It’s Past Time To Reorganize APD – Once Again

On December 13, the Albuquerque Journal published my guest column on APD. Below is the column with the link and a postscript added at the end.

It’s past time to reorganize APD – once again

BY PETE DINELLI / FORMER PROSECUTOR, ALBUQUERQUE CITY COUNCILOR AND CHIEF PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER

Friday, December 13th, 2019 at 12:02am

Candidate Tim Keller campaigned to be elected mayor on the platform of implementing the U.S. Department of Justice-mandated reforms, increasing the size of the Albuquerque Police Department, returning to community-based policing and promising to bring down skyrocketing crime rates. For two years, Keller has tried to take credit for crime rates being on the decline. It turns out the numbers were inflated, with Keller blaming it on antiquated software. The city has recorded 74 homicides in one year, an all-time record.

Mayor Keller and Chief Michael Geier have announced four separate programs within nine months to combat our city’s violent crime and murder rates. Both are beginning to look desperate to portray themselves as being proactive. They also are beginning to look foolish when they hold press conference after press conference to announce new programs that are nothing more than rebranding of existing programs, such as the “Shield” and ALeRT programs, and calling it the “Metro 15.”

Keller has been given everything he has wanted from city council for public safety – and then some. Keller now wants another $30 million from the governor and New Mexico legislature to “modernize” police records and data department. The request is made 18 months after Keller signed into law a gross receipts tax increase enacted by the City Council that raised taxes by $55 million a year, breaking his promise not to raise taxes without a public vote.

What is very troubling is that all the increases in APD budget, personnel and new programs are not having any effect on bringing down the violent crime and murder rates. It is no longer an issue of not having the money, personnel or resources, but of a failed personnel resource management issue.

Within a few months of taking office, Keller and Geier completely reorganized APD and put their own management team in place. At Keller’s midterm, another reorganization of APD is in order because what APD is doing now is simply not cutting it, nor getting the job done when it comes to crime rates.

It is also obvious that the APD command staff Keller handpicked is not getting the job done. Major personnel changes are in order, including asking for more than a few resignations – starting with the APD command staff Keller picked. The reorganization would include increasing the number of officers sworn to patrol the streets and increasing the various units, such as the homicide and investigations units.

A reorganization needs to include abolishing the APD Internal Affairs Unit, with its functions absorbed by other civilian departments. Currently, there are 61 sworn police assigned to the compliance bureaus, which includes APD Internal Affairs. There are 40 detectives involved with the Department of Justice reform enforcement. Those 40 officers would be better utilized in the field services patrolling the streets.

The investigation of police misconduct cases, including excessive use of force cases not resulting in death or serious bodily harm, should be done by “civilian” personnel investigators, not sworn police. 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 the General Council in conjunction with the city Human Resources Department. The Office of the General Council would make findings and recommendations to the APD chief and Police Oversight Board for implementation and imposition of disciplinary action.

Sooner rather than later, citizens demand and want results. No amount of data collection, public relations or nuance programs are going to satisfy those demands or make people feel safe. The problem with Keller is his inability or reluctance to hold his appointees accountable for failures, ostensibly out of a sense of extreme loyalty. The Keller-Geier situation is identical to the Mayor Richard Berry and Chief Gorden Eden relationship. Keller and Geier just may leave City Hall under similar public disdain as Berry and Eden did two years ago.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1400771/its-past-time-to-reorganize-apd-ndash-once-again-ex-city-throwing-money-at-the-problem-has-not-made-albuquerque-any-safer.html
_______________________________________

POSTSCRIPT

The City Council has approved Keller’s plan is to spend $88 million dollars over a four-year period on APD, with $32 million dollars of recurring expenditures, to hire 322 sworn officers and expand APD from 878 sworn police officers to 1,200 officers. Since Keller took office, APD has added 116 sworn police officers and the department now has 970 sworn police officers.

ABQReport “While Albuquerque bleeds, Mayor Keller smiles”

ABQReport “While Albuquerque bleeds, Mayor Keller smiles”

On December 9, 2019, the city recorded its 74th homicide, the all time record of homicides in one year in the city’s history. The previous record was in 2017 with 72 murders. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year.

On December 9, Channel 4 devoted at least one third of its evening 10:00 PM news cast to the story with the news angle of demanding answers from our elected officials and zeroing in on Mayor Tim Keller. The beginning of the story and comments by the news anchors were as hard hitting as it gets and can only be described as a full throttled take down of Mayor Keller on how he avoided to be interviewed all day with the news anchors questioning his failed and lack of leadership.

Mayor Keller’s full 2 minute interview was telecast without any interruptions and needless to say it was obvious he was out of his comfort zone and his trade mark smile was gone. You can view the entire newscast story at this link.

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/keller-speaks-on-record-setting-homicide/5574753/?cat=500

ABQREPORTS COLUMN

ABQReports is an on line Albquerque news column publshed by DENNIS DOMRZALSKI. Mr. DOMRZALSKI has been a reporter for 35+ plus years and worked for the Albquerque Tribune for a number of years reporting on city hall, the courts and crime scene. He later worked for the on line publication ABQ News and 4 years ago he began ABQReports:

The following column was published on December 12, 2019 and written by its editor DENNIS DOMRZALSKI. (The link to the article is at the end.)

“Tim, get busy and be the mayor that we need. Please.”

That anguished plea to Mayor Tim Keller was posted Wednesday on our Facebook page in response to Dan Klein’s columns about how an Albuquerque police detective screwed up a murder investigation and jailed an innocent 17-year-old girl for six days. It’s also a plea for Keller to get really tough on crime and on the criminals who are ravaging this city and ruining life for law-abiding taxpayers who pay Keller’s salary.

Can Keller be the mayor we need right now? Can he be a mayor who will say that he and his police department won’t tolerate crime and the fiends, creeps, lowlifes and scum who are ruining this once nice city? Can he be the mayor who prods and inspires the District Attorney’s office and the judiciary to work feverishly on our behalf to lock criminals up and keep the rest of us safe?

I doubt it. And two years into his term, we can say that Keller has been a failure as a mayor when it comes to battling crime and keeping us safe. And we don’t think he’s going to get any better and grow into the job.

Keller just doesn’t seem capable of declaring for all to see and hear that his administration will do everything possible in its power to lock criminals up. He can’t seem to get out there and say something like, “We’re declaring war on criminals and we will show them no mercy. We will not tolerate scumbags breaking into our homes, stealing our cars, assaulting us, raping us and killing our neighbors. And if you’re one of those scumbags who preys on law-abiding people we’re coming after you with a vengeance.”

In fact, Keller seems lost. In a recent TV interview when a reporter asked him what he was going to do about the record number of homicides this year, Keller was sad and pathetic. He babbled on about domestic violence and guns, and who knows what else. And it was just babbling that said nothing. He had a chance to declare war on crime, but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it.

Instead, he flashed his handsome smile and, well, babbled. If his smile was meant to reassure us that he was on the job and working furiously to make our streets safer, it didn’t work. Keller looked lost. And the smile was one of those uneasy, pathetic things that try to mask fear, incompetence and a total lack of understanding of the situation. It was the sad smile of someone who is in over his head. It was the smile of someone pretending to know the answers, when at heart he knows he didn’t study for the test.

I don’t know why Keller can’t declare war on criminals, draw a line in the sand, or say and do whatever it takes to start the war on criminals. Maybe he’s one of those pathetic souls who is paralyzed by the need to be liked by everyone. Maybe he thinks that being a hard-ass will make his liberal and progressive cult-like followers think he’s a bad and insensitive man.

Maybe Keller truly believes that murderers, rapists, muggers, robbers, burglars and carjackers are misunderstood and that they’re really nice people and that it’s the fault of law-abiding citizens and the evil capitalist society that have driven these oppressed people to crime.

Maybe Keller doesn’t believe that people who steal our stuff and money are criminals. Maybe he thinks that they are redistributing wealth and money to their oppressed and misunderstood selves.

I don’t know. But what I do know is that two years into his term, Keller is a failure as a mayor and as a leader. He goes for the fluff stuff like weeping at the border and creating a department of inclusion, while dodging the hard stuff like people getting assaulted and robbed and raped. He can’t bring himself to fire incompetent people, and he smiles when he’s lied to. So far, no one has been fired over crime statistics fiasco in which Keller and his police department lied about falling crime rates.

Another Facebook user put it this way:

“The mayor is is not going to change; he is a good-hearted liberal who has no idea how to combat crime and no desire to move against the consent decree. As for Chief Geier, he is going to do what Mayor Keller dictates. My money says unless Mayor Keller takes the cuffs off his officers and uses his bully pulpit to go after the DA and the judiciary he will be a one-term mayor.”

Great leaders—even moderately good ones—often have to be hard-asses and take control. Keller seems incapable of that, and we’re the ones who are suffering the consequences of that failure.

So the sickening status quo will continue. While Albuquerque bleeds, Mayor Tim Keller smiles.”

https://www.abqreport.com/single-post/2019/12/12/While-Albuquerque-bleeds-Mayor-Keller-smiles

Another Six Figure Buyout; UNM Responds To Becoming Division II Athletics Program; A Winning Team In Search Of A Stadium; An Empty Stadium In Search Of A Winning Team

On November 25, it was announced that University of New Mexico Head Football Coach, Bob Davie, 65, who was in his 8th season at UNM, resigned effective after the team’s season finale on November 30. The team had a record of 8 wins and 28 losses the past three seasons. Coach Davie’s all around record at UNM is 35 wins and 64 losses.

Davies had the distinction of being New Mexico’s highest paid public employee earning a salary and compensation package of $822,690 a year. On December 10, it was announced UNM will pay Davie $825,000 over the next 30 months to leave the university two years before his contract expires. The money will be paid out over 30 months and revenues from “guaranteed games” where the UNM Football program is advanced funding to play a high ranked team. UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nunez announce that UNM is paying a search firm $50,000 to find a new head football coach.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1399913/unm-paying-50k-to-search-firm-for-football-coach.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1399771/davie-departure-will-cost-unm-825k.html

https://www.krqe.com/news/albuquerque-metro/unm-board-of-regents-expected-to-decide-bob-davies-buyout/

UNM has an extensive history of buying out the contracts of UNM athletic program coaches and for 6 figures. Those buyouts have included football coaches Rocky Long and Mike Locksley and basketball coach Richie McKay.

UNM FOOTBALL FAILING SPORTS PROGRAM

The University of New Mexico’s (UNM) athletics department has had chronic financial problems, having missed its budget 8 of the past 10 years. 2018 was one of the worse of the years having a $3.3 shortfall. UNM’s Board of Regents attempted to mitigate that by allocating the use of $1.3 million in reserves in November of last year. One of the biggest failures over the years has been the UNM football program.

On July 20, 2019, the University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted in favor of recommendations to eliminate four sports as the school’s troubled athletics department worked to control its spending and 10 years of deficits. The four-sports eliminated were beach volleyball, men’s and women’s skiing and the highly successful men’s soccer program.

The UNM Regent’s unanimous vote came after dozens of people, from coaches and players to alumni and community members, testified on behalf of preserving the men’s soccer team and the skiing and beach volleyball programs. The programs were cut anyway, eliciting boos and heckles from the crowd. Many expressed anger at the Board of Regents for not cutting one of the sports who has the most money problem at the university, such as the failing football program.

https://www.koat.com/article/four-athletic-teams-at-unm-get-axed/22467188

UNM football has hit its lowest per-game total in nearly 30 years with an average attendance below 20,000 fans for the first time since 1992. On October 29, 2018, it was reported that the Lobos were the 27th worst team in the nation in terms of average attendance, ahead of just San Jose State, UNLV and Nevada among Mountain West institutions. In terms of the percentage of stadium filled, the Lobos were the ninth worst in the entire country.

For related media coverage and sources see:

https://www.dailylobo.com/article/2018/10/unm-football-attendance-2018-struggles

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/sports/decline-and-fall-of-lobos-football/article_28f52bff-6537-538a-a9ec-828882bb4f64.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1368557/unm-hoping-ags-help-give-gate-needed-boost.html

UNM RESPONDS TO PROPOSAL GOING FROM DIVISION I PROGRAM TO DIVISION II PROGRAM

The University of New Mexico (UNM) is a Division I athletic program with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). According to the NCAA, it costs Division II schools, including football, about half as much to sponsor a competitive athletics program as it does in Division I. The net operating costs in Division II even tend to be lower than for programs of similar size in Division III primarily because of higher net operating revenues in Division II. With the UNM football season ended, now is the time to end the UNM football program and have UNM become a Division II sports program and restore successful programs such as the winning UNM Soccer Program.

Chief of Staff for UNM President Garnett S. Stokes, in response to a November 27 blog article entitled “Make UNM Athletics A Division II Program; Stop Pouring Money Down UNM Football “Black Hole”; Concentrate On Declining Enrollment And Academic Excellence”, link to full article provided below, and the proposal of moving UNM from a Division I athletic program to a Division II program, had this to say in an email:

“We do feel that football can regain much of the strongest performances in terms of attendance and fiscal sustainability from its past with appropriate, not extravagant, investments. Most importantly, we need to field a team that is competitive. The revenues from football due to the MWC affiliation and Division I status are substantial but do not present a breakeven opportunity without significant increases in revenue that really must come from our fan attendance at the end of the day. Division II athletics participation does not carry with it substantial reductions in expenses but does have much less opportunity for revenue. We understand the plea for responsible investment in co-curricular activities in higher education but do believe we are acting in the best interest of UNM and the state of New Mexico when trying to strengthen athletics. Many people feel it is important for the flagship university in the state of New Mexico to have an athletics program that competes at the highest level but we realize that not everyone feels compelled by this or believes the benefit outweighs the investment. …”

SOCCER IS VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO UNM FOOTBALL

During the last 30 + years, soccer in Albuquerque has flourished and excelled in Albuquerque, especially in preschools, grade schools and high school programs. Today, it is very common to find grown men in their 30s who played soccer in grade school, mid- school and high school and who play in city adult leagues.

Soccer is now part of the city’s fabric with programs for children, adolescence and young adults. Soccer programs throughout the city have proven far more inclusive for Albuquerque athletes than football programs could ever had hoped to imagine.

NM UNITED SOCCER TEAM SEEKS PERMANENT STADIUM

New Mexico was awarded a United Soccer League (USL) expansion team in June 2018. The USL is the nation’s second-highest professional soccer organization second to the Major League Soccer organization (ML). During its first year, NM United was able to execute a highly effective marketing plan that resulted in an reenergized fanbase never before seen in the City and it payed off in a big way.

The United team currently plays at Isotopes Park that is owned by the city and leased to the Isotopes under a two-year contract. United’s current lease with Isotopes Park can only be extended through the 2021 season. The United Soccer League has mandated that all expansion teams be in soccer-specific stadiums within three years.

According to the online Soccer Stadium Digest, during the team’s first year of existence it led the 36-team USL with an average home attendance of 12,693 and won a playoff spot in the United States Soccer League, which is the equivalent of Triple A baseball.

New Mexico United announced a few months ago it is seeking a permanent home in Albuquerque. On November 14, it was reported that United Soccer Team owner Peter Trevisani made a presentation to an interim legislative fiancé committee seeking $30 million in state capital outlay funds to be appropriated during the upcoming 2020 session that starts in January for a soccer stadium.

The total cost for such a stadium will probably approach $100 million. According to Trevisani, a new facility would help United jump up to the Major League Soccer Level (ML) which is the sport’s equivalent of the National Basket Ball Association (NBA) or Major League Baseball.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1390897/lawmakers-to-hear-pitch-for-soccer-stadium.html

CITY GETS INTO ACT OF SPORTS TOURISM PROMOTION

On September 6, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller submitted a $29 million infrastructure bond tax package to the Albuquerque City Council to be financed by the City’s Lodger’s Tax. The Keller Administration labeled the lodger tax bond package as a “Sports – Tourism Lodger Tax ” because it will be used for a number of projects around the city labeled as “sports tourism opportunities.”

Mayor Keller’s “Sports Tourism Lodger Tax” proposal came just a few months after the city hosted the National Senior Games. According to the Keller Administration, the National Senior Games featured nearly 14,000 athletes competing at 21 venues and had an estimated $34 million economic impact. Further, the lodger tax proposal came after New Mexico United professional soccer team expressed the desire for a permanent soccer stadium.

On October 7, the City Council approved a $30.5 million “Sports -Tourism” lodger tax package on a unanimous vote to upgrade and build sports facilities throughout the city. Revenue generated by the lodger’s tax will be used to pay off the $30.5 million bond debt.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1363274/mayor-sends-28-million-proposal-to-city-council.html

https://www.abqjournal.com/1375946/city-council-approves-new-lodgers-tax-bonds.html

KELLER WANTS A SOCCER STADIUM

Mayor Tim Keller is getting into the act of identifying a soccer stadium location. During the October monthly meeting of Albuquerque Bar Association Luncheon, Keller revealed that the city is looking at a minimum of 3 locations for a sports and event arena that can be used by the United New Mexico soccer team. Two inquiries have been made by the city with the United States Post Office to purchase the Post Office Main Office on Broadway. There is land available near the PIT basketball arena, the UNM Football Stadium and Isotopes Park. . Property on the West side is also under consideration.

On November 5, Albuquerque voters approved $3.5 million for a multi-field practice facility the United soccer team could share with other users. The soccer complex site has yet to be identified by the city but it will have locker rooms that could host tournaments. According to the Keller Administration, the multi-use soccer facility would be available for use by Albuquerque Public Schools, the New Mexico Activities Association championships and other tournaments, and would serve as a practice field for New Mexico United and the New Mexico Activities Association.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

In 2017, the city of Albuquerque commissioned a feasibility study to examine the feasibility of building a 10,000-seat stadium. The study identified three potential sites: Albuquerque’s Rail Yards, the Sawmill neighborhood near Interstate 40 and the Northwest intersection of Lomas and Broadway. The feasibility study estimated the cost of the stadium construction would between $24.2 million and $45.8 million. The estimated cost did not include land acquisition and other expenses, such as architectural design and infrastructure.

The United Soccer League team said its top pick for a location for its stadium is Downtown. United Soccer League owner Peter Trevisani said he hopes the stadium would be an “anchor tenant” with shops and restaurants around it in a walkable area. Trevisani said he envisions the new stadium as a “cultural arts center” that could feature on-site hotel rooms and restaurants, and could be designed in collaboration with Santa Fe arts collective Meow Wolf, which already is a sponsor for the tram.

Trevisani described the project as much more than a soccer stadium and home for New Mexico United. The stadium could also house other teams, perhaps aiding in the recruitment of a women’s professional team. Trevisani believes a new stadium could be a “morale booster” for the city and state which do not have any top-level professional sports teams. According to Trevisani:

“This stadium can represent the revitalization of Albuquerque and the vitality of New Mexico and how we view ourselves. … I think it could be a crown jewel for the state. ”

ANTI DONATION CLAUSE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE MAJOR IMPEDIMENT

The New Mexico Constitution strictly prohibits donations to “public or private corporations” by governmental entities. The provision provides in pertinent part:

“Neither the state nor any county, school district or municipality, except as otherwise provided in this constitution, shall directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation … .” (N.M. Const. art. IX, § 14.)

The anti-donation clause of the state Constitution prohibits the city or the state public from paying for a private stadium. However, it does not prevent the city or the state from building and owning the facility and where United New Mexico would pay rent to the city or state. Bonds could also be issued to finance the construction of the stadium with a percentage of ticket sales and concessions dedicated to pay off the debt. This is the identical arrangement the City of Albuquerque has with the Isotopes professional baseball team.

ALBUQUERQUE SPORTS STADIUM BECOMES ISOTOPES BASEBALL STADIUM

It was on October 25, 2001 that ground was broken to build Isotopes Baseball Stadium and it opened on April 11, 2003. Isotopes Park has a seating capacity of about 13,000 which includes stadium seats and berm area seating. The construction cost was $25 million which in 2019 dollars is about $31.4 million. At the time, a debate raged on and centered on whether to renovate the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium as a baseball-only park or build a brand-new park downtown. It was Mayor Jim Baca who wanted to build a new stadium downtown to revitalize the downtown area.

Mayor Baca put the issue to a vote and the voters easily approved the $25 million needed to finance the project. The decision was made to renovate the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium. To the surprise of many, the old sports stadium was leveled to the ground. As it turned out, the renovation turned into a construction of a completely new facility. Almost nothing of the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium remained, apart from the playing field.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The idea of locating a sports stadium or arena in the Downtown area for Downtown revitalization has been around for at least 25 + years. The Isotope’s park “remodeling” was originally proposed as a downtown baseball stadium. Notwithstanding, Albuquerque’s political establishment, Mayors and City Councils alike and the business community failed to muster the political will or commitment to get it done. It is doubtful that will change any time soon, especially within the two years United New Mexico has left to build a soccer-specific stadium mandated by the United Soccer League for all expansion teams.

New Mexico United clearly has momentum with its winning success and games getting over 12,000 attendance a game, the very kind of momentum needed to justify building a stadium. The team has succeeded in bringing together people from around the state. It would be a major mistake for the city or the state not to take advantage of the momentum, timing and success of the NM United Team and do their best to build a stadium.

https://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2019/06/27/new-mexico-united-eyes-location-for-future-stadium.html

GIVE A WINNING TEAM AN EMPTY STADIUM IN SEARCH OF A WINNING TEAM

As a solution to building a new stadium for New Mexico United is for UNM to sell the University Football stadium to the City, the city remodels it for soccer, and the City, like Isotopes Park, leases it to United New Mexico. The legislature should shut down the University of New Mexico football program, force UNM to concentrate on athletics programs that have been a success like UNM basketball and return the UNM Soccer program and make UNM a Division II athletic program.

The University of New Mexico needs to concentrate on its intended and most important function: to provide and offer a quality college education at an affordable price to students. UNM needs get out of the business of trying to be a University Division I athletics program powerhouse which is doubtful will ever achieved in the near future after 10 full years of failure . The UNM regents need to take steps to get back to the basics of higher education and stop pouring millions down the black hole known as UNM Football.

With UNM football coach Bob Davies now gone and the football season ended, now is the best time to end the UNM football program as it exists. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature should force UNM to become a Division II sports program and restore successful programs such as the winning Soccer Program.

The University Regents and elected officials need to stop having unrealistic high hopes and dreams for UNM football. UNM needs to stop the insanity of wasting so much money on a failing athletic program in general known for paying outrageous salaries to coaches who do not cut it with loosing seasons and the university is force pay six figures to buy out contracts when they never work out or produce winning seasons.

Until then, a stadium for New Mexico United needs to be built or found.

Make UNM Athletics A Division II Program; Stop Pouring Money Down UNM Football “Black Hole”; Concentrate On Declining Enrollment And Academic Excellence

Channel 4 Take Down Of Mayor Tim Keller

On December 9, 2019, the city recorded its 74th homicide, the all time record of homicides in one year in the city’s history. The previous record was in 2017 with 72 murders. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year.

On December 9, Channel 4 devoted at least one third of its evening 10:00 PM news cast to the story with the news angle of demanding answers from our elected officials and zeroing in on Mayor Tim Keller.

The beginning of the story and comments by the news anchors were as hard hitting as it gets and can only be described as a full throttled take down of Mayor Keller on how he avoided to be interviewed all day with the news anchors questioning his failed and lack of leadership.

Mayor Keller’s full 2 minute interview was telecast without any interruptions and needless to say it was obvious he was out of his comfort zone and his trade mark smile was gone.

The report is the single most damaging report I have ever seen of Mayor Tim Keller since he took office on December 1, 2017 and for that matter, any Albuquerque Mayor.

You can view the entire newscast story at this link.

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/keller-speaks-on-record-setting-homicide/5574753/?cat=500

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Announces More Behavioral Health Provider Settlements

On Wednesday, December 4, 2019 , the administration of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced it has entered into settlement agreements with 5 remaining of 15 behavioral health care providers whose Medicaid funding was frozen in 2013 by the former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named”. The previous Republican Administration alleged fraud, over billing and mismanagement by the providers. New Mexico’ system for treating mental illness and drug addiction was seriously undermined by the actions of the previous Republican administration.

Since January 1 when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, 10 behavioral health nonprofits have settled their claims against the state. Governor Lujan Grisham has said repeatedly that the forced closure of the 15 behavioral health program caused severe disruption to New Mexico’s behavioral health system and had ripple effects on many families and businesses and also caused private health care costs to increase.

TERMS OF THE SETTLEMENTS

The five providers who settled their claims are Southwest Counseling Center, Border Area Mental Health Services, Families and Youth Inc., Southern New Mexico Human Development, and Santa Fe-based Santa Maria El Mirador, which was formerly known as Easter Seals El Mirador. Originally, the 5 providers sought more than $27 million in damages.

The New Mexico Human Services Department is agreeing to pay $10 million to settle the legal claims. The settlement concludes the many years of litigation that has cost the state millions of taxpayer dollars. In exchange for the $10 million in settlement, the 5 providers have agreed to drop their lawsuits against the state. The New Mexico Human Services Department also agreed to waive its claim to alleged over-payments received by the providers.

According to Human Services Secretary David Scrase, his department plans to request a $10 million supplemental appropriation during the 30-day 2020 legislative session that starts in January to help cover the settlement. The Human Services Department is working with mental health care providers to rebuild the state’s system for treating mental illness and drug addiction.
Democrat Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, in a statement issued described the settlement agreements as bringing long-awaited resolution to the state’s behavioral health system and said:

“Now, we can get providers back in business to help those individuals who have had to do without needed behavioral health care services”.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1397990/nm-agency-settles-with-5-remaining-behavioral-health-providers.html

OTHER SETTLEMENTS REACHED

During a July 9, 2019 press conference, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that her Administration negotiated settlement agreements with 3 of the nonprofit behavioral health providers affected by the 2013 Medicaid funding freeze. The 3 providers the state settled with were: Valencia County Counseling Services, The Counseling Center and Hogares.

Under the terms of the negotiated settlement agreements, the state will paid the Valencia County Counseling Services, The Counseling Center and Hogares nearly $2.7 million in damages. The 3 providers agreed to pay the state roughly $191,000. One of the providers will also be able to apply to the state for a reinstatement of its Medicaid provider number.
Notwithstanding the 3 settlements announced, Governor Lujan Grisham said the damage to New Mexico’s mental health system caused by 2013 Medicaid funding freeze ordered by her predecessor affected numerous families and businesses and it will take years to recover from and she said:

“Quite frankly, it’s created such deep holes in the other health care delivery systems in Medicaid … that in fact it’s raised the cost in the private market for health care.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/1338147/settlements-reached-with-three-mental-health-providers.html

On Wednesday August 21, 2019, the administration of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced it has entered into settlement agreements with Team Builders Counseling Services and Counseling Associates.

Team Builders Counseling Services received more than $1.9 million from the state. Team Builders was one of the state’s largest behavioral health providers. It operated in 23 counties and employed upwards of 400 workers. As part of the settlement, the state agreed to allow Team Builders to resume operations in the state and agreed to expedite the process for resumption of providing services.

The state has agreed to pay more than $173,000 in damages to settle the claims with Counseling Associates.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1356618/two-more-behavioral-health-providers-settle-claims-against-nm.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

The single most cruelest thing that former Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” did was when she ordered an “audit” of mental health services by nonprofits in New Mexico based on questionable information. The audit eventually devastated New Mexico’s behavioral health system.

In June 2013, under the direction of the former Republican Governor, the Human Services Department (HSD) cut off Medicaid funding to 15 behavioral health nonprofits operating in New Mexico. In 2014, more than 160,000 New Mexicans received behavioral health services, with most of those services funded by Medicaid, according to the Human Services Department. After the audits were completed, the former Republican Administration said that the outside audit showed more than $36 million in over billing, as well as mismanagement and possible fraud. Under the orders of the Republican Governor, Human Services Department agency brought in 5 Arizona providers to take over from New Mexico providers.

In early 2016, following exhaustive investigations, the Attorney General cleared all 15 of the healthcare providers of any wrongdoing and exonerated all of them of fraud. Even though the NM Attorney General found no fraud and cleared the nonprofits of fraud, the damage had been done to the nonprofits. With the Medicaid funding freeze, many of the 15 nonprofits could not continue and just went out of business leaving many patients without a behavioral health service provider. Lawsuits against the state were initiated by the mental health care providers.

Three of the five Arizona providers brought in by the previous Republican Administration in 2013 to replace the New Mexico nonprofits pulled out of the state. New Mexico’s mental health system is still struggling to recover.

https://www.abqjournal.com/749923/third-arizona-behavioral-health-provider-to-pull-out-of-state.html

The former New Mexico Republican Governor never understood the need for mental health services. The mental health care providers were easy targets for her conservative anti-government philosophy to freeze Medicaid funding to bring 15 nonprofits to their knees and forcing them out of business. To the former prosecutor, the answer was always increasing penalties and incarceration and never even trying to address at least two of the underlying causes of crime: drug addiction and poverty.

It has never been fully reported on how the 5 Arizona Heath Care providers were selected to replace the New Mexico nonprofits. It has also never been revealed to what extent the former Republican Governor was involved with the selection nor what orders her office gave in the selection of the out of state providers.

What is known is that legacy of Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named” is a legacy of shame when it comes to the destruction of New Mexico’s nonprofit mental health care system. Her political wrath and cost cutting measures affected thousands of New Mexico residents in need of mental and behavioral health care services and she simply did not give a damn.

All of the settlements contain the standard provision found in settlements entered into by state government agencies that “neither the state nor the providers” admit any liability or fault. This no doubt also helped the previous Republican Administration save face by not being force to admit the false and heavy-handed approach it took to destroy all the nonprofits that allowed them to bring in Arizona providers. The settlements reflect good faith negotiations to end the litigation to avoid prolong litigation costing thousands. There is no doubt that settling the cases is critical to rebuilding the state’s system for treating mental illness and drug addiction.

NEED TO KNOW ELECTED OFFICIALS POSITIONS ON BEHAVIORAL HEATH CARE

During my early teenage, high school and college years, my family dealt with a member who suffered from very severe, chronic and self-destructive mental illness who never recovered from it until his passing. I will always remember how my father was treated by health care professionals and yes at times by law enforcement.

Throughout my adult life and public service career, I made sure I knew how elected officials dealt with behavioral health care issues. When I was a prosecutor, I understood the importance of drug treatment programs and behavioral health programs as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration and returning people to be productive citizens.

ACT OF COMPASSION

In politics, more can be learned about a politician and their character by observing them in private and especially how they treat other people. A little more than 5 years ago, I attended a small fund raiser for then Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. In attendance was a person who we both knew and dealt with in the past, who was a very vocal critic of both of us in the past, and who we both understood to have mental health issues.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, not knowing that I was listening and watching her, had one of her aides approach her and ask her if she wanted the person removed before she started to speak. Her response was quick and sure and it told me more about her than I had ever known. She told her aide to talk to the person, make sure he did not need anything, and then after the event, make sure he got a ride home seeing as the person walked to the event and it would be dark when the event ended. This one act of understanding revealed the true character of an elected official.

CONCLUSION

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham served as Director of New Mexico’s Agency on Aging under Governors Bruce King, Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson. Governor Richardson elevated the position to the state cabinet. In 2004, Lujan Grisham was appointed as New Mexico Secretary of Health where she was a champion for mental health services. After 8 very long years, New Mexico has a Governor that truly understands the need for effective and critical mental and behavioral health care services and is now acting with understanding and compassion.

The process to rebuild the state’s behavioral health care services will be a slow process that no doubt will take years.

Mayor Tim Keller Suffers From Political Amnesia On Rail Yards Development; Private Sector Was Interested In Development

On December 4, it was announced that a $1.2 million federal grant to improve infrastructure at the Rail Yards has been awarded to the City of Albuquerque. The federal grant will require a $1.2 million match from the city. The federal grant will fund water, sewer, street scape infrastructure and broadband internet to the facility that will house Central New Mexico Community College’s Film Production School of Excellence. The combined funding of $2.4 million is expected to help create 316 jobs and generate $9 million in private investment

John Fleming the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development for the Trump Administration was in Albuquerque to make the announcement with Mayor Tim Keller. Fleming commented on the matching fund aspect of the grant and said:

“It represents a significant buy-in from the community. … We love to see skin in the game. We find that these projects succeed when the city or community foundations match our investment. [The federal grant] … will help shore up infrastructure so the private sector can come up and make things happen. … This will be state of the art in terms of infrastructure … This is what private companies require before they invest their money to make things happen.”

Mayor Tim Keller during the joint appearance with Fleming said the city tried to get the private sector involved in addressing the areas that will be funded by the Department of Commerce Economic Development Association grant. According to Mayor Keller:

“No private company was going to invest in all of the infrastructure. .. And they would tell us in all of these meetings, ‘When are you going to fix up the water, the plumbing and the electricity, and the security, and bring in broadband?’ We thought, ‘Wow, we thought that’s what you were going to do.’ … Finally, we decided we had to do this. In any way you look at it, the responsibility, for better or worse …. to restore a lot of these properties, the responsibility of building that infrastructure is in many ways the government’s. … We do believe if we can build out the infrastructure and make this a leasable, occupied space that, it will be a huge economic benefit”

According to Keller, the city’s commitment exceeded the matching amount required for the grant. On November 5, City voters approved $5 million in general obligation bond funding for the Rail yards, and during the 2019 New Mexico Legislative session, the state legislature appropriated $7.5 million for the rail yards.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1397844/rail-yards-grant-requires-city-to-have-skin-in-the-game.html

KELLER SUFFERS FROM POLITICAL AMNESIA ON RAIL YARDS INVESTORS

Mayor Tim Keller is suffering from political amnesia. It is simply not true when Keller says that the city tried to get the private sector involved with the Rail Yard Development and no one showed any interest or will to deal with the infrastructure. Keller had private meetings with private investors willing to take over the Railyards project, but he said no.

John Strong has lived in New Mexico since 1997. He is a highly successful private business owner and has been investing in business startups since 2004. He is a co-founder or board member at several different companies, mostly in technology, healthcare, and financial services. Mr. Strong describes himself as being “obsessed” with entrepreneurship and small businesses.

John Strong had a reaction to Mayor Tim Keller’s announcement of the federal grant for the railyards:

“Recently, I’ve read … that Mayor Tim Keller had wished there was a private developer interested in the Railyards project, but that no one was. That is not only false, it’s a lie. Here’s how I know that.

In November of 2018 I was contacted by Stu Jones, a developer in Dallas, Texas who had an interest in the Railyards. Here’s a little background on him. Stu Jones is arguably one of the nation’s most prominent “Brownfield” developers. Brownfield projects are those that require environmental remediation, water table cleanup, or toxic waste cleanup. Jones’ company has completed billions of dollars of these re-developments in the United States including recently the re-development of a 5 million square foot former aircraft manufacturing facility in Dallas. He is recognized nationally as an expert in this area.

His company was a finalist for the contract on the Railyards when it was originally awarded to Samitaur several years ago, so he is very familiar with the project. When it became apparent that the city might cancel the Samitaur contract he indicated an interest in revisiting it. So when he reached out to me it was to request my help in facilitating a meeting with Mayor Keller to discuss the project. I did so, and a meeting was set for an evening at my home with Mayor Keller, Stu Jones, Stephen Martinez, a consultant on tax incentives, Kevin McDonald , a friend and associate of both myself and Jones, and two others. The Mayor had no staff at this meeting. The discussion centered on what Jones and his company could provide to the city with regards to the project.

Mayor Keller was immediately pretty disinterested in the discussion, stating that the city had all of the funds needed to begin remediation of the project. Mayor Keller had said that the remediation estimate that he had was about $7 million dollars. Jones said that was far too low, but the Mayor insisted it was not and that was all he was going to spend on it regardless. When asked if the city has this money the Mayor said yes, and much more because he could re-direct as much funding as he wished from capital improvements projects that had been funded but either not completed or not started.

Later in January, as the legislative session started the Mayor sent a staff member to the session to lobby for $7 million for this remediation, which was eventually granted. That led me to believe that the city did not have the money the Mayor had referenced in our meeting in November. The issue here for me is not whether the Mayor wishes to have any private sector involvement and funding for the railyards. That’s his prerogative. The issue is why he would say to the Albuquerque Journal and social media that no private parties were interested .That is simply a lie.

I have been a supporter of Tim Keller’s since his days in the Senate. I have hosted fundraisers for him, I gave substantial funds to the PAC supporting his election as Mayor, and I encouraged my friends to do the same. I cannot understand why he felt it was necessary to lie to the citizens of Albuquerque about a project that is deeply important to us all, and in particular to the citizens of the historic Barelas neighborhood. There is simply no justification for this. It is especially grievous when lately we are asked to have confidence in the Mayor in the face of the Crime Stats issue and others.

When the Mayor broke his first promise to us that he would never raise our taxes without our vote of approval, I gave him the benefit of the doubt because the excuse was that time was of the essence and market conditions demanded a speedy response. When recently the crime stats issue come to light it was blamed on out of date software. But this is different. There is no excuse. It is simply a lie to the citizens of Albuquerque and nothing else. It is a lie about an issue that is vitally important to all of us, and especially in the face of the disastrous ART project, we are desperate to believe in our elected leaders. This does nothing to instill the confidence we need.

At this point I have only two requests for Mayor Keller. I want an explanation for why he feels compelled to mislead us about the Railyards project by lying about no private sector interest in the project, and I want an apology from him to every citizen for having done so.”

$14.4 MILLION NOT ENOUGH

The $1.2 million federal grant and the city’s matching $1.2 million, the state’s $7 million and the $5 million in voter approved bonds falls short of what is actually needed for site preparation and development.

Leland Consulting Group is a Portland-based development consulting firm that was contracted to study the financial feasibility of redeveloping the Albuquerque Rail Yards. This past summer, the Leland Consulting Group determined that it will cost the city between $50 million and $80 million in infrastructure, environmental remediation and structural renovations to develop the property.

https://www.abqjournal.com/1359516/rail-yards-site-prep-could-cost-city-50m-to-80m-million.html

The city has completed an environmental study of the site and has submitted a voluntary remediation plan to the state. The Leland report suggested 3 different levels of development of varying levels of density. The report notes redevelopment will occur over many years, making it impossible to predict the exact mix that would work. All the levels of redevelopment call for “adaptive reuse” of buildings on the property’s north side, which the report calls the Rail Yards’ “front door.” Proposed uses include Central New Mexico Community College’s film center, the existing Rail Yards Market, and new retail, restaurants and commercial tenants and residential homes.

According to the financial analysis:

“As a conservative starting point, LCG recommends viewing these as costs [of $55 million to $80 million] that are likely to be borne by the City … These costs associated with ‘horizontal’ development (site preparation, transportation, utilities) will be necessary in order to set the stage for ‘vertical’ development (i.e., building improvements and new building construction, which are not shown).”

In other words, Leland suggested the taxpayer money be used for the $55 million to $80 million site preparation. In comparison, the ART Bus project was $130 million to build infrastructure and platforms up and down central.

The consultant’s estimates do not include the many other possible expenses, or hidden costs, associated with structural retrofits of two of the buildings “where evidence of past fire(s) were observed, which could affect the structure,” and the foundation retrofits and floor resurfacing in some of the buildings that are 100 years old. According to the report a more thorough “property and building conditions assessment” is required.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Successful cities that have transformed blighted and struggling older areas of their cities have been Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Denver, Colorado, Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. El Paso, Texas has dramatically transformed its downtown area. The way each one of these cities did it was with a massive infusion of capital and building large capital projects costing billions of dollars.

Some of the best examples of billion-dollar investments are the building of the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, the Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City, the municipal railway running from the outskirts of Denver and through downtown Denver, Colorado or the River Area in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona. In Tulsa the BOK Center sparked hundreds of millions of dollars of redevelopment in adjoining neighborhoods.

In Oklahoma City, the Chesapeake Arena and adjoining Bricktown continue to expand. Previously blighted areas are being filled in with business developments, new housing, recreational facilities, and even cultural amenities. A key component has also been law enforcement to make people feel safe enough to move into those areas as they were being redeveloped. A key involvement to most if not all was seeking voter approval of the projects. Tulsa and Oklahoma City have been so successful that voters continue to approve new ones.

What is ill advise is for Mayor Tim Keller to think the Rail Yard redevelopment can all be done with local talent and local and state investment tax dollars.

The established Albuquerque business and development community and the accompanying construction industry tend to suckle at the tit of city government for projects without making any financial investment of their own. Such massive amounts of capital, usually in the billions of dollars, is needed to build large capital projects that could be built on the Railyards.

Mayor Tim Keller needs to set aside his ego for a legacy project and seek out major investors to get the rail yards development accomplished and stop saying that no private investor is interested in the project. Otherwise, the city will be dealing with an even bigger fiasco than the ART Bus project.