Words, appearances, promises and actions matter when you are a candidate for office and even more important after a person becomes an elected official.
Just as important are the words and actions of high ranking appointee’s who are suppose to know what is going on and who are ultimately responsible for the actions of subordinates.
Words, appearances and actions also matter for public information officers (PIOs) tasked with getting the message out for any Mayor’s Administration.
Candidates for Mayor all too often boldly claim and make the commitment to be transparent, but after getting elected, transparency is quickly abandoned or is the first casualty of intense press coverage.
Being transparent does not mean you look one way and then the other to make sure no one is looking so you can do something you promised not to do, which is called being sneaky.
Signs of when an elected official does not want the press to know, nor the public to know, what they are doing is when there are no press conferences, no fanfare, and no one looking on to attend and report.
A press release is a clear message of what is important to any Mayor’s administration and what it wants the press to report on.
When it comes to the Keller Administration, announcing the banning of coyote contest hunts in Albuquerque was far more important than announcing the signing of a $55 million dollar a year tax increase by the Mayor.
Another sign of when an administration does not want the press nor public to know what is going on is when a news release is issued on a Friday afternoon so as to reduce news coverage.
News releases also give the advantage of not having to explain the rational nor reason for a decision and with no questions asked by the media nor public.
Another sign that an administration does not want the press or public to know what is going on elsewhere is when a Mayor holds a “limited press conference”, makes an opening statement and then limits questions strictly to the one topic the press conference was called for and allows only one question per reporter with no follow up questions allowed.
The “limited press conference” approach was adopted by the Berry Administration and apparently has been adopted by the Keller Administration according to those who have attended Keller press conferences.
Issuing news releases is no substitute for leadership.
Truth, accuracy and clarity need to be consistent by both the elected official, their high-ranking appointments, as well as their public information officers.
In politics, when you do not want to lead and do not want to take the heat, you issue a news release to dodge the press.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM TWO MURDERS:
Fast rewind to the Berry Administration:
THE JAMES BOYD KILLING
Approximately three years ago, the very day after homeless camper James Boyd was shot and killed in the Sandia Mountain foothills by APD SWAT Team members, then Chief of Police Gordon Eden held a press conference and declared that the killing was “justified”.
Eden was forced to backtrack big time on the comment within days of his pronouncement.
It is highly likely Eden’s “justified” pronouncement was approved and screened by then Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry seeing as that Perry attended the Eden press conference.
For a full week after the Boyd killing, then Mayor Richard Berry was nowhere to be found, made no statement and held no press conference on the killing.
When Berry finally came out of the shadows to comment on the Boyd shooting, he proclaimed the shooting “a game changer” but refused to disclose his out of state whereabouts and what he was doing, this coming from a Mayor who pledge transparency by his administration.
A year and a half later, the two SWAT police officers that were found to have shot and killed James Boyd were charged with murder.
After a two-week long trial, the jury dead locked with no acquittal, and the charges were eventually dismissed by the newly elected District Attorney Raul Torrez.
Absolutely nothing was heard from Eden or Berry on the dismissal of the charges.
Prior to the criminal trial of the former SWAT police officers, the City of Albuquerque settled behind closed doors the wrongful death action filed by the James Boyd family paying $5 million dollars in taxpayer money, without admitting lability, thereby discrediting that the shooting was “justified” as proclaimed by Chief Gordon Eden.
There was no transparency by the Berry Administration on why or how the $5 million Boyd civil rights settlement was arrived at.
The settlement was announced by a news release and said the city settled the case to avoid a trial that was not in the best interest of the taxpayers and that a trial would have resulted in far greater damages.
THE VICTORIA MATENS KILLING
A mere seven months ago, in June of 2017, two of APD’s public information officers (PIO’s) were caught providing false and misleading information in a number of interviews to the news media and to the public about the Albuquerque Police Departments contact with nine (9) year old Victoria Martin and her family prior to the child’s brutal murder.
Victoria Martens was the nine (9) year old child that was drugged, raped, murdered, mutilated, dismembered and burned allegedly by her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and his cousin in one of the most heinous crimes to have ever occurred in Albuquerque.
What the PIO’s told the news media was that APD detectives went out and interviewed nine (9) year old Victoria Martin weeks before her death and her family after receiving a referral from the State’s Child Protective Services.
The PIO’s said the detectives did not find any evidence of child abuse or sexual abuse of Victoria Marten.
It turns out, contrary to what the PIOs said, APD Detectives were never dispatched, never interviewed the child nor her family and made false statements to mislead the media and the public.
A complaint was filed by a private citizen with the Police Oversight Board, and after the investigation, it was revealed that then Chief of Police Gordon Eden was never interviewed even though he had talked to the PIO’s on the Marten case and was aware of the press contacts.
A NEWS RELEASE ON FIVE HOMICIDES
Fast forward to the Tim Keller Administration.
Last week, it was reported that five (5) murders had occurred in six days.
The spike in murders was given front page coverage by the Albuquerque Journal as well as being the lead story by all the TV news stations.
The most recent murder was reported on March 21, 2018 when the dead body of a man was found around 11:00 am at the Econo Lodge located at Coors Boulevard and Iliff Road.
According to reports, an employee of the motel entered a room at the motel to clean it and found the slain victim.
APD Public Information Officer Simon Drobik would not disclose detailed facts on how the man died but did say there was enough evidence to conclude it was a homicide because of the condition of the room and the way the body was discovered.
Drobik stated that the five homicides in six days placed a severe strain on the department and took resources away from other police work and other violent crime calls for service throughout the city.
On March 21, 2018, APD spokesman Simon Drobik was interviewed and he told the media:
“We don’t know what’s going on. I’m not sure why people are committing violence against each other. It’s very unsettling.”
“We’re strapped. We’re working really, really hard to solve these crimes. … We’re trying to keep the public safe, but we recognize that people continue to be violent toward each other and we can’t run an operation to stop that.”
“We are asking the public to calm down.”
It was Drobik’s comments that were unsettling and far from reassuring going way too far for any APD public information officer.
It is the Mayor or the Chief of Police that should have provided information of what is happening to APD and making assurances of what was going on, but instead, a press release was issued the next day by the Mayor.
On March 22, 2018, the Mayor’s office issued a press release entitled “Mayor Keller Addressing Crime Head-On” in apparent response to the five murders.
The press release was issued by the Mayor’s Public Information Office Gilbert Gallegos supposedly quoting Mayor Keller as follows:
“Like families throughout Albuquerque, I am disheartened by the recent spike in violence in the city we love. We are focusing city priorities to help make the public safer. We restructured APD to get more officers and resources on the streets in your neighborhoods and are working with the community to better fight crime. As we work to turn trends around, our city’s recent violent confrontations have involved gun violence, drug trafficking and gang activity, and domestic violence that too often turns deadly. APD currently has nine homicide detectives and we are adding two more. We are also providing additional resources to help with the extra workload and address unsolved homicides.”
Mayor Keller’s press release continued:
“I want to thank our officers who are on the frontlines fighting and investigating crime every day. We are working to get you back-up by hiring more officers and getting you the resources, you need. The council and the city are drafting the budget this spring and these investments will take time. Right now, we need everyone to come together with our neighborhood leaders, business-owners and faith-based organizations to take our city back. If you have any information about crime in your area, please call Crime stoppers at 505-843-STOP.”
It is not “addressing crime head on” when five murders and the names of the victims were not even mentioned by the Mayor in the press release, let alone no offering condolences to the victims families.
The press release is very short on specifics and very long on public relations.
It is commendable that Mayor Keller is “disheartened by the recent spike in violence in the city we love”.
There is nothing recent about our spike in violent crime.
Keller campaigned on the crime issue to get elected, and it has been going on for at least four years.
I am sure the rank and file police officers appreciated the obligatory “thank you” from the Mayor for being “on the frontlines fighting and investigating crime every day” and saying “we are working to get you back-up by hiring more officers and getting you the resources you need”.
The sworn officers probably appreciate being thanked by the Mayor for doing their jobs but that does not solve the problem of officer shortages.
Sworn police officers are more interested in being told what is being done to help them now, as opposed to being thanked for doing their jobs, seeing they have heard the same type of “thank you” and damn promises before from the previous administration.
The last quote of the press release is slightly embarrassing when it says “If you have any information about crime in your area, please call Crime stoppers at 505-843-STOP”.
Making a phone call is not going to matter much to the one who is dead.
The Mayor and the police Chief showed leadership appearing at a press conference on March 21, 2018, to announced that the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police were joining forces to address the city’s and the county’s out of control auto theft rates
The Mayor and the APD Chief should address our violent crime rates and murder rates the same way as they did with cars thefts and that would have been real leadership.
NEWS RELEASE ON BANNING COYOTE-KILLING CONSTEST VERSUS NOTHING ON A TAX INCREASE
During the 2018 Mayor’s race, mayoral candidate Tim Keller made the repeated promise that his Administration would be transparent and would not raises taxes, even for public safety, without voter approval.
Candidate Keller making the promise of not raising taxes without a public vote was at best idealistic and at worse being foolish just to garner votes to get elected.
On Monday, March 5, 2018, the Albuquerque City Council voted to raise the city’s gross receipts tax rate by three-eighths (3/8) of a percentage point to deal with a $40 million project deficit for fiscal year that commences July 1, 2018.
The gross receipts tax increase of 3/8th of a cent could potentially raise an additional $30 to $40 million in revenues this year when it goes into effect July 1, 2018 and upwards of $55 million each year thereafter with no sunset clause.
On Thursday, March 15, 2018, according to the city council web site, Mayor Tim Keller signed the $55 million a year tax increase enacted by the city council tax.
Mayor Keller signed the $55 million a year tax increase with no press conference, no fanfare, and no one looking on with no immediate news release.
To date, the Keller administration has yet to post any news release on the city web site that Mayor Keller has signed the tax increase and did not veto it.
At the same time as signing the $55 million tax increase bill, Mayor Tim Keller signed a city council resolution condemning animal abuse in the form of coyote-killing contests within the city.
The news release regarding the banning of “coyote hunt contests” quotes Mayor Keller as saying:
“We are taking a stand in Albuquerque to oppose gratuitous coyote-killing contests. … Cherishing the outdoors and treating animals humanely are core values of our city. Coyote-killing contests defy the principles of conservation and wildlife management that will allow us to continue enjoying our mountains, rivers and wildlife for generations to come.”
The Keller administration should have issued a news release to explain why he signed off on a tax increase that affects virtually every purchase of consumer products and how that money will be used.
On Monday, March 19, 2018, the ABQ Reports (Dennis Domrzalski) reported that the tax increase bill had been signed by Mayor Keller.
The ABQ Reports was able to do so only after reviewing the City Council’s web site to determine if the bill had been signed or vetoed.
The way ABQ Reports reported the news was that Keller had broken his campaign promise to put all tax increase proposals to city voters by signing the ordinance to raise the gross receipts tax in the city by three-eights-of-a-cent.
On Saturday, March 24, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal, citing an email statement from the Mayor’s Office, and not a news release, finally reported that the tax increase had been signed by Mayor Keller.
It is probable that an email was sent only to the Journal on Friday, March 23, 2018, an no news release was issued in order to avoid excessive press coverage, especially by all the TV stations.
In the emailed statement on the signing of the tax increase, Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano wrote as follows:
“The decision was made for the City when Council passed a veto-proof and nearly unanimous bipartisan vote to help give our first responders the resources required to keep our streets safe and protect our kids. … [The City Council] were faced with a choice to own up to the financial realities of the deficit now or kick the can further down the road. … We preferred that this would have gone to the voters but we respect the City Council’s decision. … We are prioritizing public safety in the upcoming budget that is underway. We look forward to working together to move our city forward.”
Given the wording of the press release of “a veto-proof and nearly unanimous bipartisan vote” and the reference to the Mayor’s preference for a public vote, the press release indicates the real reason for a full nine-day delay in announcing that Mayor Keller was not vetoing the tax increase.
The nine-day delay reflects the Keller Administration declined to be transparent and to clearly acknowledge that Mayor Keller went back on his campaign to promise not raise taxes, even for public safety, without voter approval, in order to contain the political damage.
Too bad. The press release was a missed opportunity for Keller to announce his reasons and justifications for supporting the tax increase.
There are many very good reasons for Keller to have gone back on his promise, including the $40 million deficit, the need to hire 350 more sworn police the upgrading the 911 emergency operations center not to mention finding the funding to complete the ART Bus project.
Mayor Keller could have used the opportunity to talk about his plans for APD and the $88 million to be used to expand APD.
Keller should have appeared before city council to announce his decision not to veto the tax increase.
Keller could have even signed the tax increase bill in front of the city council and allowed himself to be asked questions by both the City Council and the public and his administration’s plans to use the new monies generated by the tax.
Some of Keller’s harshest critics are already appearing before the city council and he could have addressed them head on like his administration claims they are doing with violent crime.
High crime rates, public safety and the Albuquerque Police Department were the single biggest issues debated in the 2017 Mayor’s race.
Tim Keller was elected Mayor with a 62% landslide sending the clear message that voters were seeking aggressive and strong leadership that was a complete departure from the failed leadership and policies of the last eight years.
The Keller Administration is still very young and very green with both Mayor Tim Keller and Interim Chief of Police Michael Geier on the job less than 4 months commencing December 1, 2017.
Mayor Keller made the campaign promise to be transparent and he should be just that with his actions, and news releases even if its reversing promises made.
By all accounts, Mayor Keller has done a good job thus far with many of his appointments as well as the progress made and his commitment to the Department of Justice reforms and reforming APD.
I have high hopes for the new administration, but the Keller Administration need to get their message in order and not repeat the mistakes of the past administration, especially when it comes to transparency and taking responsibility for actions.
It is a very good sign that Mayor Keller has hired a seasoned news assignment editor from a local TV station who has 20+ years in the industry and who understands the news industry.
The goal should always be telling the truth and getting your facts and story straight, especially with the news media.
It will take time to turn things around for APD as well as our economy, but that will only happen with true leadership and not governance by press release to avoid controversy and to avoid taking political heat.
Otherwise, all we will be getting is a Democrat version of the same failed Republican leadership we had for the last eight (8) years.
The only difference may be far more photo ops with a photogenic mayor attending or participating in athletic exhibition games to relive high school glory days, ribbon cuttings and social events as our crime rates continue to soar, people continue to getting killed with no real leadership solving our problems.