Any Raid On BioPark Tax Funds Political Bad Faith, Betrays Voter’s Trust

Albuquerque cannot be just a cop on every corner, a fire truck on every street, a jail in every quadrant, a garbage dumpster at every turn, streets without potholes and buses like ART that no one will ever use.

Any truly great city must include facilities that enhance the quality of life of its citizens, such as libraries, zoos, museums and aquariums, facilities that the ABQ Biopark represents.

The BioPark, with its zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens, is the number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico.

The Rio Grande Zoo has gone from rows of simple chain link fenced cages and bar cages in the 1970’s to state of the art open facilities in the present day.

The entire BioPark with the zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens is one of the finest attractions of its kind in the country.

During the 2015 municipal election, Albuquerque voters wisely approved with an overwhelming majority the voter petition drive initiative to increase the gross receipts tax for the BioPark.

The gross receipts tax initiative for the BioPark was needed because some $20 million dollars plus in repairs and maintenance to the facilities are needed and major repairs were ignored for eight years.

There are $40 million dollars in upgrades and exhibits needed to the BioPark facilities and without making those repairs, the city risks losing many national certifications.

The BioPark attendance is down in numbers caused no doubt by the great recession and the BioPark American Zoological Association (AZA) accreditation has been threatened by it.

Employees morale is down and turnover is up as a result in the steady decline of support from the past administration over eight (8) years.

The tax will raise $255 million dollars over 15 years for the BioPark.

In passing the tax, voters decided to invest in their community and themselves and bypass the Mayor and the City Council.

Republican Mayor Berry and the Republican City Councilors opposed the tax at the time.

A new ABQ BioPark Director was hired to implement the new and updated ABQ Bio Park master plan and guide capital improvements worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars over a 15-year period.

There have been a few reports on what is happening to the BioPark gross receipts tax funding such as the new penguin attraction that is under construction.

CITY FACING MAJOR DEFICITS

In 2018, 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 upgrade of 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 is the average rate of replacement of older vehicles, not to mention the $25 million dollars lost because of repeal of the hold harmless provision.

There is also a need to generate revenues 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.

The Keller administration has already said all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with the deficit.

For the last eight (8) years, the Albuquerque City Council 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.

For the last eight (8) years, there has been a severe downsizing of city hall personnel, the elimination of numerous positions, and no or very little raises for city hall employees and even a time when pay was cut to make up for deficits to avoid any kind of tax increase.

TAX INCREASE INTRODUCED

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 hearings.

On February 17, 2018, City Councilors Ken Sanchez, a Democrat, and Trudy Jones, a Republican, announced that the city council will consider a tax increase saying the city was facing a budget shortfall and that the city needed more cops.

In announcing the City Council’s proposed tax increase, City council President Ken said:

“We are at an extremely critical time. … Just this coming fiscal year, we are facing a $40 million shortfall. … Our police department staffing is facing some major deficiencies” and saying Albuquerque Police Department has around 850 officers and that 1,200 are needed.”

Sanchez also pointed out that the city has lost $25 million in revenue due to the state’s “hold harmless” agreement.

After the legislature did away with state taxes on food and medicine in 2005, it agreed to pay local governments “hold harmless” money to ease the burden of the lost revenue with the money tapering off since 2016.

The New Mexico Legislature allowed municipalities to impose a three-eighths percent gross receipts tax without a public vote, to make up for those losses from the hold harmless provision, which is what City Councilors Sanchez and Jones are proposing.

The gross receipts tax proposed of three eights of a cent and could potentially raise $22 million and upwards of $55 million.

The overwhelming majority of the $55 million generated by the tax being proposed by the City Council will in all probability have to be applied to the $40 million-dollar projected deficit and other incurred debts with little left for public safety.

DIVERSION OF BIO PARK TAX TO MAKE UP FOR DEFICITS POLITICAL BAD FAITH AND BETRAYAL OF PUBLIC TRUST

Some city hall observers feel the Mayor and City Council should raid the Biopark Tax to balance the city halls budget.

The Keller Administration and the City Council could divert money from the BioPark tax to make up for the deficits and any shortfall in the $120 million ART bus project if or when Congress does not approve the grant.

The City Council and the Keller Administration could reduce the existing BioPark budget and divert that money to the ART Bus Project or the city deficits arguing the Bio Park gross receipts tax is available and other essential services such as public safety are far more important.

Albuquerque voters and the BioPark Society need to be vigilant and make sure that all the millions that are slated for the Bio Park generated by the gross receipts tax actually go to the Bio Park.

If there is in fact a need to raise taxes for public safety, then the council should do it and not at the expense of the Biopark.

The Mayor and the City Council need to respect the wishes of voters when they enacted the BioPark tax by an overwhelming majority in 2015.

The City Council and the Mayor have the ethical responsibility and the duty to the voters of Albuquerque to make sure that they resist any temptation to raid or rededicate the Biopark tax revenues to make up for the deficits they are now faced with in order to avoid a tax increase.

Pat Davis: I Want The Credit Because I Am Running For Congress

Finally, after so many years, the city is moving to declare the Sahara Motel in South East Albuquerque a Nuisance and potentially tear it down by initiating a condemnation action.

(February 27, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, page A-7, “City moves to classify motel as a public nuisance; Police called to Sahara Motel in SE Albuquerque hundreds of times.)

https://www.abqjournal.com/1138639/city-moves-to-deem-crime-ridden-motel-public-nuisance.html

It has been no secret that the motel has been a chronic problem for the area for a number of years, being a magnet for crime and bringing down property values.

The motel has been the source of literally hundreds of calls for service a year to the Albuquerque Police Department costing thousands of dollars a year for the city to deal with and a major drain on law enforcement resources.

A review of the total number of calls for service a year is what is used in part to determine if a property is a public nuisance or a nuisance under city ordinances.

Calls for service to the Albuquerque Police Department to deal with properties that have become “magnets for crime” result in a drain on police resources and costs millions of dollars a year in taxpayer funds.

The average cost of a call for service to dispatch police officers to handle such minor calls as suspicious persons, loitering, loud parties and loud music cost taxpayers between $75 to $150 per call depending on the time spent on the call by police officers dispatched.

What is so damn pathetic is how Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is trying to take so much credit for the city’s action when he said during press interviews:

“When the community and APD alerted me of the problems that persist at the Sahara Motel, despite multiple attempts to work with the owner, I knew we needed to take fast and drastic action. … Working with Safe City Strike Force, the City Attorney’s Office, and the Mayor’s Office we built the case to declare this property a public nuisance, a step rarely taken, but one needed to force action in this situation.”

“We built the case”?

Exactly what did you do Councilor Davis to build the case?

Davis trying to take so much credit for getting something done in his city council district that he had very little to do with the actual work on is so very typical of Davis now that he is running for the United States Congress.

The only truth Davis said in his statement was that declaring the property a public nuisance is a step rarely taken, but even that is a half-truth.

The Safe City Strike Force, which is responsible for the actions to declare a property a nuisance, has indeed rarely taken such a step during the last eight years.

But that has not always been the case, at least from 2003 to 2009.

What the city and the Safe City Strike Force is doing with the Sahara Motel is nothing new or novel at all, but is very effective when done.

From 2003 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 Central motels that were demolished were not designated historical and were beyond repair as a result of years of neglect and failure to maintain, make repairs and make improvements.

The Safe City Strike Force was responsible for the demolition of at least seven (7) blighted motels that were beyond repair, with the city tearing them down and placing a lien on the properties in order to get reimbursed.

Central motels that had historical significance to Route 66 and that could be repaired or redeveloped were purchased by the City for renovation and redevelopment.

The Central motels that the Safe City Strike Force took action against include the Gaslight (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), Hill Top Lodge, American Inn (demolished), the El Vado (purchased by City for historical significance), the Interstate Inn (demolished).

City Councilor Pat Davis is given upwards of $1 million dollars out of the city’s general fund that he is allowed to dedicate for projects within his district, yet he has failed to seek full funding for the Safe City Strike Force for the last two years.

Additionally, Davis was a staunch supporter of the ART Bus project and voted to expend the $69 million in Federal grant money that has yet to be appropriated or approved by congress.

Davis was able to convince the Berry Administration to add one more ART bus station for ART in his District, but he refused to try and have the ART bus project placed on the ballot for a public vote telling his constituents that there was nothing he could do because it was the Mayor’s project.

CONCLUSION

For the past eight (8) years, little or next to nothing has really been done by the City of Albuquerque to address blighted and substandard commercial properties like so many of the motels that still remain along Central not to mention the vacant building and vacant residential homes that are deteriorating because of lack of maintenance.

Today, the Safe City Strike Force has one employee, its director, and the Safe City Strike Force exists in name only.

Funding the Safe City Strike Force may not be a construction project like the ART Bus project, a library or fire station that Mayor’s and city councilors always love taking credit for, but it would go a long way to getting rid of blighted commercial and residential properties, which only sully entire neighborhoods and put residents in danger and bring property values down.

Now that Davis has discovered the amount of press he can get by having the city take action against nuisance properties, maybe the Mayor and the rest of the city counsel will jump into the act and restore and fully fund what use to be a model program in the United States.

For more on Pat Davis and his record see June 6, 2017 article “Pat Davis Can Run For Congress But He Cannot Hide From His Record at:

Pat Davis Can Run for Congress But Can’t Hide From His Record

Congratulations to James B. Lewis As He Returns To City Hall

Congratulations are in order for former New Mexico State Treasurer James B. Lewis and his appointment by Mayor Tim Keller as “Senior Advisor for Public Safety”.

I have known James B. Lewis for at least forty years when we both started our careers working for the County in the basement of the old District Courthouse on Roma Street, James working in the County Finance Department and me as an Assistant Bernalillo County District Attorney working for District Attorney Steve Schiff.

James is a real gentleman and every position he has held he has served the people of New Mexico with honor, dignity and without scandal.

Over the years, James B. Lewis has held many titles and won many elections and appointed to positions including Bernalillo County Treasurer, New Mexico State Treasurer, Chief of Staff to Governor Bruce King, Chief Administrative Officer for Mayor Marty Chavez not to mention working for President Barrack Obama at the Department of Energy and appointment to work on Mayor Keller’s transition team.

As Senior Advisor for Public Safety, he will be working on a $72,000 a year contract with the Albuquerque Police Department and his duties will include help implementation and oversight of the Department of Justice mandated reforms, working with the APD command staff and help with returning to community-based policing.

Mayor Tim Keller has committed to a national search for a new permanent APD Chief.

I suspect one of the first tasks James Lewis will be involved with is a national search for a new police Chief to take over from Interim Chief Michael Geier.

Dealing with the restructuring APD in order to continue with the implementation of the DOJ mandated reforms will likely be difficult and intricate part of his job given what the previous administration did to APD.

FEDERAL DEPARTMENT Of JUSTICE CONSENT DECREE LOOMS LARGE

The next Federal Monitor’s report is due to be issued in a few months.

Hopefully, James Lewis will find that the new APD command staff is cooperating with the reform process.

It has been reported that the Albuquerque Police Department’s former command staff under former APD Chief Gorden Eden so obstructed APD’s reform effort that the department basically has to start much of the reform process all over again.

During a February 8, 2018 status conference in the DOJ consent decree case, Federal Monitor James Ginger told Federal District Court Judge James Brack, 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, Dr. Ginger is now frantically working to get APD’s new command staff up to speed on the reform process and help them develop a complete compliance plan but the new plan to go forward has yet to be fully planned 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,” Federal Monitor James Ginger told the Federal Judge during the February 8, 2018 status conference in the case.

Ginger also told the Court:

“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.”

Dr. Ginger went on to say:

“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.”

DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

While the iron is hot on his appointment as Senior Advisor of Public Safety, James B. Lewis should seriously consider exploring and recommending to Mayor Tim Keller the creation of a Department of Public Safety by executive order.

The Department of Public Safety overtime would include both the Police and Fire Departments, both Police and Fire Academies, and 911 emergency dispatch center, the emergency operations center with the appointment of a Public Safety Commissioner.

Implementation of the DOJ consent decree reforms needs to be a top priority to include continued formulation, writing and implementation of standard operating procedure and changes agreed to under the consent decree, expansion of crisis intervention mandates and certified training of APD department personnel in constitutional policing practices.

There is a need for a complete overhaul and restructuring of APD with the appointment of a new chief, commanders, lieutenants, academy director and a 911 manager.

Every single APD felony unit needs to be increased in personnel by anywhere between 40% and 60%, including the following APD units: Armed Robbery, Auto Theft, Burglary, Homicide, Gang Unit, Narcotics, Property Crimes and Sex Crimes Units and the Criminal Nuisance Abatement Unit.

The number of sworn police officers patrolling the streets is currently 436 and it should be increased to at least 650 out of a fully staff department of 1,200.

The Public Safety Department would consist of four civilian staffed divisions and managed by the Public Safety Commissioner:

1. Personnel and training, for recruiting, hiring, internal affairs investigations and police academy;
2. Budget and finance;
3. Information technology support and crime lab; and
4. 911 emergency operations center with a civilian manager.

“Deadly use of force” cases need to continue to be investigated by the Critical Incident Review Team and the final reports with finding and recommendations.

APD has consistently shown over many years it cannot police itself which contributed to the “culture of aggression” found by the Department of Justice.

The APD Internal Affairs Unit needs to be abolished and its functions absorbed by the Office Independent Council.

The investigation of police misconduct cases including excessive use of force cases not resulting in death or nor serious bodily harm should be done by “civilian” personnel investigators.

The function and responsibility for investigating police misconduct cases and violations of personnel policy and procedures by police should be assumed by the Office of Independent Council in conjunction with the City Human Resources Department and the Office of Internal Audit where necessary.

The Office of Independent Council would make findings and recommendations to the Public Safety Commissioner for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.

The city needs to fund and implement a non-negotiated major hourly rate increase for entry level 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.

CONCLUSION

Mayor Keller has been given a mandate by voters to make change at APD, and he should seize the opportunity to make real change with the creation of a Department of Public Safety.

The appointment of James B. Lewis was smart in that he has the administrative skills to get the job done.

James B. Lewis has the skills do a fine job as he undertakes the important task for the City of Albuquerque: The Department of Justice mandated reforms and working with APD and the command staff to return to community-based policing.

DA Torrez’s Call For More “Tools To Punish” Hyperbole; No Substitution For Meaningful Gun Control

The Albuquerque Journal’s February 24, 2018 front page headline “DA calls for action against gun violence; Torrez urges passage of laws to curb school shooter threats” was no surprise and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez’s call to action was predictable.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1137494/da-calls-for-action-against-gun-violence.html

District Attorney Raul Torrez said in his press conference:

“We must act and act now – the level of gun violence in this country, and in this community, is unacceptably high. … Each of us must come together and say with one voice: ‘Enough is enough’ … The lives that have been lost in this state, and across the country, it’s not a joke to anyone and needs to be taken seriously.”

Promising a “zero tolerance” from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office when it comes to school safety and gun violence, DA Torrez sent a letter to the New Mexico Legislature and Governor Martinez for “immediate consideration” to give law enforcement the proper tools to punish those responsible for making threats against a school.

In December, 2017, a former student walked into Aztec High School and gunned down two students before killing himself.

Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida that killed 17 a few weeks ago, New Mexico has seen more than a dozen threats against schools in 11 different communities in New Mexico within one weeks’ time.

The fact that District Attorney Raul Torres writes a letter to the legislature and Governor Martinez a few weeks after the legislative session ends and days after the Florida shooting and then holds a press conference on what he proposes smacks of political hyperbole.

What is “hard to take seriously”, to use Torrez’s words, is a lone District Attorney advocating the “immediate consideration” of legislation giving law enforcement more tools to “punish” those responsible for making threats against a school and advocating a special session of the New Mexico legislature to be convened to enact what he wants.

Three (3) of the eleven (11) biggest mass shootings in American history have now taken place in the United States in the last five (5) months and Torrez has been in office over a year.

Political hyperbole from our District Attorney should not come as any surprise seeing as Torrez for the last year has blamed lack of resources, the courts and the legislature for our high crime rates and accused the defense bar of “gamesmanship” to the point he declared our criminal justice system broken.

Torrez did not make any of his proposals during this year’s legislative session where he was given just about all he wanted for his budget to the tune of a $4.5 million increase in his $118 million-dollar budget which will now be $122.5 million.

With the passage of his new budget during the recent 30-day session, Torrez is to be commended for at least dedicating three full-time prosecutors who specialize in gun offenses and focusing on prosecuting federally-eligible cases in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY TORREZ’ S CALL FOR ACTION

District Attorney Raul Torrez wants students who threaten to bring a firearm to school, regardless of what their intent is, to face felony charges, not a misdemeanor charge which has a penalty of from three months up to six months in jail.

Torrez wants lawmakers to make school shooting threats on social media a felony, claiming our laws have not kept up with the times.

Torrez says while the law addresses different types of threats, like bomb threats, New Mexico law does not cover if someone makes a threat of gun violence in schools or other public places made on social media such as FACEBOOK and chat rooms online.

Currently, if you are caught making a threat on a school, you’re charged with “interference with the educational process,” which is a petty misdemeanor.

Such changes in the law are easier said than done.

Torrez advocates it should be a felony, but does not say what degree of felony.

A fourth-degree felony in New Mexico for example can carry a basic sentence of 4 years in jail and up to 6 years in jail when aggravating circumstances are found and there are third, second and first-degree felonies carrying progressive sentencing terms.

Sounds good in principle, but Torrez does not address what local law enforcement resources will be needed to monitor social media like FACEBOOK, especially for communities like Albuquerque that is shorthanded by some 250 law enforcement personnel with a city facing some of the highest violent and property crime rates in the country.

In order to increase prison time for juveniles under 18, the legislature will need to make major changes to the New Mexico Children’s’ Code which deals with the prosecution and incarceration of juveniles, which is defined as someone under the age of 18, and the maximum sentence of incarceration for any juvenile upon conviction is two years, regardless of the crime, even murder.

There are complicated provisions that do allow for juveniles to be charged and sentenced as adults, and this too would require action by the legislature to include new laws relating to school shootings and gun violence committed by juveniles.

Torrez wants his prosecutors to immediately seek pretrial detention, keeping suspects behind bars, presumably to include juveniles, until their trial occurs over charges involving threats to schools and school shootings.

The “gun safety” procedures Torrez also is advocating are:

1. Universal, mandatory background checks for the sale and trade of firearms.

2. Mandatory surrender of firearms by someone with a domestic violence conviction.

3. Enacting a “red flag law”, gun violence restraining order process within the civil courts to allow police to remove firearms from a home for the duration of court proceedings.

TALKING WITHOUT SPEAKING

There are many components that will be needed to address America’s mass shooting epidemic.

What is conspicuously absent from Mr. Torrez’s talk and call for action is any meaningful gun control legislation to curb the sale and the availability of the type of weapons used in the mass killings.

Areas District Attorney Raul Torres did not speak about or not asked about and reported on by the media during his press conference include:

1. Repealing the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms without permits.

2. If New Mexico should raise the minimum age to 21 to purchase and own guns.

3. If school and college teachers, coaches and school administrators should or should not carry guns to help protect themselves and students.

4. If the Albuquerque Public School system should increase funding to “harden our schools” and secure our schools with the use of metal detectors, security doors, and armed officers.

5. His position on “gun free zones” or “safe zones”.

Glaringly absent from the Torrez call for action is to make available more mental health counseling, perhaps within our schools, and mental health treatment facilities, more parental involvement and responsibility, better educational systems, early childhood intervention to prevent child abuse, early child care intervention programs and to identify and get help and counseling to emotionally and violent children, and far more action to “harden” our schools.

Torrez talks and makes a call to action, but does not speak about what needs to be done to reduce school shootings and threats.

LISTENING WITHOUT HEARING

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.

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.

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.

Torrez no doubt has listened to all the news reports, but does not hear what is being proposed nor may not even hear what needs to be done.

OTHER PROPOSALS TO CONSIDER LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY

There are many legislative proposals, albeit too controversial for many running for office and who hold office to stomach, that could be considered on a state level and on the federal level that could be proposed or enacted by our federal and state officials and those running for office.

In New Mexico, our legislature could consider:

1. Repeal the New Mexico Constitutional provision that allows the “open carry” of firearms. This would require a public vote and no doubt generate heated discussion given New Mexico’s high percentage of gun ownership for hunting, sport or hobby.

2. Prohibit in New Mexico the sale of “ghost guns” parts. Ghost guns are guns that are manufactured and sold in parts without any serial numbers to be assembled by the purchaser and that can be sold to anyone.

3. Requiring in New Mexico the mandatory purchase of “liability insurance” with each gun sold as is required for all operable vehicles bought and driven in New Mexico.

4. Enact a gun violence restraining order and extreme risk protection process to temporarily prohibit an individual deemed by a judge to pose a danger to self or others, from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition and allow law local law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession.

5. Restrict and penalize firearm possession by or transfer to a person subject to a domestic violence protection order or a person, including dating partners, convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

6. Mandate the school systems and higher education institutions “harden” their facilities with more security doors, security windows, and security measures and alarm systems and security cameras tied directly to law enforcement 911 emergency operations centers.

On a federal level, congress could consider:

1. Implementation of background checks on the sale of all guns.

2. Close the “Charleston loophole” or “delayed denial” where federally licensed dealers can sell guns if three business days pass without FBI clearance.

3. Call for the update and enhancement of the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NCIS).

4. Institute mandatory extended waiting periods for all gun purchases.

5. Implement mandatory handgun licensing, permitting, training, and registration requirements.

6. Ban “bump-fire stocks” as was used in the Las Vegas mass shooting and other dangerous accessories.

7. Ban future manufacture and sale of all assault weapons and regulate existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and initiate a federal gun buyback program.

8. Impose limits on high capacity magazines.

9. Prohibit firearm sale or transfer to and receipt or possession by an individual who has: (1) been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor hate crime, or (2) received from any court an enhanced hate crime misdemeanor sentence.

10. Institute mandatory child access prevention safe storage requirements and prohibit the sales of handguns with “hair triggers”.

11. Provide more resources and treatment for people with mental illness.

12. Enhance accountability of federally licensed firearms dealers.

13. Implement micro stamped code on each bullet that links it to a specific gun.

14. Produce ‘x-mart guns’ with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or biometric recognition (fingerprint) capability.

15. Limit gun purchases to one gun per month to reduce trafficking and straw purchases.

16. Prohibit open carry of firearms.

17. Digitize Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire (ATF) gun records.

18. Require licensing for ammunition dealer.

CONCLUSION

Proposing more tools “to punish” as being advocated by District Attorney Raul Torrez is not the only thing that is needed to solve the mass shooting epidemic in this country.

Now that we are in an election year, New Mexico voters need to demand the positions from our candidates for Governor, for the New Mexico legislature and those running for congress where they stand on gun control and say what they think needs to be done to do to stop the mass shootings.

Voters need to ask Raul Torrez his position on control measures and what other changes he is willing to advocate before the New Mexico legislature in the upcoming 2019 session.

Given his success during the last legislative session, District Attorney Raul Torrez should seek help and support from all District Attorneys in New Mexico and make major proposals in the passage of meaningful and reasonable gun control legislation if he wants a genuine call to action as opposed to short term media coverage contributing to political hyperbole.

For more commentary, please see:

1. February 2, 2017, “Notes To The Really Smart Guy” at:

Notes To “The Really, Really Smart Guy”

2. February 16, 2018 blog article “When And Where Do We Begin With Stopping Gun Violence” at:

When And Where Do We Begin With Stopping Gun Violence?

3. February 15, 2018 blog article “What We Hear Is The Sounds Of Silence” at:

What We Hear Is The Sounds Of Silence

City Hall’s “Golden Oldie” Of Raising Taxes Broken Record

It was reported that Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference announcing the city is facing a $40 million deficit.

(February 24, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, page A-7, “Mayor Keller says Albuquerque facing $40 million deficit; Crime, health care, reduced state funding, DOJ settlement cited)

https://www.abqjournal.com/1137606/mayor-keller-says-albuquerque-facing-40-million-deficit.html

In announcing the deficit, Mayor Keller said:

“Between rising crime, increasing health care costs, and the drying up of tens of millions in state funding, the chickens are coming home to roost … It has become clear we are faced with a choice: own up to the financial reality at city hall, or continue to muddle along and risk years of uncertainty about the resources that are required to bring real help for public safety to protect our kids”.

Why does what Mayor Keller said sound like a “golden oldie” and all too very familiar?

It’s because the press conference was the second one done by Keller on the $40 million deficit in eight weeks.

Most of what Keller said has also been said by the City Council.

MAYOR KELLER’S “GOLDEN OLDIES” ON TAX INCREASES

Over a year ago on February 14, 2017 the mandatory state audit of the city was released by then 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.

On the campaign trail, Mayoral candidate Tim Keller said he would raise taxes as a last resort for public safety BUT ONLY WITH VOTER APPROVAL.

Candidate Keller said he would draw from various agencies, departments and programs where large, misappropriated budgets existed.

What candidate Keller said about “misappropriate budgets” was a fantastic song that sounded good, but not very realistic after the 8 years of budget cuts and downsizing of government by his predecessor.

On December 19, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller 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 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, Mayor Keller announced the that the city was facing a whopping $40 million-dollar budget short fall the city will be dealing with next fiscal year.

During the December 19, 2017 press conference, Mayor Keller 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 December 19, 2017 press conference if a tax increase would be required, Mayor 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.”

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

THE CITY COUNCIL’S SONG ON TAX INCREASES

On February 17, 2018, City Councilors Ken Sanchez and Trudy Jones announced that the city council will consider a tax increase saying the city was facing a budget shortfall and that the city needed more cops.

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

In announcing the City Council’s proposed tax increase, City council President Ken Sanchez had his own version of the song sung by Mayor Keller when he said:

“We are at an extremely critical time. … Just this coming fiscal year, we are facing a $40 million shortfall. … Our police department staffing is facing some major deficiencies” and saying Albuquerque Police Department has around 850 officers and that 1,200 are needed.

Sanchez also pointed out that the city has lost $25 million in revenue due to the state’s “hold harmless” agreement.

After the legislature did away with state taxes on food and medicine in 2005, it agreed to pay local governments “hold harmless” money to ease the burden of the lost revenue with the money tapering off since 2016.

The New Mexico Legislature allowed municipalities to impose a three-eighths percent gross receipts tax without a public vote, to make up for those losses from the hold harmless provision, which is what City Councilors Sanchez and Joes are proposing.

The gross receipts tax proposed of three eights of a cent and could potentially raise $22 million and upwards of $55 million.

The overwhelming majority of the $55 million generated by the tax being proposed by the City Council will in all probability have to be applied to the $40 million-dollar projected deficit and other incurred debts.

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 upgrade of 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 is the average rate of replacement of older vehicles, not to mention the $25 million dollars lost because of repeal of the hold harmless provision.

There is also a need to generate revenues 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.

For the last eight (8) years, the Albuquerque City Council 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.

For the last eight (8) years, there has been a severe downsizing of city hall personnel, the elimination of numerous positions, and no or very little raises for city hall employees and even a time when pay was cut to make up for deficits to avoid any kind of tax increase.

CONCLUSION

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.

The City Council will also be considering the three eighths gross receipts tax increase.

The question that needs to be answered is if Mayor Keller will, in his own words, “own up to the financial reality at city hall, or continue to muddle along and risk years of uncertainty about the resources that are required to bring real help for public safety to protect our kids” and call for a tax increase of some kind.

If Mayor Keller feels we need a public safety tax for police and the DOJ reforms and deal with the $40 million deficit and lost revenues he should advocate its enactment by the City Council and not put it to a public vote.

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

It is time to change the broken record at city hall and start making the hard decision: to tax or not to tax.

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.