Hidden Costs of Berry’s White Elephant

Berry’s White Elephant is an appropriate nickname for a conservative Republican Mayor’s legacy project that no will use and a Mayor who campaigned on being fiscally responsible and who is now running for Governor.

Below is an Albuquerque Free Press article on the hidden costs of the ART Bus project.

ALBUQUERQUE FREE PRESS
Vol IV, Issue 6, February 15 – 21, 2017, page 14
“Utility Work Sends ART’s Price Tag Higher”

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

Add another couple million dollars to the cost of Mayor Richard Berry’s $126 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project. That’s the cost of all the water and sewer line work that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has done and continues to do along Central Avenue in preparation for full-blown ART construction. The $7 million bill is being paid by local residents through their water and sewer bills. The water authority said on Feb. 10 that the total cost of the ART-related work along Central would be $7 million – nearly twice what was estimated to relocate water lines away from the center of the street and away from where ART stations are to be built. Water Utility spokesman David Morris said much of the work would have been needed anyway over the next 10 years. To cover the cost, the water authority approved a bond issue in January to raise $15 million more than the $56 million in bonds it sells every two years. About half of the extra $15 million is for ART-related work, Morris said. When the water authority’s staff presented the proposed bond issue to its board in December, they did not mention that more money was needed for ART-related projects. Elaine Hebard, a water activist who attends the water authority’s board meetings, said she was troubled by the lack of disclosure. “It bothers me that they didn’t say to the board or to the public that they were going to borrow an extra $15 million,” Hebard said. She said she wondered which other capital projects the ABCWUA has delayed so it could complete the work along a nine-mile stretch of Central.

OTHER HIDDEN COSTS

Other hidden cost that have yet to be reported on include any costs for relocating gas lines and perhaps buried electrical cables.

Additionally, the Berry Administration and the Albuquerque City Council have used $13 million dollars in revenue bonds to pay for the ART Bus project that were not voted upon by the public.

It was reported that Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council have borrowed over $63 million dollars over the past two years to build pickle ball courts, baseball fields and the ART bus project down central by bypassing the voters. (For full story see January 2, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “BYPASSING the Voters” page A-1).

The $65 million dollars was borrowed with the Albuquerque City Councilors voting to use revenue bonds as the financing mechanism to pay for big capital projects, including the ART Bus project.

Revenue bonds must repaid with gross receipts tax revenues.

Gross receipts tax revenues are traditionally used for essential services such as police and fire protection.

The Mayor and City Council have become enamored with revenue bonds because they can literally pick and choose what projects they want to fund and build without any public input or vote whatsoever, so long as they have seven votes on the city council.

It’s likely that revenue bonds not voted upon by voters will have to be used to fund the ART Bus project when the federal grant fails.

A black cloud that continues to loom over the ART Bus project is the problem that the $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant the city is counting on to complete ART has yet to be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration nor has any money been appropriated by Congress for the small starts grants. (See Albuquerque Free Press, Vol. 10, Issue 5, February 8 to 14, “ART FUNDING STILL IN DOUBT”)

Congress is not expected to consider the budget until late March or early April and there is a chance that all funding will be denied for the grant.

The appropriations conference committees in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have recommended cutting the Federal Transportation Grant of $69 million dollar grant by anywhere from $19 million to $23 million.

When it’s all said a done, and the City does not get a dime from the federal government, taxpayers are going to be left thrown under the bus so to speak to pay for a Berry’s White Elephant legacy project that no one will use.

City Council Candidates running for reelection like Diane Gibson, Ken Sanchez and Don Harris need to be reminded how they voted to spend money that was never appropriated by congress.

Voters need to remember City Councilor Pat Davis, who now says he is running for Congress to replace Mitchell Lujan Grisham, told his constituents that there was nothing he could do about the ART bus project and he refused to put it on the ballot for a public vote.

Candidates running for Mayor need to be asked where they stand on ART and what they intend to do with the project.

A Political Operative Way Over His Head

http://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/albuquerque-police-department-data-increase-crime-decrease-staffing-officer-shortage-gorden-eden-union-apoa-shaun-willoughby/4401499/?cat=500

The above link to the February 15, 2017 KOB investigative story by KOB reporter Caleb James merits extensive quotation as follows:

“In a series of recent reports, KOB has asked the Albuquerque Police Department to explain an increase in violent crime over the years. Each time, the department blames a climbing crime rate on repeat offenders being lightly sentenced and released back onto the streets.”

“On Wednesday, KOB analyzed numbers pulled straight from the department’s own annual reports. Amidst recent court rulings governing speedy trial requirements and a microscope on lenient sentencing, there’s no arguing repeat offenders are busy committing crime in the metro and across New Mexico.”

“But according to the APD’s own official statistics, officers made nearly 10,000 fewer arrests in 2015 than in 2010 when the department had hundreds of more officers. According to APD’s annual reports — available to anyone online — the department had only 832 officers in 2015. In 2010, APD was already under-staffed but holding steady with a much healthier 1,065 officers on patrol.”

“Police Chief Gorden Eden has insisted there is no correlation between staffing and crime.”

“It’s a disaster what’s happened from 2010 to 2015,” Albuquerque Police Officers Union President Shaun Willoughby said.”

“Willoughby said the department’s own numbers fly in the face of Eden’s position.
Take robbery, for instance. There were 940 cases in 2010, compared to 1,686 in 2015 — the latest official data available. Auto theft has skyrocketed. Compare 2,773 cases in 2010 to 5,179 reported, according to the department’s 2015 annual report. Total violent crime has also spiked across the board. There were 4,491 violent crime cases in 2010, according to APD, and 5,049 in 2015.”

“When KOB has asked APD about the increase in crime, they’ve pointed to the historically low inmate population at the Bernalillo County jail — arguing fewer inmates in jail equals more repeat offenders being let out and sentenced lightly.”

“But it is also true, according to the department’s statistics, officers are arresting far fewer people to begin with — nearly 10,000 fewer people than five years ago. According to the reports, officers arrested 31,176 people in 2010. In 2015, just 22,820 total arrests were made.”

(See full KOB story at http://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/albuquerque-police-department-data-increase-crime-decrease-staffing-officer-shortage-gorden-eden-union-apoa-shaun-willoughby/4401499/?cat=500 listing APD anual reports.)

ANOTHER TAKE ON THE KOB REPORT

Eden’s insistence and denial that there is no correlation between staffing and crime is a reflection of the type of ignorance in law enforcement management you get from someone who has absolutely no prior experience in managing a municipal police department and who is nothing more than a political operative way over his head.

The simple truth is, fewer cops means fewer arrests, fewer cases, fewer convictions, fewer sentencing of criminals.

For four years, I have been saying APD needs to return to community based policing and get more officers to patrol our streets.

In 2016, Albuquerque had a 20 year high in murders. Albuquerque has become one of the most violent cities in the Country. In 2015, murders in Albuquerque spiked by 53%.Since 2010, Albuquerque’s violent and property crime rates dramatically increased by 14% to 20% percent.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 2015 Albuquerque’s violent crime rates increased by 9.2% and property crime rates increased by 11.5%. APD officers have shot over 41 people with close to $50 million paid in police misconduct cases and excessive use of force cases.

The number of APD sworn officers has fallen from 1,100 in 2009 to 850 in 2016. Only 430 sworn officers are assigned to field services responding to 69,000 priority one 911 emergency calls a year.

Albuquerque needs 1,200 sworn police officers to effectively return to community based policing that will reduce crime. Yet all we get from a feckless city administration are excuses and finger pointing at judges and the legislature.

APD is severely understaffed and struggling to implement expansive and expensive Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to and mandated reforms. More must be done to aggressively implement the DOJ reforms, solve the staffing shortages and address APD’s leadership crisis.

A PROPOSED SOLUTION

The City Council by ordinance can create a Department of Public Safety with an appointed civilian Police Commissioner.

The Police Commissioner would assume direct civilian oversight, management and control of APD.

A national search for a Police Commissioner and Chief of Police needs to be conducted.

A Police Commissioner and Chief with extensive and proven leadership in managing a municipal police department must be hired, not political operatives.

The civilian Police Commissioner would assume primary responsibility for implementation of all the DOJ-mandated reforms and only be removed for cause by the Mayor.

The Police Commissioner would completely overhaul and restructure APD, appoint new chiefs, commanders, lieutenants, academy director and a 911 manager and each would report directly to the Chief of Police, with the Police Commissioner in the Chain of Command as the Commissioner determines to be necessary and appropriate to carry out his or her duties.

The city needs to fund and implement a non-negotiated major hourly rate increase of up to 15% to 20% percent for sworn officers, excluding management, to improve recruitment, retention and morale.

Sign on bonuses, tuition debt payoff and mortgage down payment bonuses need to be offered to new recruits.

Yearly experienced officer retention bonuses must be made permanent.

APD needs to “triple down” on recruitment and dramatically increase the size and number of police academy classes per year.

Until aggressive action is taken with APD and the Department of Justice mandated reforms, APD will continue to spin out of control, violent crime will continue to rise and Albuquerque will continue to see dramatic spikes in crime.

The 2017 Race for Mayor Begins

As of February 16, 2017, there are fourteen (14) candidates for Mayor registered with the Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office for the October 3, 2017 municipal election.

The candidates for Mayor in alphabetical order, and the way they intend to finance their campaigns, are as follow:

Eddy Aragon, Independent, “Rock of Talk” radio talk show host. (Public Financing)
Deanna Archuleta, Democrat, former Bernalillo County Commissioner (Private Financing)
Elan Colello, Democrat, CEO of a virtual reality company (Public Financing)
Brian Colon, former State Democratic Party Chairman and attorney (Private Financing)
Lamont T. Davis (No information reported on) (Public Financing)
Mitchell Garcia Holmes, Independent, retired APD police detective (Public Financing)
Rachel Golden (No information reported on) (Public Financing)
Wayne Johnson, Republican Bernalillo County Commissioner (Private Financing)
Tim Keller, Democrat first term New Mexico State Auditor (Public Financing)
Dan Lewis, Republican Albuquerque City Councilor (Private Financing)
Scott Madison, Democrat, employed by Sandia Labs (Public Financing)
Stella Padilla, Democrat, community activist and Old Town resident (Public Financing)
Augustus “Gus” Pedrotty (No information reported on) (Public Financing)
Susan Wheeler-Deischel, Independent, founder Urban Albuquerque (Public Financing)

Note that 10 candidates are seeking public financing and 4 are seeking private financing.

Identified are six Democrats, two Republicans, and three Independents running for Mayor.

QAULIFYING NOMINATING PETITION SIGNATURES

All Candidates for Mayor are given a little over 10 weeks to collect 3,000 petition signatures to get on the October 3, 2017 municipal ballot.

From February 16, 2017 to April 28, 2017 all candidates for Mayor will be allowed to collect nominating petition signatures.

Each signature will be reviewed by the Albuquerque City Clerk’s office to confirm that the signature is from a registered Albuquerque voter.

The disqualification rates can be high and candidates in all likelihood will need to submit at least 5,000 signatures.

I predict as many as eight candidates will be able to secure the 3,000 nominating petition signatures because of the ten weeks given to collect the signatures.

QUALIFYING PUBLIC FINANCING DONATIONS

Candidates for Mayor who will be seeking public financing are given only six (6) weeks to collect 3,600 qualifying $5.00 donations in order to secure $370,000 in public financing.

The $5.00 qualifying donations are non-refundable donations to the City of Albuquerque and not donations to the candidates nor their campaigns.

Candidates for Mayor will be given from February 15 to March 31 to collect the $5.00 qualifying donations and those donations must come from only Albuquerque registered voters.

Receipts must be signed by donors and the receipts must be turned into the City Clerk’s office for verification that the $5.00 donation to the City came from a registered city voter.

Once a candidate secures the necessary 3,600 qualifying donations, the City will make a one time, lump sum deposit into a candidate campaign finance account and that is the only amount that will be given for the entire campaign including any run off.

A public financed candidate who secures the necessary qualifying donations must sign a written agreement that they will not spend any more on their campaign other than what they are given by the city.

Public financed candidates once qualified are strictly prohibited from soliciting or accepting any more donations from any source for their campaigns

In the event that a candidate seeking public financing does not secure the necessary 3,600 donations, they still have the option to continue their campaign as a privately financed candidate.

No public finance money is given for a runoff election.

I predict that no more than two of the above listed candidates will actually be able to secure the 3,600 qualifying donations mainly because only six weeks is allowed to collect the donations and it is labor intensive.

PRIVATELY FINANCED CANDIDATES

Unlike publicly financed candidates, who may only spend the funds distributed by the City, privately financed candidates have no fundraising or spending limits.

Privately financed candidates can solicit and raise money throughout their campaigns and up and through the day of the first election or runoff if there is one.

Privately financed candidates can solicit donations from persons, corporations and entities with no Albuquerque residency required of the donors.

Privately finance candidates running for Mayor do not have to file financial reports until July.

The finance reports are very detailed listing contributors, dates and amounts which are in turn reviewed for compliance by the city clerk with the finance disclosure and reporting laws, contribution limitations and for conflicts and prohibitions against donations from people who do business with the City of Albuquerque.

MEASURED FINANCE COMMITTEES

City of Albuquerque Campaign Finance laws allow “measured finance” committees to be set up to raise unlimited amounts of money and promote candidates for Mayor.

I believe there will be very wealthy donors and interest groups, including from outside the State of New Mexico, contributing huge amounts of money to measured finance committees or candidates for Mayor and their campaigns and their political consultants, which is what happened last year in a few state races.

CONCLUSION

The municipal election for Mayor and City Council will be on October 3, 2017.

If no candidate for Mayor secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election one month later is held between the two top vote getters.

Also on the ballot will be a proposal increasing the public financing to Mayor candidates from $370,000 to $640,000 and if it passes, it will be in effect for the 2021 election.

It is also anticipated that the mandatory sick leave initiative will be placed on the ballot by the Albuquerque City Council.

Best wishes to all the candidates for Mayor and hope they all get on the ballot in order to increase voter turnout.

Voters are encouraged to ask the candidates where they stand on the issues, decide on a candidate to support and help them get elected.

I further encourage people to “follow the money”, especially measured finance committees and know the consultants hired before you vote so you can know what you are really getting in a candidate and who the candidate is really beholding to and who is pulling the strings.

It Takes A Village to Help the Homeless

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
Joy Junction Inc.

With ongoing national attention of our city’s ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness and panhandling, it’s curious why the total number of homeless individuals doesn’t go down. If anything, according to who you ask and which statistics you believe, it keeps increasing.

In addition, we’re reminded of the sometimes deadly effects of homelessness and mental illness in the nationally infamous James Boyd case after two police officers were charged in his death in a trial which ended in a hung jury.

The case raises questions about what we as a community might have been able to do to prevent a man from seeking shelter on a mountainside. Does Albuquerque have the necessary resources to keep this situation from happening to another man, woman or even an entire family?

Having been homeless during some of the roughest times in my life, I do my best to think of potential solutions from the perspective of the homeless themselves, rather than from an ideology of “it’s not my problem,” or “the government should be responsible for taking care of homeless individuals.”

The mindset of wanting to do something myself instead of waiting for someone else to do it, was in part, what moved me to create a different type of homeless shelter in our community – one for the entire family — where (not withstanding space limitations), no one is turned away, no matter the time of day or situation.

This means that when a family of four comes through the door, we take them all in, regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation or religion.
Over the past 30-plus years, Joy Junction has grown to serve more than 10,000 meals each month, not including the more than 6,000 meals served by our mobile feeding unit called The Lifeline of Hope.

This service was started in 2009 to provide food, beverages and hygiene products to those who have shelter but very little else, and to individuals who for a variety of reasons live on the streets, where their “pillow” is often a concrete sidewalk.

In addition, recognizing that overnights are some of the most need-saturated times of the day, Joy Junction staff drive a van through the streets of Albuquerque between about 1 and 5 a.m. in search of anyone who might need assistance with food, water and when available, a blanket or sleeping bag.

Those small acts of kindness do make a difference, as some have showed.

At Joy Junction, we’ve made it our mission to not only provide basic needs like food and shelter, but also emotional and spiritual assistance so individuals can get back on their feet. In addition, guests at Joy Junction are welcome to stay as long as they need, so they can become “whole” again.

Because of the increased need we see in Albuquerque, at the time of writing Joy Junction is working on the last stages of obtaining funding to complete construction of an on-site apartment complex. Continued and increased community support is vital for the success of this project. Modular units which will form the basis of this exciting project are already at Joy Junction. We just need the financial resources to see them turned into something which will house the homeless in dignity.

Because we are a donations-only charitable organization, we receive no federal, state or local funding. It’s what we’ve always done. While it’s sometimes challenging, it’s the best way, with government funding for homelessness sometimes changing on a bureaucratic whim.

“It takes a village,” not only to raise a child, but also to lift an individual from their worst days. Success in assisting society’s most vulnerable, though, means that some homeless advocates and the homeless, along with area resident and business owners won’t always get exactly what they want. There’ll need to be some give and take, and a whole lot of respectful communication from both sides.

Never have we seen so clearly before how divided we are as a country. We’re an angry city, state and nation. That ugly political rancor needs to go. How do comments like this help anyone-or the cause you are trying to propagate? Look at this (edited). “(Trump) is an evil little sh*t! He’s not even looking after the 200,000 people of California who are facing a disaster… he’s one twisted mother f#%$er!” ”While it is definitely this person’s right to say what she wants, how is it helpful? What does it do to alleviate the problem? All this rancor does is to stir up people who are angry already.

Another post full of verbal slop read (in caps, which is considered rude when posting on line) when describing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s net worth, ”Investigate everyone of these suddenly rich treasonous traitor fu**s.” It seems that this guy got really stirred up. But step back and think a moment. What good did it do? The writer was commenting in a public group called “The Deplorables”.

Then pontificating about Leslie Jones from Saturday Night Live on his Facebook page, controversial hate speaker Milo Yiannopoulos who creates trouble wherever he goes and was at UNM recently commented, “I’m conflicted about this because as awful a human being as she is, this is a black Trump which is of course the most sexually exciting proposition imaginable.” This is a really constructive piece of dialogue contributing toward the national debate, right? Not!

While the diatribe continues, at Joy Junction, we’ll continue to do our part every single day and ask that you help in any way you can, especially as the colder weather is here.

We hope everyone will continue to rise to the challenge and help us end homelessness and hunger, one life and one meal at a time.

No Settlement Policy Worked

It has been reported that an estimated $63.3 million the City of Albuquerque has paid in legal settlements in law enforcement civil rights cases from 2010 to 2016 has resulted in a $40 million shortfall in the city’s risk management fund, which pays for uninsured losses.

(See February 14, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, Metro& NM “Payouts leave Duke City $40M short”, section C-1: https://www.abqjournal.com/949518/claims-payouts-leave-abq-40m-short.html)

This is dangerous and the City could lose its self insurance status.

Another point is that if judgements against the city become so high, payment could be placed on the property tax rolls.

The report makes one wonder exactly what has the Berry Administration and the City Attorney’s office actually done to defend the City and police officers in police misconduct cases, even in frivolous cases, other than writing checks and just “rolling over” without defending and settling the cases without advocating any defense.

The Albuquerque City Attorney’s Office employs 34 attorneys, numerous para legals, administrative assistants and support staff.

The City taxpayers are entitled to demand and expect competent and aggressive defense when the city is sued.

In 2010, it was the Berry Administration, on the recommendation of then City Attorney Rob Perry, a plaintiff’s attorney before becoming City Attorney, that abolished the “no settlement” policy to the absolute delight of plaintiff attorneys and the courts.

As City Attorney and as Chief Administrative Officer, Rob Perry sits on the City Risk Management Committee that approves city settlements of the cases.

The “no settlement policy” mandated that all “police misconduct cases” be tried before a jury with a few exceptions allowed when liability and misconduct was absolutely certain.

The philosophy was that the “sunlight” of an open courtroom and the presentation of evidence was the best disinfectant for police misconduct to inform the public.

The “no settlement policy” mandated that the City Attorney’s office aggressively defend the cases and police officer’s actions and required plaintiff attorneys to prove police misconduct and their client’s cases and damages.

Settlements are reached behind closed doors and the public is seldom given much of an explanation of how damages are arrived at and why resulting in much speculation.

The “no settlement policy” worked and the City would often prevail when it went to court saving the taxpayers millions of dollars.

Even when the city did not prevail, judgments awarded by juries were often significantly less than what plaintiff’s were seeking.

Plaintiff attorneys absolutely hated the no settlement policy and so did the court’s because it is a lot easier to settle a case than try a case before a jury.

With the abolishment of the “no settlement” policy, the City Attorney’s office has now acquired the reputation of just settling cases for the sake of settling and the city has become an easy mark to settle cases for large amounts of taxpayer money.

After 40 years of practicing law, mostly as a trial attorney, I for one have great faith in the American jury system and feel that there are times a jury needs to hear a case and determine damages, especially when it comes to police misconduct cases.

ART Bus Project Funding Still In Doubt

This is a story that appeared in Vol. 10, Issue 5, February 8 to 14, Albuquerque Free Press and written by the ABQ FREE PRESS WEEKLY STAFF:

“ART FUNDING STILL IN DOUBT”

“The City of Albuquerque could soon be facing a cash crunch when it comes to Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. With ART now 20 percent complete, the city has paid, or committed to pay, $35.8 million for construction and electric buses. That represents 63 percent of the $57.2 million in local money and previous federal grants that the city has on hand and has committed to spend on ART. The larger problem is that the $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant the city is counting on to complete ART still has not been approved by the FTA or been appropriated by Congress. Congress isn’t expected to even consider a budget until late March or early April. The cost of ART, when adjusted for inflation, is $126.2 million. Of that, $69 million, or 55 percent, is supposed to come from the FTA. The rest — $57.2 million, or 45 percent — is coming from previous federal grants and local funds. The $23 million in buses the city has ordered is supposed to come out of the FTA grant that neither Congress nor the FTA has yet approved. If the city doesn’t get its federal money, it might have to junk the bus order, scale back construction, or find the money elsewhere. It’s possible the city will get some FTA money. But remember that last year, the appropriations committees in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate recommended cutting the FTA grant program by anywhere from $19 million to $23 million. So far, the city has paid $12.8 million to Bradbury Stamm Construction, the project’s main contractor, and has committed to pay $23 million for 18 buses it has ordered.”

Albqueruqe Free Press Staff