The traditional time considered a “honeymoon” period with the media and any new Mayoral administration is six months, unless you’re a Democrat and dealing with the Albuquerque Journal engaged in a boxing match.
New Mayors need at least six months’ time to complete a transition, hire their staff and make appointments and prepare a budget that is required to be submitted every April 1 for the upcoming fiscal year.
Democrat Mayor Tim Keller had only two weeks from the day he was elected in the runoff to the day he was sworn in on December 1, 2017 for his transition but had to hit the ground running.
The first six months of any elected officials term usually sets the tone and the direction for the entire remainder of the term and the people appointed help the Mayor set the trajectory for the entire term.
The media knows full well the importance of their role in making sure they report accurately without bias what is going on with any new administration.
In politics, way too often, the relationship between an elected official and the media is like a boxing match that lasts for the entire term, especially when you’re a Democrat dealing with the Republican leaning Albuquerque Journal.
Less than four (4) months into the four-year Keller Administration, Mayor Tim Keller has won one (1) round with a positive editorial on his decisions and the Albuquerque Journal has won six (6) rounds with negative editorials on his decisions and administration.
ROUND ONE WIN BY THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
On December 1, 2017, the very day Mayor Keller was sworn into office, the Albuquerque Journal did a backhanded editorial congratulating him on his first day on the job and welcoming to his new office.
The editorial headline read “Welcome, mayor Keller; Now the hard part begins”.
The December 1, 2017 editorial stated in part as follows:
“Keller’s appointment of Oriana Sandoval, chief executive officer at the Center for Civic Policy, to a newly created position of “deputy city attorney” to focus on immigrant rights protection, refugee affairs, environmental justice and civil rights, is baffling. In every recent poll, Albuquerqueans have overwhelmingly called crime the major concern facing the city – not refugees or environmental justice. It’s unfortunate that one of the new mayor’s very first hires bolsters concerns raised by his opponents – that he would focus on a national progressive agenda vs. addressing local concern.”
In case anyone missed that, the Albuquerque Journal showed its card when it said “he would focus on a national progressive agenda vs. addressing local concern”.
The truth is, the appointment of one deputy city attorney, an interim one at that, did not mean a national progressive agenda as the Journal implied seeing as that the City Attorney’s office employs upwards of 35 attorneys.
Further, the new city attorney was not selected until recently, and even then the Journal had a problem with the selection as will be pointed out later in this article.
The Albuquerque Journal editors had no objections to the former Republican Mayor pursuing a hard right agenda of supporting “right to work” laws, opposing any increases in the minimum wage, refusing to enforce the city’s minimum wage ordinance, opposing the mandatory sick leave ordinance, being at impasse with all the city unions, reducing the size of city government at the expense of public safety, opposing any and all tax increases, opposing sanctuary city policies, not to mention supporting the “late term abortion” initiative that interfere with a woman’s right to choose.
ROUND TWO WIN BY THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
On January 8, 2018, the Journal won the second round of the boxing match with Keller.
On January 8, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal published its first negative editorial against Keller when Mayor Keller issued an executive order to cancel the proposed $39 million garbage transfer station at Edith and Comanche.
The editorial headline was “Why did Keller send $4 million in garbage fees to dump?”
Since day one, and throughout the development process, the garbage transfer station was very controversial with loud protests from area residents worried about traffic, noise and their property values.
The Journal noted the city council in 2014 had enacted a $2 rate increase on an 8-0 vote with one councilor absent.
The garbage transfer station was promoted by the previous Republican administration as a way to reduce the city Solid Waste’s Department carbon footprint and save the city between $2.5 million and $4.5.
Democrat Keller cancelled the transfer station, saying that permits would not be issued and that it was an example of “top-down government”.
An example of top-down government is the ART Bus project.
Keller also said the millions spent on planning and development costs for the proposed transfer station would not go to waste and that they were still “an investment that’s going to continue to provide a return” promising that a new location would be found.
The problem is, Keller offered no alternative site, has yet to do so, and that will delay the construction of the transfer station which is needed.
The Journal totally disagreed and said a new site was nearly totally impossible to find because of objections from any surrounding property owners and the “not on my backyard” attitude.
The Journal boldly opined that “new Mayor Tim Keller sent around $4 million in customers’ rates to the dump instead”.
ROUND THREE WIN BY THE ALBUQERUQUE JOURNAL
On February 1, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal won the third round against Keller when it published its editorial entitled “City deal smells like politics”.
The Journal editorial said in part:
“The $8 million settlement reached between Mayor Tim Keller’s administration and the Albuquerque firefighters union may be on the up and up. The administration says it was the best way to settle a longstanding dispute.
But on the surface, one could wonder whether it was, in fact, a generous reward for the union’s ardent support of Keller during his mayoral campaign.
The settlement stems from a year’s long lawsuit filed after city officials under then-[Republican] Mayor Richard Berry decided in 2010 to cut almost all employee salaries, including police and firefighters, due to a budget crisis.”
What the Journal editors failed to point out is that settlement negotiations were a very common practice used by the previous Republican administration to avoid going to trial when they settled case, after case, after case in police misconduct cases and dished out $62 million in negotiated settlements, some at $5 to $8 million at a time, to the families with relatives killed by police officers with the relatives filing wrongful death actions in Federal Court for “deadly use of force” and civil rights violations.
The Journal had no problem with a Republican Administration settling disputed cases for amounts that many thought were excessive.
The Journal questions a Democrat Administration settling a disputed case because of union support in an election calling the settlement “a generous reward for the union’s ardent support” even though it “may be on the up and up”.
City Risk management and city fund payouts must be screened and approved by the city Risk Management Committee and no Mayor has the authority to settle a case and order a check be issued based on political considerations nor as “a generous reward for political support.”
The Journal editors made no accusations against the past Republican administration of “a deal smelling like politics” or that a settlement was “a generous reward” with any of the settlements they agreed and entered into.
The Journal editors did not object when former City Attorney and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry was sitting on the Risk Management Committee giving him authority over settling city cases with plaintiff attorney’s he knew and worked with in the past and who donated and supported the Republican Mayor when he ran.
ROUND FOUR WIN BY MAYOR TIM KELLER
On March 3, 2018, Mayor Keller won his first round, and thus far the only round, of the boxing match with the Journal editors with his appointment of former New Mexico Treasurer James Lewis as the “Senior Public Safety Advisor”.
The Journal editorial was entitled “Lewis, data, community policing what APD needs” and the editorial was one of the most glowing editorials seen in a very long time.
The editorial starts by first quoting James B. Lewis as follows:
“… We need to get the police back into the community, and we’ve got to get the community back into policing, they’ve got to be the eyes and the ears; they’ve got to be aware of what’s going on.”
– James Lewis, city’s senior adviser for public safety
The editorial continues in part:
“It’s not surprising former state Treasurer James Lewis would allow himself to be drafted out of retirement by new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. Nor is it surprising he would be tasked with helping to rebuild trust between the Albuquerque Police Department and the community it serves as the city’s new senior adviser for public safety.
Lewis has a reputation as someone capable of stepping into difficult situations and getting things back on track. He did it as state treasurer on two separate occasions.
… [W]e have no doubt Lewis is up to the task, given what he has been able to accomplish in the past. …”
The editorial was more of a positive editorial on James B. Lewis recognizing his distinguished service career as opposed to Keller, but Keller wins the round because James B. Lewis was appointed by the Mayor after Lewis served on Mayor Keller’s transition team.
Surprisingly, the Journal did not say Keller appointed Lewis to the position as a payoff for Lewis’ support during the Mayoral election and working on the transition team.
However, the Journal editorial did point out Lewis was being paid $72,000 a year when that was not included in the original Journal story announcing the appointment.
ROUND FIVE WIN BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
Mayor Keller did the traditional Mayoral trek that all newly elected Mayors do, along with his Chief Administrative Office and Chief Financial Officer, to personally meet with the Journal editors in their conference room with the Journal no doubt recording the meeting, to discuss the upcoming city budget, city finances, and the $40 million-dollar projected city deficit for next year.
Such meetings with the Journal editors are a rite of passage for newly elected Mayors and are to be expected and should be encouraged.
Apparently, the editors were not impressed given the follow up editorial they published.
On March 4, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal won the third round of the match against Keller with its editorial entitled “Tax increase may be needed, but voters should decide” and said in part:
“We don’t envy Mayor Tim Keller or members of the Albuquerque City Council who must figure out how to plug a projected $40 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget.”
“So, sure, the city needs revenue. But simply imposing the tax – without voter approval – is the wrong move. Especially if a special election can be held in a timely fashion.”
“[T]his proposed city tax increase will bring in far more revenue than the city is losing [from repeal of the hold harmless provision].”
“… Pushing a tax hike through without voter approval may be the most expedient solution, but it’s the wrong move – particularly given Keller’s repeated pledges on the campaign trail that voters would have final say on any tax increase. … [I]f the mayor and council believe this tax is the only way to address the city’s financial woes and the APD’s officer shortage, they should make their case to the voters and let them decide. Failing to go that route creates a credibility deficit for Keller, and that’s no way for him to begin his term as mayor.”
The Journal editors want the city to hold a special election that would have to be a mail in ballot election and that would cost upwards of $500,000, money that would have to be taken out of the general fund and no doubt from essential services.
The Journal’s position on submitting a tax increase for voter approval is somewhat disingenuous seeing as that tax increases are rarely put on the ballot and left to the city council and yet the Journal did not feel that the ART Bus project should have been put on the ballot, when it is customary to put such capital improvement projects on the ballot.
Further, the city council not enacting the tax before April 1, 2018 meant that the tax could not be collected until January 1, 2019 and the budget that starts July 1, 2018 would have to be enacted on speculation and hopes that the voters would approve a tax increase.
Keller was asked by the Journal editors during the meeting about his campaign promise not to raise taxes without a public vote.
The Journal editors were at least courteous enough to give Keller an opportunity to give his rationale for his reversal.
Of his promise of no tax increase without a vote, Keller told the Journal editors:
“I remember my stance on that, and I want to try and keep that stance, and I believe in that stance,” but “it would be fiscally irresponsible for me to say we should wait three years to get funding for law enforcement” with Keller calling the proposed tax hike the “least worst option.”
The Keller Administration is proposing an $88 million dollar APD expansion program to hire 250 more police officers which in no way can be done without a tax increase and take care of a $40 million deficit at the same time.
Keller’s meeting with the Journal editors and what he said apparently accomplished little next to nothing considering they accused him of creating a “credibility deficit” by not having a public vote and the tax increase.
The Albuquerque Journal accusing Keller of creating a credibility deficit is difficult to accept given what they allowed for eight years from the previous Republican administration.
The Albuquerque Journal never challenge the credibility of the previous Republican administration for the repeated lies they engaged in, especially when it came to the ART Bus project, the deficits and cutbacks in city services.
The Albuquerque Journal also allowed the previous Republican Mayor to proclaim on its front page that his administration was a “hallmark of fiscal responsibility” without challenging that claim.
The September 25, 2017 Journal headline actually proclaimed “A hallmark of fiscal responsibility”.
On September 25, 2017, in his final Mayor State of the City speech, Republican Mayor RJ Berry proclaimed “the state of our city is strong,” and said Albuquerque’s next mayor will “inherit an efficient city government that is living within its means, a growing economy and close to $1.2 billion in infrastructure projects that have been built or are in the pipeline”.
The truth is the previous administration left Keller with a $6 million-dollar deficit for the current fiscal year and left Keller with a $40 million deficit which the Albuquerque Journal expects Keller to clean up, so long as there is a tax increase with voter approval.
ROUND SIX WIN BY THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
On March 13, 2018, the Journal won a fifth round against Keller for recruiting and selecting his own City Attorney outside the application process with the editorial headline “Why did Keller sidestep the process for city attorney?”
In 2009, a city charter provision was enacted requiring an open and competitive hiring process to fill the positions of city attorney and requiring city council approval of the appointments.
The city attorney position was in fact advertised and the city received 19 applications before the closing date of November 29, 2017 to apply.
Eight (8) years ago, there were over 90 applications for city attorney.
The problem is that the Keller Administration reach out in February, 2018 to someone who had not applied for the position and hired that person instead, and the appearance looked terrible with Keller’s commitment to transparency and accountability taking a hit.
The Journal opined:
“It’s unfortunate that the process to select … [the new city attorney] … was fraught with irregularities, and it sets a high bar for him and the administration to overcome to restore public trust.”
The editorial pointed out the names of two other city attorney applicants, including one former city councilor and a UNM general counsel, implying they were more qualified than the attorney selected because the applicants had extensive government experience.
The Journal editorial went so far as making a backhanded reference to the fact that the selected city attorney went to UNM law school at the same time as Keller’s Chief Administrative Officer.
The “victory dance” in the ring by the Journal against Keller on the City Attorney appointment was quoting City Councilor Brad Winter at the end questioning whether the selection process was “truly open and competitive.”
The Journal noted that the city attorney also represents the city council and that the council will have to approve the appointment with a super majority of six city councilors required as if encouraging city councilors to reject the appointment, no doubt on party lines, on a 5-4 vote.
ROUND SEVEN WIN BY THE ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL
The TV media reported that the City’s Inspector General did an investigation and found that between 2014 and 2016 more than 300,000 gallons of wastewater contaminated with oil, grease, brake and transmission fluids and cleaning products were emptied into the city’s storm drains at the city’s westside transit facility in violation of numerous federal safety and environmental regulations and having the likely danger of contaminating our drinking water.
The contaminated water was dumped into the storm drains on weekends to avoid detection on order of a supervisor because a hose was not long enough to reach the tank where the contaminated water is supposed to be stored.
The name of the supervisor, and others involved, have not been released and the Keller administration is saying those involved are in the disciplinary process, which is confidential, until a final decision is made.
On March 15, 2018 and on cue, the Albuquerque Journal published its editorial “ABQ needs to come clean on its dirty water story” and opined in the last sentence as follows:
“The alleged misconduct occurred during the prior administration. But the new Mayor Tim Keller administration — which has pledged transparency –needs to come clean on the dirty water story. That’s a way to send a message to the public and to employees that this kind of conduct won’t be tolerated”.
Interesting that the Journal declined use the Republican Mayor Berry Administration by name but specifically.
The Journal called out Mayor Keller to be transparent implying his administration will not be and that it would not do anything to show the kind of conduct would not be tolerated.
NO JOURNAL EDITORIALS ON REPUBLICAN APPOINTMENTS
For eight years, the Albuquerque Journal made no comment with the appointments of political Republican operatives by the former Republican Mayor.
I do not recall a single editorial on any of the appointments made by the previous Republican administration, even when Republican operatives like Darren White was appointed Chief Public Safety Officer and Rob Perry was appointed City Attorney and then Chief Administrative Officer.
Other well know Republican operatives with ties to Republican Governor Susana Martinez were also appointed as Department heads.
The Journal said nothing when Democrat David Campbell was appointed Chief Administrative Officer nor when he stepped down after less than a year with rumors of having been squeezed out by Republican operatives Darren White and Rob Perry.
Then there was the farce of selecting Republican operative Gordon Eden as APD Chief after a so called national search with Rob Perry in charge of the selection process.
Eden was selected Chief of Police, even though he had absolutely no prior experience in managing a municipal police department and even though such experience was specifically called for in the job description as well as the posting for the position.
Eden was hired over numerous other applicants that included Deputy Chiefs from other major cities.
The Albuquerque Journal editors made no accusation that the fix was in with the Gordon Eden appointment even though he was a political operative who served as the Public Safety Cabinet Secretary under Republican Governor Martinez and with Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry having close contacts with Jay Mc Clusky, the Governor’s go to guy for appointments.
In politics, you must always pay attention as an elected official when it comes to the news media and presume you will not be treated the same way as your Republican predecessor when you’re a Democrat being reported on by a Republican leaning newspaper.
Soon after taking office, a front-page color photo of Mayor Keller holding his old high school football helmet was published to accompany a flattering introductory story of the new Mayor.
Mayor Keller made an analogy of how taking head hits in football are like taking hits in politics.
Not really in that politics is more like a boxing match between two adversaries.
Mayor Keller is quickly gaining the reputation as an athlete who likes to participate in sports such as soccer, rugby, running in exhibition track meets and playing in exhibition football games as the quarterback.
After close to four months in office, Mayor Keller is probably discovering he is in a boxing match with the Albuquerque Journal and he cannot wear a football helmet to the match to avoid injuries to his approval ratings.
Mayor Keller needs to keep his guard up when dealing with the media and before he is knocked unconscious by the Albuquerque Journal.
Keller needs to start connecting with a few punches of his own on the delivery of all of his promises, especially when it comes to the Albuquerque Police Department and bringing down our high crime rates.
It’s going to be a long four-year boxing match to watch with many rounds ahead to be won or lost.
Stay tuned for Round 8 in the Duke City.