District Attorney Should Convene Special Grand Jury To Investigate ART Bus Project

On February 21, 2018, David Harper, the city’s independent Inspector General, confirmed that there is an ongoing “review”, not an investigation, of the $175 million ART Bus project being conducted by his office.

(February 22, 2017 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, “ART project being reviewed by city; Inspector general examining processes and procedures involved)

https://www.abqjournal.com/1136412/investigation-launched-in-art-project.html

Albuquerque Inspector General Harper made it clear it was a “review” of the processes and procedures and not an “investigation” to determine if criminal fraud and misconduct had occurred with the project.

Notwithstanding that it is a “review”, the Inspector General will have an ethical responsibility to report to the Mayor and City Council if indeed fraud or misconduct are somehow uncovered by his office.

In a statement to the media, Mayor Tim Keller said “As a former state auditor, I appreciate the value and importance of the Inspector General’s independent investigation and we look forward to getting to the bottom of this.”

Mayor Keller did not point out that as the New Mexico State Auditor he would routinely turn his audits over to the Attorney General for prosecution when criminal wrongdoing was found by the audits.

On February 22, 2018, recently appointed New Mexico State Auditor Wayne Johnson, a Republican who ran for Mayor against Democrat Keller and replaced Keller as State Auditor, is also getting into the act of auditing the ART Bus project.

Mayor candidate Johnson also filed an ethics complaint against Mayor candidate Keller for campaign finance violations that were later dismissed.

Johnson’s audit should not come as any surprise to anyone now that Johnson is running for State Auditor and wants to be elected in his own right to a four-year term after being appointed State Auditor by Governor Martinez.

Johnson confirmed his office has completed an “initial fact-finding” after the office received “multiple” requests for review of the ART project.

Johnson did not reveal just how many requests were made nor from who and if any elected official or Albuquerque City Councilor made a request for an audit.

State Auditor Wayne Johnson also said his office will be looking into the “procurement and planning process” required by federal and state law and city ordinances.

NUMEROUS PROBLEMS WITH ART FROM THE GET GO

Over the last three years, numerous problems with the application for the federal grant and problems associated with the actual construction of the project as well as the bus order bidding process have been identified and reported by the news media.

The approval and promotion by the city of the project from the very beginning without voter approval has been the source of major controversy.

Opponents of the projects argued that the Berry Administration made false or misleading claims to the public and in the application process for the $69 million Federal Grant.

The false or misleading claims include that the city project would not be controversial, that the project had the public’s support, that the public was fully informed of the project, that there was no need for an environmental impact study, that there was a need for the bus route because of high volume bus usage rates, that the design and bus route would not have any impact on the historical nature of Route 66, that the design of the bus platforms were in compliance with zoning and landmarks commission requirements, that loans would be made available to all the affected businesses and that the bus route would result in economic development along the central corridor.

A critical issue is whether other funds from other city projects or other sources were improperly diverted to complete the construction project.

Upwards of 250 business owners along the bus route were financially damaged, with some going out of business, to the extent of initiating federal litigation to stop the project.

Extensive problems associated with both construction of the bus stop platforms as well as the buses ordered and delivered have been found and reported by the media.

The current administration announced that there are so many problems associated with the construction of the platforms and needed modifications and problems with the buses delivered that it may be upwards to a year before ART is fully functional, even though the previous Mayor dedicated the project before leaving office.

The City Council approved spending $69 million of federal grant money based on representations of the Berry Administration and the grant money has yet to be appropriated by Congress.

The City Council also issued upwards of $15 million dollars in revenue bonds encumbering future gross receipt tax revenues for ARTs construction.

Congressional committees have cut $20 million dollars from the $69 million grant with no guarantee that it will be made up in next year’s budget resulting in the city having to identify additional funding sources.

It was reported that the city detected upward of 24 issues or problems associated with the new buses delivered, including problems associated with the charging system for the electric busses.

It is has been reported that at least one city councilor is wondering if the city picked the best bus vendor after looking at bus purchase invoices and bid documents.

The City Councilor claims he has found out the City is paying millions more for the electric buses than another low bidder.

SPECIAL GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION WARRANTED

The review of the ART Bus Project by both the City’s Inspector General and an audit by the New Mexico State Auditor are warranted but do not go far enough to allay or dispel all the fears and concerns many people have voiced or felt alleging criminal misconduct with the ART Bus project.

The city’s Inspector General and the New Mexico State Auditor need turn over the findings of their review and audit of the ART project to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office for investigation and prosecution for criminal wrongdoing if found, even if it’s for misdemeanor violations of city purchasing ordinances.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney should convene a special grand jury and subpoena former Mayor Richard Berry, former CAO Rob Perry, former Chief Operations Officer Michael Reardon and former transit Director Bruce Rizzieri, and all city officials involved with the planning and promotion of the project to testify under oath so they can disclose and explain fully what really happened with the ART Bus project, how the contracts were awarded and what representations they made to the public, the city council and in the federal application process for the project.

The general contractors and sub-contractors should also be subpoenaed to testify regarding the project and how the contracts were awarded.

At the conclusion of the special grand jury investigation, the Bernalillo County District Attorney would decide if indictments should be recommended to the grand jury and are in order or issue a report on the findings of the grand jury or announce a possible stipulated settlement.

SPECIAL GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION ON CITY PROJECT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE

A special grand jury convened to investigate the ART Bus project would not be the first time such an investigation has happened on a city project.

Close to 20 years ago, the New Mexico State Auditors report on the airport “observation deck” fiasco was forwarded to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office for review.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney at the time, and I was tasked with the grand jury presentation on the airport observation deck because of my knowledge of the city.

Further, I was the City Councilor back in the late 1980s who came up with the idea for an Independent Audit Department and sponsored the ordinance that created the department .

The New Mexico State Auditor on the airport observation deck found numerous violations of the city procurement code and cost overruns of over $1.5 million on what was supposed to be a $500,000 construction project.

The argument made at the time to the New Mexico State Auditor was that the city contract was a “sole source” contract that could only be done by only one contractor that had the expertise to do the work and there was no competitive bidding.

The grand jury investigation of the airport observation deck reviewed the State Auditors report along with supporting documentation and heard testimony from those involved with the project.

The grand jury investigation was concluded with no criminal charges but with a civil stipulated settlement agreement that included admissions by the city that the procurement code and purchasing codes had been violated.

Under the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act, civil “assurances of discontinuance” are allowed for conduct and to mandate corrective actions and even impose fines as penalties.

Under the “assurance of discontinuance provisions” of the civil agreement the City entered into with the Bernalillo County District Attorney, the city agreed to make major changes in the city procurement code in order to prevent what happened from ever happening again.

The city also agreed to have the City Council enact the necessary amendments to ordinances, which it did as part of the agreement.

INVESTIGATION BY FEDS NOT LIKELY

The $175 million ART project includes $69 million from a Federal Transportation Grant application that has yet to be funded by congress.

The Berry Administration made repeated representations that all the federal grant money would be forthcoming, and based on those representations, the City Council voted to spend the $69 million before it was appropriated by congress, even though congressional committees reduced the appropriation by $20 million.

The City has yet to receive a single dollar for the project and the bill is now due and owing to the contractors.

There was Federal litigation on the Federal Grant application wherein misrepresentations by the city in the application process was alleged, but the Federal Court denied injunctive relief to stop the ART Bus project.

It is not likely that Federal law enforcement agencies would be interested in the City Inspector General’s review or the State Auditor report unless fraud in the application process is found and the federal grant money is actually received and spent by the City.

CONCLUSION

The City Inspector General and the New Mexico State Auditor have very little authority other than making reports and referring their findings to other government officials or authorities to take action.

A review by a city auditor that deliberately avoids any attempt at identify wrongdoing is probably only worth the paper it is written on.

Likewise, an audit by a State Auditor who is running for reelection and can be easily accused of a political vendetta against a former opponent to make him look bad is also probably not worth much either.

Notwithstanding, the taxpayers and voters of Albuquerque need and are entitled to a full investigation to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing associated with the $175 million ART Bus project.

Taxpayers need to be assured that funds from other city projects, other sources or other critical essential services were not improperly diverted to complete the construction project.

Both the City Inspector General and the State Auditor need to forward their reports after completion to the Bernalillo County District Attorney for a determination if a Special Grand Jury should be convened for a full and complete criminal investigation of the ART Bus project.

Notes To “The Really, Really Smart Guy”

On February 21, 2018, President Donald Trump met at the White House with over 40 people including the teenage survivors of the recent High School shooting that killed 17 as well as the parents of those children killed in other school shootings.

Gut wrenching recounts of what happened at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were presented by the students as well as angry voices of parents who had their children killed in other incidents of school shootings.

Demands were made that politics needs to be set aside and solutions found to stop the scourge of gun violence in the United States.

One suggested solution was to raise the minimum age required to purchase rifles to age 21, including assault weapons such as the AR-15, arguing that if you cannot buy a beer at 18, you should not be able to buy an assault weapon at 18.

Another suggestion was to strengthen background checks to keep guns from the violent and the mentally ill.

President Trump told the group his administration would be looking very strongly at allowing concealed weapons in schools to be carried by trained teachers who would volunteer.

Trump said it would be too expensive and impossible to put enough arm guards in the schools and to secure the schools and it would be a lot cheaper to arm the teachers.

Too expensive? This coming from the President who wants to build a wall across our border with Mexico that will cost taxpayers billions and not paid for by Mexico as he promised.

The very next day after his meeting with the group, Trump said he stood by his recommendation that teachers should be armed and even given bonuses to carry guns.

It is downright laughable to suggest that teachers start carrying guns and it shows just how bad things have gotten with the President’s state of mind.

Next thing you know, Trump will want to strap a gun on all kids in school so they can protect themselves from teachers who may want to molest them or who want to impose some sort of physical restraint on an out of control kid.

WAS TRUMP REALLY LISTENING?

The message delivered to President Trump was loud and clear: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

The problem is, was Trump really listening or was it all just a reality show to him like the “Apprentice” for the cameras when he had “crib notes” of talking points.

A photo of the notes held by Trump included the questions for him to ask the group and included:

“What would you most want me to know about your experience?”

“What can we do to help you feel safe?”

One note encouraged Trump to ask those attending for their ideas about how to move forward.

The last note said “show sympathy”.

It is downright pathetic when a President of the United State needs notes and needs to be reminded to show sympathy to a group of violent crime victims and grieving parents, especially from one who said he is a “really, really smart guy” and is a genius and wanted to compare IQ’s with others.

During the election, Trump embraced the National Rifle Association (NRA) and pledged to oppose any form of gun control.

Trump told the NRA “I will not let you down” and will protect the Second Amendment rights.

In return, the NRA donated upwards of $30 million to his election efforts as well did what it could to undercut his opponent.

EPIDEMIC OF MASS KILLINGS

Since 1995, the United States has had 95 mass shootings, including seven of the 11 deadliest.

Three of the 11 biggest mass shootings in American history have now taken place in the United States in the last five months.

History shows that there was a time congress would take action on gun control to curb crime and gun violence.

In 1934, responding to the rise of organized crime and the MAFIA, Congress enacted the National Firearms Act which heavily taxed machine guns, among other things.

In 1968, after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior and Bobby Kennedy, the Gun Control Act was passed that grew the list of those people who could not purchase guns expanding convicted felons and mentally ill people.

In 1986, with the rise of gang and drug violence on city streets, Congress enacted the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, which outlawed armor-piercing bullets.

In 1994, after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and a spike of workplace shootings, Congress passed “The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act” that implemented a waiting period for handguns and a national instant background check.

James Brady was the White House Press secretary who was shot in the head and almost died during the attempted assassination of President Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. who was found mentally ill and institutionalized for a number of years.

The 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act temporarily banned assault weapons.

There has been no major gun control legislation since 1995, which is about the same time the National Rifle Association (NRA) became very politically active in congressional races.

In 1990, the NRA created a foundation to “raise millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public” which has translated into the NRA getting involved with congressional elections by donating millions to candidates running for office and who oppose any form of gun control.

There is no doubt we have a deadly mass shooting epidemic on our hands.

The mass shooting with guns in the last 10 years include: Orlando, Florida (49 killed, 50 injured), Blacksburg, Va. (32 killed), San Ysidro, Cal (21 killed), San Bernardino, (14 killed), Edmond Oklahoma (14 killed), Fort Hood (13 killed), Binghamton, NY (13 killed) Washington, DC (12 killed), Aurora, Colorado (12 killed), Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn (21 children and 6 adult staff members killed) and the largest mass shooting in this country’s history that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada with at least 59 dead and at least 515 wounded.

COMPONENTS OF AMERCAS MASS KILLING EPIDEMIC INCLUDES NRA

There are many components to America’s mass shooting epidemic.

We need more mental health treatment facilities, more parental involvement, better educational systems, early childhood intervention to prevent child abuse and to identify and get help and counseling to emotionally and violent children and more to secure our schools.

The NRA is part of the problem because of the choke hold it has on the United States Congress.

After the Trump meeting at the White House with the victims and parents, the NRA came out in opposition to the 21 age provisions and any other gun control provisions again arguing the problem is not with guns but the criminals who are using the guns and law abiding citizens rights under the second amendment should never be infringed upon.

After so many mass killings, it is difficult to refute that something needs to be done about semi-automatic and automatic guns such as the AR-15, or the type used in all the mass shootings and that are the weapons of choice for mass murderers.

After so many mass shootings in the last few years, its clear the NRA controlled congress does not want, nor is it willing to take, any action on gun control.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killing of 17 students in Parkland, Florida appears to have ignited a national movement by our youth who have become very angry over the shootings and they are saying “enough is enough” to elected officials.

All over the country, high school students are protesting and demanding action on gun control from their legislatures and from the United State Congress.

A march on Washington DC is now going to occur on March 14, 2018.

“The March For Our Lives” movement is gaining traction very quickly and it is becoming a wild fire movement like the “Me Too” movement that has swept away so many of the powerful who engaged in sexual harassment and abuse of women over so many years.

CONCLUSION

My generation (people over 60) has a real bad habit of underestimating the determination, independence, creativity of millenniALS and have the wrong perception that millennials are powerless or too lazy and self centered to do anything and more concerned about texting on their cell phones and playing video games all day.

I really do hope the NRA and their bought and paid for congress does not see “The March For Lives” movement as a real threat to them so that when the NRA bought and paid for congress is swept from office they will not know what hit them and real change can occur.

Unless we begin now with responsible measures to deal with gun violence in this country, we will never complete the journey and eliminate mass school shootings and we will be waiting for the next news cycle, the next mass shooting and watch the funerals of innocent children.

The March For Our Lives Movement may be just the beginning of something that is long overdue in the United States: enactment of responsible gun control laws.

ABQ Reports: APD Must Start All Over On DOJ Reforms

Screwed! APD to start over on reform. Former command staff botched everything; had no plan.

February 21, 2018
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By Dennis Domrzalski

The Albuquerque Police Department’s former command staff so obstructed APD’s reform effort that the department basically has to start much of the reform the process all over n.

That’s the word from the independent monitor in the reform case, James Ginger, who, earlier this month told the federal court judge who is overseeing the case that the prior command staff never developed a plan to comply with the settlement agreement the city signed in late 2014 with the U.S. Department of Justice.

As a result, Ginger is working frantically to get APD’s new command staff up to speed on the reform process and help them develop a complete compliance plan. But that so-called new way forward has yet to be fully fleshed out.

“To make a long story short, the reason we’re in the mess right now is we never could get a real plan out of the old APD,” Ginger told U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack during a Feb. 8 status conference in the case.

Ginger continued:

“At this — at this stage of the game, I think everybody understands they [APD] are seriously off track. That had nothing to do with this new command staff that is present. They’ve sort of inherited the mess. And what I’ve tried to do is design a way forward that will allow the new APD to pick up the pieces and start making progress relatively rapidly and, basically, to help the Court understand what I’m recommending happen, is a highly compressed and highly focused process that was provided originally to the old APD when this project first started.

“I’ve designed a process that I think, based on my experience, will allow the new APD to pick up the pieces — I mean, there’s a lot of things that have been developed that we – quite frankly, we just need to throw away and start over again, but that’s not everything. We can — we can salvage some of the work that was done in the first couple of years.”

Ginger told Brack that his team, which is being paid $4 million for their efforts, spent 18 months giving APD’s old command staff technical assistance on a variety of issues. Much of that technical assistance might have to be gone over again for the new command staff, but the money budgeted for that assistance has already been spent, Ginger told the judge.

“We had a fairly protracted period of technical assistance where we worked with [former] key command staff members on a Use of Force Policy, on policy development, on training, planning and development, on supervision, and on command levels,” Ginger told Brack. “And what we plan on doing — that period – that lasted for a period of about 18 months until we thought they had had enough technical assistance and APD was ready to start moving forward.

“Unfortunately, that movement forward never really happened with the old APD. What we’re planning on doing, given the budgetary constrictions that we’re confronting as a monitoring team — in other words, we’ve spent most of our technical assistance monies already, and yet we find a need to have to do that again.”

During the status conference, Brack was also told that three city councilors have called off their requested audit of Ginger and the work he has done so far in the reform case.

The councilors – Don Harris, Ken Sanchez and Brad Winter – called for the audit in late October saying they were worried that Ginger was trying to game the system by spending more time here than necessary and squeezing more money out of city taxpayers.

But during the status conference, attorney Jerry Walz, who has been hired by the City Council to represent them in front of Brack in regards to the audit, told the judge that the councilors had called off the audit.

“A request was made on behalf of – in late January of several of the requesting councilors for the audit that the Internal Audit Department at this time discontinue or otherwise not move forward on any type of independent review or audit performance of Public Management Resources, Inc., and Mr. James Ginger, who is the independent monitor,” Walz told Brack.

“It’s my understanding that based on that request, there has been no movement forward by Lawrence Davis, who is the acting City auditor to conduct such an audit, as originally was envisioned pursuant to the City Council’s resolution 17-252. Rather the City Council may be working what I would label as an approach to somehow assess the type and nature of services rendered and to confirm that the dollars appropriated and spent were appropriately done so.”

The councilors called off the audit after learning that Ginger was charging the city only a fifth of his usual fee in such cases.

“I think that they were all quite surprised to learn that Dr. Ginger has been working at a fifth of his regular consulting rate while he has been working on this project,” Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Martinez told Brack.

Martinez also told Brack that APD’s new command staff, including Chief Michael Geier, are working with the city’s community policing councils in a way that the old command staff never did.

“The City and the Police Department already have responded to the requests from POB [Police Oversight Board] and the CPCs for a restructuring of the citizens police academy that would better meet the needs that they have to get their members trained so that they can participate in the functions that they have to fulfill under the CASA. And it’s just terrific,” Martinez told Brack.

“They have completely revamped the training that the CPCs, the POB members have to have to do their work. And it’s just heartening. And I applaud the – we all applaud APD and Chief Geier and the City for moving so quickly on this.”

https://www.abqreport.com/single-post/2018/02/21/Screwed-APD-to-start-over-on-reform-Former-command-staff-botched-everything-had-no-plan

Thinking Out Of The Box Or Bus

With all this talk of the City Council wanting to raise our gross receipts taxes and the beginning public outcry opposing it, the City Council needs to start thinking out of the box.

City Councilors Trudy Jones and Ken Sanchez want to raise the gross receipts tax that will generate $55 million a year to help pay for the $40 million projected deficit as well as hire more cops and dedicate money to public safety.

Police Union President Shawn Willoughby wants the City Council to guarantee at least 60% of the new revenue be given to APD to help recruitment and give his membership raises.

“Public Safety” represents 29% of a $529.6 million general fund budget appropriations for the City of Albuquerque, and includes the Albuquerque Police Department and the Fire Department.

The Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) Annual budget is $171.8 million.

APD employs 1,484 full time employees.

The Albuquerque Fire Department (AFD) employs 699 full time employees.

The Albuquerque Police Department had a general fund budget of $171.8 million approved for the 2017-2018 fiscal year which included an increase by $7 million or a 4.2% increase for the Department.

The Albuquerque Fire Department (AFD) annual budget is $75.5 million.

The Fire Department budget had a decrease of 1.6% or $1.2 million below the FY/17 original budget.

It turns out that the City is also facing a $75 million shortfall to pay for the ART Bus prject if the federal grant money is not forthcoming.

The ART Bus project construction is almost complete and the bill must be paid.

Six more brand new ART buses have been delivered but the administration has no idea when the ART Bus project will be completed nor when the buses will be used, but the buses still must be paid for to the tune of $22 million.

What the City owes on the ART Bus project could almost pay for a full year’s budget for the Fire Department.

It’s time for the city council to think out of the bus when dealing with the city’s financial crises and the projected deficits.

Perhaps our Firefighters could use the ART Buses to go to emergency calls for service using the ART Busses as a means of saving money.

The city could also install extension ladders bought at COSTCO on the tops of the buses and convert them to ladder units to deal with high rise fires.

Hell, the city could even convert the ART Buses to APD Breathalyzer Test stations or portable APD area command stations for use by our police officers.

Maybe the City Council could replace Shawn Willoughby’s patrol car with an ART Bus and put him in charge of police recruitment and send him around the country finding qualified people to become police officers, at least that way the City Administration would get him out of town and out of the papers and off the TV and allow them to do their jobs without police union interference.

APD’s slogan is “to serve and protect” while the police union slogan is “what’s in your wallet”.

APD Police Union Needs To Stop Thinking Only Of Themselves

Albuquerque City Councilors Republican Trudy Jones and Democrat Ken Sanchez have introduced a bill that would increase Albuquerque’s gross receipts tax by 0.375 percentage point, or three-eighths of a cent per dollar is expected to bring in about $55 million annually.

(February 20, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, page A-1, Council asked to tie tax hike to APD growth; Police Union seeks guarantee that money will help hire officers)

https://www.abqjournal.com/1135802/council-asked-to-tie-tax-hike-to-apd-growth.html

The City Council legislation states that public safety is a priority for the city and that additional funding is necessary to attract more police officers to Albuquerque but says revenue from the tax would be used for “general municipal purposes.”

The bill does not specifically say how much of the tax revenue would go to police, prompting the Police Union to complain.

After 8 years of budget cuts, downsizing government and reduction of personnel, and the city facing a $40 million deficit, the proposed tax increase is no surprise.

Timing of the proposed tax increase dove tails into Mayor Tim Keller submitting his first city budget on April 1, 2018, with city council budget hearings to follow and enactment of the budget by July 1, 2018.

Shaun Willoughby, the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, wants the city councilors to amend the legislation to “guarantee” that 60 percent of all the revenue generated from the tax will be new revenue for the police department to recruit more officers and increase pay.

According to the police union, the revenue generated from the tax increase should go to the police department until the department is fully staffed.

The union goes as far as to say that the city council is “flying the banner of public safety” to help justify enacting the tax.

What the Police Union President is really saying is that no other city department is hurting as much as the police and for that reason his union members and APD are the only department that should really benefit from any sort of tax increase.

The City of Albuquerque has a total general budget of $955.3 million dollars, of which $529.6 million is the general fund which goes to providing all essential services, with the balance going to capital improvement projects, debt service and other essential services.

The essential services provided by the city include not only police protection but also fire protection, solid waste and garbage pickup, our transit and bus services, family community services, the bio park including the zoo and aquarium, museums, children’s science museum and balloon museum, libraries, senior citizen centers, parks, golf courses, open space management, swimming pools, youth programs, programs to help the homeless, the planning department, code enforcement, municipal affairs and street repairs and projects, fleet maintenance just to mention a few.

The Police Union ignores that there are roughly 4,000 other city employees that are overworked and other city departments and services that have also suffered from severe budget cutbacks and reduced salaries.

The Police Union also ignores the huge budget deficit the City is facing.

The City is facing a $6 million deficit for this year, a $40 million dollar deficit for the next fiscal year, $69 million for the ART Bus project that must be found if the federal grant is not forthcoming, $40 million needed for the emergency operations center and communications center, the need for funding for 350 more police officers that the Mayor and city council want, replacement of the roughly 20% of police units and fire department units that are needing to be replaced, not to mention the $25 million dollars lost because of repeal of the hold harmless provision.

The point is that the lion share of the $55 million raised by the tax being proposed will in all probability have to be applied to the $40 million dollar projected deficit and other incurred debts.

There is also a need for further tax revenue to address all the other city departments, vacancies and increases in salaries to those other city employees who have been given significantly less in salary increases, or no increases at all, for the last eight years while APD’s budget and salaries increased.

APD BY THE NUMBERS

“Public Safety” represents 29% of a $529.6 million general fund budget appropriations for the City of Albuquerque, and includes the Albuquerque Police Department and the Fire Department.

The Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) Annual budget is $171.8 million.

APD employs 1,484 full time employees.

The Albuquerque Fire Department (AFD) employs 699 full time employees.

The Albuquerque Fire Department (AFD) annual budget is $75.5 million.

The Albuquerque Police Department had a general fund budget of $171.8 million approved for the 2017-2018 fiscal year which included an increase by $7 million or a 4.2% increase for the Department.

The adopted FY/18 General Fund budget for APD has funding for a total of 1,484 full-time positions which consists of funding for 484 civilian support staff and funding for 1,000 sworn police officers.

Although fully funded for 1,000 sworn officers, APD has 853 sworn police officers, and only 436 are assigned to field services, divided into three working shifts, less any of those on vacation, sick leave or in court.

At any given time, there are 124 sworn police officers assigned to field services, divided by three shifts, or 24 officers per field command shift.

IT TOOK EIGHT YEARS TO DOWNSIZE APD

The operative words the union is using is dedicate the new tax “until the department is fully” staffed.

If history is any indication of what is going to happen, it is going to take years to grow the police department until it is fully staffed as the union wants, even if the entire tax is dedicated to APD.

In other words, taxpayer money will just sit in an account if the police union has its way.

Eight (8) years ago, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) was the best trained, best equipped, best funded department in its history and it was fully staffed with 1,100 sworn police officers.

In eight (8) years under the watchful eye of the Albuquerque City Council, APD went from 1,100 sworn police to 853 sworn police officers.

From 2010 to 2014, APD was fully funded for 1,100 sworn police positions despite the mass exodus of sworn police and the APD Police Academy’s failure to recruit and keep up with retirements.

Three years ago, the City Council reduced funding from 1,100 sworn officers to 1,000 sworn officers because of the Berry Administration’s failure to recruit and keep up with retirements.

Currently, the Albuquerque Police Department is budgeted for 1,000 police officers but actually employs 836 with only 430 assigned to the field to take calls for service.

Money from the 150-plus police officer vacancies has gone to pay police overtime, and the Albuquerque Police Department busted its overtime budget by $4 million going from the $9 million budgeted to $13 million.

It’s not likely the new administration is going to be very successful anytime soon in filling all the vacancies APD already has, let alone know what to do with millions thrown its way that can only be used for one department.

CONCLUSION

Mayor Tim Keller made the campaign promise that he wanted to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 836 positions filled to 1,200, or by 350 sworn police officers, and return to community-based policing, a promise that in all likely can not be fulfilled unless there is a tax increase or a cannibalization of other city services and budgets.

Keller was endorsed by the Police Union and no doubt the Union will be making its demands and expecting the Mayor to support what it wants.

Getting to the 1,200 level of sworn officers where APD is fully staffed is going to take years and it will have to be done in increments that is realistic and can be accomplished.

If the Police Union is really concerned about public safety, rather than only thinking of themselves, it should be asking the City Council and the Mayor to take bold action and propose a sperate and additional “public safety” tax to be enacted by the City Council along with the creation of a Department of Public Safety that is fully funded and staffed with the consolidation of the police department, fire department, 911 emergency dispatch center as well as the emergency operations center.

Until then, APD’s slogan will be “To serve and protect” while the police union’s slogan will be “What’s in your wallet?”

Taxes Are The Dues We Pay To Live In A Civilized Society

There should be absolutely no surprise that the Albuquerque City Council is now considering increasing the city’s gross receipts tax.

(See February 17, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, “City Council to consider tax hike; Councilors say city facing budget shortfall, needs more officers)

https://www.abqjournal.com/1134761/city-council-to-consider-tax-hike.html

The tax that is being proposed is three eights of a cent and could potentially raise $22 million and upwards of $55 million.

The City Council also has the option to increase property taxes if it wanted to, but that would probably be way to controversial to the voting public.

Mayor Tim Keller is due to announce his first budget on April 1, 2018 which will then be enacted by the city council effective July 1, 2018 after city council budget hearing.

For the last eight (8) years, the City Council Republicans Trudy Jones, Brad Winter, Dan Lewis and Don Harris, strongly resisted raising the gross receipts tax at all costs despite the effect that budget cuts were having a severe impact on essential services and a disastrous effect on public safety.

All of a sudden Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones has “seen the light”, or perhaps the “deficit red”, and is not only supportive of the gross receipts tax increase but is cosponsoring the tax increase with City Council President Ken Sanchez.

Jones is probably supporting the tax because she knows she is not running for re election next year and no longer has to tow the Republican party line.

The city has lost $25 million in revenue due to the loss of the states “hold harmless” agreement enacted to reimburse the city for loss of gross receipts revenues with the repeal of gross receipts on food by the legislature.

The former Mayor expressed support of the legislature’s repeal of the gross receipts tax on food when he lobbied for it in Santa Fe to the detriment of city finances and revenues.

The gross receipts tax is a very regressive tax that hurts the poor and has a chilling effect on economic development.

Notwithstanding the regressive nature, gross receipts tax revenues is the major source of revenues to the city and no one wants property taxes increased or a city income tax enacted.

THEY KNEW IT WAS COMING FOR SOME TIME

Back in December, 2017, it was reported that the city was facing a $6 million-dollar short fall this fiscal year that would have to be made up somehow.

Among the contributing factors for the $6 million deficit was the the Albuquerque Police Department exceeding its overtime budget by $4 million by going from $9 million to $13 million and the excessive judgements paid out in APD deadly use of force cases such as the $5 million settlement paid in the Mary Hawkes case.

Further, it was reported that the city was facing a whopping $40 million-dollar budget short fall the city will be dealing with next fiscal year.

(See December 19, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “Mayor: APD still a priority despite projected deficit).

The $40 million dollars deficit does not include the $69 million dollars that will have to be found to complete the ART Bus project if the Federal Grant is not approved and congress does not appropriate the money.

At least $20 million will have to be found for ART in that the congressional committees have already cut the project by that amount.

The fiscal and budget policy of the last eight (8) years of cut city services and downsizing government has now run its course and there is not much more that can be cut, let alone savings that can be found.

It is going to take a lot more than just raising permit fees, licensing fees, golf fees, parking fees, entrance fees and bus fares to make up a $40 million deficit.

Back in December, Mayor Keller held a press conference at which time he said:

“Because we have a deficit situation, we are really going to have to focus on prioritizing what is important this year for our city. … A piece of that is also understanding we’ve got to find ways to step up for our officers, and we also have to prioritize job creation and keep our kids at the forefront of the budget process this year.”

Asked during his press conference in December if a tax increases would be required, Keller said:

“I certainly hope not, and I can’t imagine that at the end of the day, given what we want to prioritize, that is going to happen. The tougher question is how do we actually get more officers on the streets, and we’re going to be working with our police chief and the City Council to find a way to do that.”

Well Mayor Keller you need to start imagining a tax increase without a public vote and get behind it if public safety is in fact your priority.

And while your at it, please act boldly and propose a full quarter cent “public safety” tax to be enacted by the City Council along with the creation of a Department of Public Safety that is fully funded and staffed with the consolidation of the police department, fire department, 911 emergency dispatch center as well as the emergency operations center.

Currently, the Albuquerque Police Department is budgeted for 1,000 police officers but actually employs 836 with only 430 assigned to the field to take calls for service.

Money from the 150 + police officer vacancies has gone to pay police overtime and the Albuquerque Police Department busted its overtime budget by $4 million going from the $9 million budgeted to $13 million.

The 911 emergency dispatch center is in need of a $40 million-dollar upgrade.

The is also a need to acquire new police patrol vehicles to replace the aging portion of the fleet.

STATE AUDITOR TIM KELLER VS CANDIDATE AND ELECTED MAYOR TIM KELLER

Over a year ago on February 14, 2017 the mandatory state audit of the city was released by State Auditor Tim Keller, and he said Albuquerque needed to substantially increase funding for the risk management fund to $6.3 million a year to cover the shortfall.

“The city is basically spending more than it can afford for settlements for police shootings and civil rights violations. … That’s obviously a financial problem, which is why it shows up in our audit” Keller said at the time.

“In light of the city’s troubling trend of incurring more liabilities, it is appropriate and necessary for the city to better fund the (risk management fund),” Keller told the city.

The city budgeted from $2.1 million to $3.6 million a year to bolster the risk management fund in the past three years.

Now that Mr. Keller is Mayor, he is now facing the consequences of city lawsuits and settlements and spending beyond its means.

Tim Keller was swept into office in part by voter anger about rising crime rates and how bad things are in the City when it came to the police department.

On the campaign trail, Candidate Keller laid out his plans for APD and his determination to complete the Department of Justice (DOJ) reforms.

Keller made the campaign promise that he wanted to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 850 to 1,200, or by 350 sworn police officers and return to community based policing.

Frankly getting to the 1,200 level of sworn officers is going to take years and probably will not be accomplished without a tax increase and that is a cold reality.

On the campaign trail, candidate Keller said he would raise taxes as a last resort for public safety but and only with voter approval.

Candidate Keller saying he would draw from various agencies, departments and programs where large, misappropriated budgets exist was a fantastic talking point that sounded good, but not very realistic after the 8 years of budget cuts and downsizing of government by his predicessor.

There is not much more that can be done to find money.

Issuing paper audits by State Auditor Tim Keller is a far cry from running a municipality that has no money by Mayor Tim Keller.

Now that we have Mayor Tim Keller, he is mum thus far on a tax increase and his spokesman says everything is on the table.

I am always disappointed when Mayors and City Councilors proclaim they will put increases in taxes on the ballot thereby trying to avoid the political “hot potato” and accusation that they increased taxes when they run for office again.

People have no business running for office if they do not want to make the hard decisions, especially when it comes to taxes and public safety and providing police services.

In any representative form of government such as our city government and our congress, people are elected to make the best decisions they can based on the facts and needs of their constituents.

Public safety and police services is one of the very few areas that elected officials should never resist increasing taxes when there is a crisis such as we have now in Albuquerque with our high crime rates.

On a federal level, our military defense is akin to police services on the local level, and you never see congress put to a public vote the pentagon budget.

Keller is quickly learning, albeit the hard way, there is a big difference between running for office, making a lot of promises that you may be unable to keep versus actually governing and making the decisions that have to be made that will most assuredly anger people.

One of those decisions that upsets voters is having to increase taxes.

As former Mayor David Rusk said “Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society.”

It is the City Council that has the authority to raise taxes, not the Mayor.

For those City Councilors who refuse to support a tax increase, Keller needs to remind them that they are the ones that have failed the public during the last eight years to fully address our public safety needs and allowing the destruction of APD.

Keller also needs to remind Republican City Councillors Don Harris and Brad Winter they are the ones who voted to spend the $69 million of Federal Transportation grant money that the City has yet to see a dime even though the construction on the project is complete and the bill must now be paid.

CONCLUSION

If Keller feels we need a public safety tax for police and the DOJ reforms, he should advocate its enactment by the City Council and not put it to a public vote.

It’s great being Mayor during good economic times and low crime rates, and miserable being Mayor during a bad economy and rising crime rates.

A Mayor making decisions with an eye towards future office or a legacy is a recipe for failure.

The ultimate question is will the City Council and the Mayor want to put the tax increase on the ballot for voter approval or show backbone and political courage and just enact a tax?