Albuquerque Journal story here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1220805/commission-recommends-four-metro-court-judges-lose-their-seats.html

What is not reported in the Albuquerque Journal article is that confidential sources have said that only 1,000 surveys were sent out on the Metro Judges and that only 60 surveys were actually returned to the JPEC calling into serious doubt the credibility of the survey.

Further, confidential sources report that the JPEC spent $300,000 in taxpayer money to hire a professional pollster, do the survey and publish the “results” and recommendation to the voting public.

The JPEC recommended to voters that of the 18 judges up for retention, people should vote “YES” to retain 14 of those judges and vote “NO” to not to retain 4 judges.

Of the Metro Judges that were up for retention, all the judges the JPEC recommended vote “YES” to retain easily received the required 57% of the vote to keep their jobs for another four-year term.

Of the four judges who received “do not retain” recommendations this year, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward Benavidez and Judge Kenny Montoya failed to garner the 57 percent of votes required to stay on the bench, while Judge Linda Rogers and Judge Michelle Castillo Dowler kept their jobs by very slim margins above the 57% mark.

Presiding Judge Edward Benavidez received 103,815 “YES” votes to be retained or 55.3% and 83,905 “NO” votes not to retain or 44.7%

Metro Judge Kenny Montoya received 103,519 “YES” votes to be retained or 55% and 82, 201 “NO” votes not to retain or 44.56%

When asked if the JPEC evaluation had an impact on his retention, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward Benavidez had this to say:

“They absolutely have an impact on retention elections … they admit it themselves. … There’s no questioning that when they come out with ‘do not retains’ for whoever the judge is, it has a direct impact on their voting numbers. … [the JPEC] meddled in, interfered with and absolutely affected [my retention] … JPEC uses state money to openly and actively campaign against those judges they subjectively decide to give a ‘do not retain’ recommendation to … Whenever judges have to go to their interviews [before the JPEC] everybody’s like on pins and needles because this has such an impact. … If you upset [the JPEC] … , things can go against you and it’s gonna cost you your job.”

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the JPEC evaluations do have an impact on retentions and that review of past elections show that a judge who is recommended for retention by JPEC on average receives 13% more YES votes than those whom the commission recommends a “NO” vote.

According to Sanderoff, those recommended for retention received an average of 69.5% “YES”votes.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1244187/judge-commission-evaluations-impact-retention.html

THE JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE EVALUATION COMMISSION

In 1997, The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) was created by the Supreme Court of New Mexico to improve the performance of judges and provide useful, credible information to voters on judges standing for retention.

https://nmjpec.org/en/

The JPEC is supposedly a nonpartisan volunteer commission.

The JPEC is made of up 15 individuals, 7 lawyers and 8 non-lawyers, who are appointed to staggered terms by the Supreme Court of New Mexico and who are from all over the State of New Mexico.

Commission members are selected from nominations by the Governor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore, House Minority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and President of the State Bar.

Members are appointed to represent divergent professions, backgrounds and geographical areas of the state.

Members go through an approval process and agree to donate a significant amount of time to evaluate judges midway through their terms in office as well as when they are standing for retention.

https://nmjpec.org/en/staff/jpec-commissioners

All New Mexico Court Judges at all levels are initially elected in partisan elections to full terms and then after serving the term, they must go before voters thereafter for retention to serve another term.

Every election cycle where Judges appear on the ballot, the JPEC evaluates judges by sending out a confidential survey to all licensed attorneys who grade the Judges and the Commission then rates the judges and recommends to voters who they should retain.

JPEC evaluates judges in five major areas:

1. Legal ability
2. Fairness
3. Communication skills
4. Preparation and
5. Temperament and control over proceedings

To perform the evaluations, the JPEC distributes confidential surveys to licensed attorneys, court jurors and others who interact with the court.

The commission also interviews the judges, reviews statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts and sends observers into the courtroom.

New Mexico judges who are up for retention must receive approval from 57% of voters to keep their seat on the bench and not the 50% plus one required in contested partisan.

The JPEC posts all their results and recommendations to vote “YES” to retain or vote “NO” to retain on its web site.

Historically, judges who JPEC recommends not be retained receive about 12% fewer votes than judges who are recommended for retention.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court is often referred to as the “people’s court” and it is a court of “limited jurisdiction.”

Without question, the Metropolitan Court is the busiest court in the State of New Mexico, literally handling hundreds of thousands of cases a year.

There are 18 Metropolitan Court Judges with each carrying crushing caseloads.

According to the JPEC evaluations, both Presiding Judge Edward Benavidez and Judge Kenny Montoya received relatively low retention recommendations from attorneys who were surveyed.

Both Judges received low ratings in categories including exercising sound legal reasoning and being knowledgeable regarding substantive law.

PRESIDING METRO JUDGE EDWARD BENAVIDEZ

Metro Judge Edward Benavidez has served on the Metro bench for 10 years and has been elected and then retained in the past.

Presiding Judge Benavidez has served as Metropolitan Court Chief Judge since May of 2017, overseeing the court’s $27 million budget and 300 employees.

Judge Benavidez has presided over DWI Recovery Court for the last four years.

Of the 335 offenders who graduated from the program, only 13 have re-offended, which is an astonishing success rate.

As Chief Presiding Judge, a target was put on Judge Benavides back for removal when he ran afoul of defense attorneys and JPEC because he set bonds for defendants, he felt are a danger or flight risk.

Judge Benavidez has a 94 percent affirmation rate on appeal while also maintaining the highest case clearance rate in Metro Court, all while juggling his duties as presiding Judge.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1236297/voters-should-keep-all-18-metro-judges-on-the-bench.html

METRO JUDGE KENNY MONTOYA

Metro Judge Kenny Montoya is the former Adjutant General of the New Mexico National Guard, has been a Metro Court judge for four years.

Judge Kenny Montoya is also a former Bernalillo County Assistant District Attorney.

Judge Montoya presides over the Outreach Specialty Court, which tries to get homeless defendants on the right path, and he’s helping with the new substance use and treatment options program.

Of those surveyed about whether Montoya should be retained, 88 percent of court staff, more than 80 percent of police officers and resource staff and 63 percent of attorneys said he should.

Still, JPEC said the attorneys surveyed gave him lower ratings in exercising sound legal reasoning and being knowledgeable regarding law and rules of procedure and evidence.

Once again, a target was placed on Judge Montoya’s back for removal because defense attorneys were not happy with him because he made some defendants post bond, particularly when evidenced showed they are a danger.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1236297/voters-should-keep-all-18-metro-judges-on-the-bench.html

EVALUATING THE EVALUATORS

When you review the names of all the members of the JPEC, it is not at all likely that anyone of them, or perhaps maybe one or two at the most, have ever even stepped into the Bernalillo County Metro Court.

All too often, certain segments of the New Mexico Bar, court personnel who work for them or police officers who appear before them, target and disparage Metro Judges because they do not like the Metro Judge’s rulings or personal treatment and want the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission to make a negative recommendation at election time.

As practicing attorney for over 40 years, including 7 years as a Workers Compensation Judge, I have seen first hand how lawyers and parties can react and even carry a grudge when they disagree with a ruling.

During my 7 years as a Workers Compensation Judge, I had the lowest disqualification rate of the Judges and a 97% affirmance rate by the Court of Appeals.

The JPEC recommendation have a definite impact on any Metro Judge’s chances for retention.

All State of New Mexico Judges are strictly prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from holding any elected or appointed positions in political parties.

All State Judges are strictly prohibited from endorsing any candidate for office and cannot solicit donations for elections.

Candidates running for Judge must have a confidential finance committee set up to raise money for them, the committee is prevented from disclosing to the judicial candidate names of donors to prevent the Judges from knowing who donated to their campaigns to avoid the appearance and accusation of giving preferential treatment in decisions rendered.

A Judge is also prevented by the Code of Judicial Conduct from making “extrajudicial comments” to the media or groups that may reflect on their fairness and impartiality.

Judges are prohibited from defending their decisions and sentencings and their job performance in a public forum outside of their courtrooms so criticizing judges is like “shooting fish” in a barrel.

What was not disclosed by the JPEC was that only 60 of the 1,000 surveys were returned and the JPEC and it spent $300,000 to do the survey and then publish the results without allowing the Judges to comment or dispute the results on the JPEC web page.

Once the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission issues its ratings, there is virtually very little or no recourse for any Judge to dispute the no retention recommendation given to them by the JPEC.

The JPEC does not give “equal time” on their web page to the Judges who are rated as would be the case at a debate on an incumbent candidate’s job performance.

The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission’s is suppose “to provide useful, credible information to voters on judges standing for retention”, yet there is nothing in great detail on its web page.

It is doubtful that confidential surveys from those who may have a personal axe to grind against any judge are much of a use to give a complete and accurate picture of any judge’s job performance everyday they are on the bench.

The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission wants voters to accept as gospel without challenge the recommendations they make on retention.

All the current Metro Judges by and large are all highly dedicated public servants performing the best they can to discharge their duties in a fair and impartial manner.

It is totally inappropriate for a government agency, funded with taxpayer money, to be telling people how to vote.

Elected officials working in other branches of government aren’t subjected to similar evaluations and that is what political elections are all about.

New Mexico just passed the creation of an ethics commission, and you have to wonder if it will get into the act of using state money to do evaluations of elected officials.

There has to be a better way for JPEC to seek removal of Judges for poor job performance than to go to voters with recommendation and removal should be done by the Supreme Court.

If there is indeed a problem with the job performance of any judge that would justify removal, the appropriate remedy would be an investigation by the Judicial Standards Commission and result in the Judge’s removal by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Within 30 days, the Judicial Nominating Commission will select qualified candidates to recently Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to be considered for appointment to fill the vacancies.

Both Judges Edward Benavidez and Kenny Montoya should apply for their jobs again and stand for election again in 2020 in a partisan race.

The JPEC is a threat to the independence of the Judiciary and the New Mexico Supreme Court should seek to abolish it.

At this point, the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission has become nothing more than a “political hit squad” that uses taxpayer money to actively campaign against Judges.

Civil Lawsuit On ART No Substitute For Criminal Investigation On Whole Project

On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial that was an about face regarding its 3-year support of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project bus project.

Following is the Journal editorial entitled “Halloweens over, but ART woes still haunting ABQ”:

“BYD bills itself as the undisputed leader in American electric-battery buses, its Build Your Dreams moniker evoking images of sleek, futuristic vehicles transporting the masses in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

That might play on the brochures, but on the ground in Albuquerque a more fitting name for the company might be Build Your Nightmares – buses it built for the Duke City experienced brake failures and doors opening during operation.

BYD is the Chinese manufacturer behind the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project’s ill-fated electric bus fleet. The buses are manufactured at the company’s California-based North America plant.

Former Mayor Richard Berry’s ART project was supposed to transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and median bus stations.

Instead, Mayor Tim Keller inherited a B-horror movie, with buses that appear to be unsafe “at any speed.”

“We are not going to let these buses on our streets until we are 100 percent sure they’re safe,” Keller said last week. “And what the tests found is that, today, several of them are not.” And he means for riders or drivers. According to city officials:

• There have been door malfunctions; bolts began to fall off doors, and rear doors have opened during bus operation without any action by the driver.

• There have been brake failures; specifically, ABQ Ride mechanics discovered last month the center and rear brakes had zero air pressure, yet the bus was able to move, something that should never happen. “It means that the center and rear axle brakes were not working – the buses were relying on their front brakes alone,” said Bernie Toon, the city’s transit director.

• And there have been air conditioning outages.

BYD disputes the buses are unsafe, saying they have been built to strict Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and passed FMVSS brake and all other testing required for revenue service.

Here’s betting that doesn’t include doors flying open at random and 60 feet of bus relying on one set of brakes.

This is the latest in a long string of we say/they say problems with the ART project in general and the buses in particular. The project is more than a year behind schedule and the city still doesn’t have all buses ordered, despite the fact they were to be delivered in 2017. Bus battery life has also been an issue.

Keller told reporters he’s running out of patience with BYD, and he’s not alone. The public is also fed up with this stalled project and BYD’s tired excuses. One drive down a completely configured Central Avenue – with motorists cruising in the “bus only” lanes – proves it.

It’s time for Keller and his administration to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the city should sever ties with BYD, and what that alternative route would cost in time and money. Of course, such a move is a last resort – but we may be approaching that intersection.”

Below is the link to the Albuquerque Journal editorial:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1242312/halloweens-over-but-art-woes-still-haunting-abq.html

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT

One glaring omission from the Albuquerque Journal’s editorial was any mention of the City’s June 6, 2018 Inspector General (IG) Report on the ART Bus Project.

The entire Inspector General report can be read here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fA-D6dk6lp3DZgQzQCWVEVbziQ2vXov/view

According to the Inspector General report, former Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan “was adamant about having a bus transported to the City before the end of the Mayor Berry administration.”

An Albuquerque transit employee told the Inspector General that “core processes on manufacturing buses was altered to ensure delivery of the first bus by the deadline.”

The IG report described two city employees interviewed who recounted a “tense” and “unusual” phone call between then-city Chief Operating Officer Michael Riordan and top executives from the manufacturer.

According to the IG’s report the first bus delivered in August 2017, was assembled by the manufacturer using a “frame intended for buses being built for [another city’s transit authority].”

Frames intended for the Albuquerque’s buses had not yet been shipped nor received by the manufacturer.

The Inspector General found that the bus manufacturer used “parts and pieces” intended for another city’s buses for the first ART bus delivered.

The city employee further reported that the first bus was moved to whatever assembly station was available to ensure it was assembled in time in order to get it shipped to Albuquerque before Mayor Berry left office.

The last 4 sentences of the 72-page Inspector General’s findings and report is worth quoting relating fraudulent activity:

“The inspection was proactive in nature and not due to any allegations that were made. While this inspection didn’t identify instances of fraud, it is important to note that it doesn’t mean fraud did not occur. The inspection did identify several problems that offer opportunities to improve and could be vulnerabilities for fraudulent behavior. City leaders should consider the problems identified and recommendations made to develop a more efficient and stronger procurement process that will help prevent and deter fraud, while also ensuring more quality and confidence in the products and services that the taxpayer funds. This is essential to protecting the public’s trust.”

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

It appears that the Albuquerque Journal Editors adopted more than a few thoughts and words from the November 2, 2018 blog article “Keller: New Art Buses Unsafe At Any Speed” especially when they said:

“[O]n the ground in Albuquerque a more fitting name for the company might be Build Your Nightmares. … Mayor Tim Keller inherited a B-horror movie, with buses that appear to be unsafe “at any speed.” … Keller told reporters he’s running out of patience with BYD. … It’s time for Keller and his administration to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the city should sever ties with BYD”.

The November 2, 2018 blog article “Keller: New Art Buses Unsafe At Any Speed” contained the following COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS:

“[On November 1, 2018] Mayor Keller proclaimed “I am running out of patience.”

Mayor Keller, it’s about time you lost all patience and probably way too late not to be held 100% responsible for this boondoggle that has destroyed Route 66 and been a major drag on your first year in office.

Mayor Tim Keller I suspect feels that the ART bus manufacture Build Your Dreams (BYD) should change its name to “Build Your Nightmares.”

For almost a full year, Mayor Keller and the Keller Administration have been working on resolving major issues with bus performance.

Within 6 weeks after taking office, Keller proclaimed the project “as bit of lemon” but pushed forward to try and salvage the project anyway.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/01/10/this-project-is-a-bit-of-a-lemon/

Two months after taking office, Mayor Keller was urged by many within the community to scrap the project and find alternatives, but he refused saying it would be too costly.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/01/22/mayor-keller-should-scrap-art-bus-project-and-find-alternatives/

In June of this year, Mayor Keller said the buses were like kids in a divorce where parents are fighting for who gets custody.

If a “divorce” is what Keller really wanted, he should have hired a good lawyer, filed suit and seek damages for breach of contract for all the delays and breach of warranties relating to the buses.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/06/04/want-a-divorce-hire-a-lawyer/

One question Mayor Keller was asked during the status conference is if any attempt will be made to hold former Mayor Richard Berry accountable for the ART Bus Project given that he rushed to have buses delivered to dedicate the project before he left office, a question Keller declined to answer.

In June of this year, after the Inspector General Report on the ART Project was released, Mayor Keller was urged turn the ART Bus project over to the City Attorney, the New Mexico Attorney General and the District Attorney, to investigate for criminal activity but Mayor Keller declined to make the referral.

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/06/11/give-art-work-to-city-attorney-nm-attorney-general-and-district-attorney/

What is genuinely pathetic is that the Albuquerque City Council went along with this boondoggle and refused to put it on the ballot for a vote.”

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/11/02/keller-new-art-buses-unsafe-at-any-speed/

CONCLUSION

After more than 3 years, the Albuquerque Journal came around to what most taxpayers have thought from day one: $130 million in taxpayer money has been spent on a “boondoggle” for a bus line that has destroyed the character of Route 66.

The 22 buses ordered represent only $25 million of the $130 million project.

The city has yet to pay for any of the buses, even those that have been delivered.

A breach of contract action by the city against the bus manufacture to sever ties and return the buses will not approach the real financial losses involved with the project to the city, let alone bring back those businesses along central that had to close all because of the construction.

What many taxpayers feel is that crimes occurred with the ART Bus project, but we will never know because no law enforcement agency has investigated it.

When Tim Keller was New State Auditor before becoming Mayor, he was a champion for accountability to stop waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money.

As State Auditor, Keller seemed never be reluctant to turn cases over to prosecuting agencies which garnered him much publicity, so his reluctance now he is Mayor to turn the City Audit and the ART Bus project to prosecuting agencies is very puzzling.

No matter what Mayor Keller says or does now, no matter what eventually happens with the ART Bus Project, it is now Mayor Keller’s lemon to own and be held responsible and accountable for given his reluctance to scrap the project and helping save face for his predecessor.