TV News stations and newspapers all have slogans, and in Albuquerque, there are no exceptions
In Albuquerque, those slogans are:
“KOB stands 4 New Mexico” for Channel 4.
“Coverage You Can Count On” for Channel 7.
“Local Reporting You Can Trust” for Channel 13.
“New Mexico’s Leading News Source” for The Albuquerque Journal.
Hell, even politicians like to use “catch phases” like Mayor Tim Keller and his “ABQ One” slogan.
As State Auditor, Tim Keller proclaimed he fought against “waste, fraud, and abuse” of taxpayer money by government officials and employees. When he ran for Mayor, Keller even said he was “walking the talk” when it came to public finance when everyone knew that a former campaign manager of his set up and independent finance committee and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on his behalf.
One thing is for certain, all the major news outlets really do not stand up to their own slogans for their news reporting, apparently for the sake of protecting their news sources.
What we are not all certain about is if Mayor Keller still wants to fight “waste, fraud and abuse” and if he is willing to “walk the talk” to stop “waste, fraud, and abuse” of taxpayer money within City Hall and his police department.
The most recent stories that reflect the news media and the Mayor’s failure to stand up to their slogans are the recommended firings of APD Public Information Officer Simon Drobik and his supervisor and the chronic overtime paid to police officers.
The big question that needs to be answered is WHY?
THE NEWS STORY
There were two Albuquerque Journal front page stories regarding the $192,973 compensation paid in 2018 to APD Master Police Officer 1st Class and APD Spokesman Simon Drobik.
You can review both stories here:
On Friday, April 12, 2019, it was reported that the APD Civilian Police Oversight Board voted to recommend the dismissal of APD Master Police Officer 1st Class and Public Information Officer Simon Drobik as well as his former supervisor for overtime pay abuse.
The CPO Agency investigation found that in 2018, Drobik was paid $192,973 making him Albuquerque’s highest-paid city employee in 2018.
The CPO investigation also found that his supervisor was also one of the city’s top 11 paid wage earners.
The investigation found that throughout 2018 Drobik violated overtime and pay policies more than 50 times by getting paid simultaneously for being on call as a spokesman for APD and working “chief’s overtime” and paid time and a half stationed at local businesses.
The April 12, 2019 Police Oversight investigative report made two major recommendations that the Journal failed to report on in any great detail:
1. “The City of Albuquerque should ask for another Audit of APD Overtime which will include and audit of the Chief’s Overtime Program. The audit should explore the actual cost to the City of the Chief’s Overtime program versus what the Chief’s overtime program brings in. The audit should cover how many officers take time off from their regularly scheduled duty to go work a Chief’s overtime during those same hours. The audit should also explore whether or not another officer had to be called in on overtime to handle the off-duty officer’s duties on that shift on that day because the staffing level was below the 70% threshold. Lastly, the audit should determine whether or not the Chief’s Overtime Program violates the Anti-Donation Clause of the State of New Mexico.” (April 12, 2019 Police Oversight Investigation report, page 10.)
2. “APD should immediately revise its policy on overtime. Officers should be limited to working no more than 25 hours per week of overtime and that is inclusive of all overtime. The policy should prohibit officers from taking comp time or vacation from their regularly assigned duties for the sole purpose of working a chief’s Overtime assignment. APD supervisors, prior to approving a leave request, should be required to check with the Chiefs Overtime Program to make sure that the officer is not signed up for Chief’s Overtime and/or they are not taking leave to go to work a Chief’s Overtime assignment during the very same hours they are scheduled to work their assigned shift. Officers should be prohibited from working Chief’s Overtime if they are in an “on call” status. The policy should reflect any recommendations that were made by the City Auditor. Lastly, the policy should be vigorously enforced and adhered to by all APD personnel.” (April 12, 2019, Police Oversight Investigation report, page 11.)
THE TV NEWS COVERAGE
The Albuquerque Journal with its two front page stories is the only news agency that reported extensively on the police oversight agency investigation, the $192,973 compensation paid Simon Drobik, and the POB voting to recommend that Drobik be terminated along with his supervisor.
Not to be outdone by the Albuquerque Journal, on Friday, April 12, 2019, Channel 13 did a very short report on the CPO recommendation to fire Drobik which was in apparent response to the first Albuquerque Journal article in the morning paper, but Channel 13 failed to report in any great detail on the two CPO recommendations and failed to report on the fact that 125 police officers were paid in excess of $100,000 in 2018.
You can view the Channel 13 report here:
Notwithstanding the Albuquerque Journal being on top of the story, the Journal and all 3 TV News stations, have totally ignored and have not even attempted to report on a very serious and the too prevailing practices within APD: 1) police officers are “billing” the city so much overtime that 125 of those officers are now in the top 250 list of paid city hall employee’s and 2) some officers being paid 2, 3, and 4 times their base pay, with no questions asked.
In March of 2017, things got so bad with the payment of APD overtime that a city internal audit report revealed that the Albuquerque Police Department spent $3.9 million over its “overtime” budget resulting $13 million paid in overtime when the actual budget was $9 million.
The audit found that too often, officers did not follow the rules when it came to get overtime pre-approved or didn’t properly submit overtime documents for “grant funded” traffic over time.
According to the audit, there were potentially 38,000 cases of unapproved overtime that occurred during fiscal year 2016 based on a sampling of time cards.
For related stories see:
The recent CPO Investigation found that in reviewing Chief’s Overtime slips, the names of many of the top earners in APD were on the same Chief’s Overtime assignments that Master Police Officer 1st Class and APD Spokesman Simon Drobik were on.
At the end of each calendar year, City Hall releases the top 250 wage earners at city hall.
The list of 250 top city hall wages earners is what is paid for the full calendar year of January 1 to December 31 of any given year.
The listing of the city’s 250 top wage earners for the calendar year 2018 includes 125 APD sworn police as the top wage city hall wage earners, earning more than most department directors as well as the APD Chief and all of his Deputy Chiefs.
The list of 125 include patrol officers first class, sergeants, lieutenants, commanders the deputy chiefs, and the chief with annual pay for the year 2018 ranging from $101,000 a year up to $192,937 all under the Keller Administration.
Base yearly pay for sworn police, depending upon rank and years of experience, is $60,320 to $83,200.
The base pay does not include longevity bonus pay at the end of a year of between $2,600 to $15,600 contingent on years of experience.
Following is a breakdown of the 125 police officers paid in excess of $100,000 in calendar year 2018 as a result of overtime paid:
6 police officers were paid $151,313 TO $192,000
24 police officers were paid $126,162.80 to $144,510.44.
27 police officers were paid $113,498.98 to $125,088.48
22 police officers were paid $109,315.89 to $112,516.27
25 police officers were paid $105,076.20 to $108,946.45
21 police officers were paid $101,633.11 to $104,987.69
TV NEWS STATIONS COVERAGE IGNORE APD OVERTIME ABUSE
On October 18, 2018, the online news outlet “ABQ Reports” published an article by retired APD Officer Dan Klein.
You can read the ABQ Report on line article here:
Part of the October 18, 2018 Klein news article was based upon a phone conversation with a local female TV reporter who defended PIO Simon Drobik because he gave them “access” to news stories.
According to Klein, the reporter knew Simon Drobik would claim 2 hours of overtime every time a reporter called him, no matter how long the phone interview lasted.
Quoting the October 18, 2018 ABQ Report article:
“When the original story on Drobik’s earnings came out I was told by a local reporter that since Drobik is a PIO he clocks “EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW HE GETS CALLED FOR. THAT INCLUDES PHONE CALLS WITH THE MEDIA This reporter stated that Drobik is called multiple times a day and that this is where his tremendous overtime earnings come from.”
The ABQ Report as to where Drobik’s tremendous overtime earnings come from should come as no surprise to anyone.
It is common knowledge among government officials and elected officials that news reporters develop sources and friendship’s in order to establish a working relationship with them to get news leads and confidential source information on news stories. There are times that elected officials will go so far as hiring news reporters.
The previous Republican Mayor Administration employed a Channel 4 news reporter as the Mayor’s Public Information Officer who later returned to Channel 4 as an investigative reporter, employed a former Albuquerque Journal reporter for 8 years who later became the “Real Time Crime Center Director” and then went to work for Channel 7 as an investigative report news director, and a former Chief Public Safety Officer was employed as a news reporter at Channel 13.
PIO Simon Drobik is a news source and it is common knowledge at city hall and with APD sources that he has developed very good relations with many TV news reporters.
More than a few confidential sources are saying Drobik has become way too close to a few of the reporters.
It is a common practice among elected officials, government officials and public information officers to actually deny access to reporters when they want to “stone wall” a story in order to kill a damaging story.
High ranking officials with the previous Republican Mayor Administration, including the Chief Administrative Officer, were known to threaten news reporters.
The previous Republican Mayor Administration was also known for denying news reporters access to city information and interviews and known to give preferential treatment to certain news agencies over others because of their personal contacts and prior employment relationships with news directors for the stations.
There has been absolutely no or very little reporting by TV news stations Channels 4, 7 and 13 regarding the Police Oversight Board Agency Investigation and the Police Oversight Board voting to unanimously to recommend that PIO Simon Drobik be fired.
Further, the TV news stations Channels 4, 7 and 13 have made no reports on the extent of police overtime paid.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The single most likely reason that there has been no TV news coverage of the APD overtime story is it that the news stations and their reporters are concerned that they will be denied access to information by APD and its PIO’s regarding the news crime stories that dominate their news casts that is vital to their TV news ratings.
When Tim Keller was New Mexico State Auditor, he became the “white knight” champion to find and stop “waste, fraud and abuse” of taxpayer money by government officials and employees.
As State Auditor, Keller went so far as to create a “fraud investigation unit” hiring investigators to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse by government officials and employees. Keller’s audits of state and city governments garnered him extensive press coverage and public support that no doubt helped with his successful campaign to become Mayor of Albuquerque.
Keller became Mayor less than two years after being elected State Auditor and resigned with two years left in his term as auditor.
Mayor Keller is given credit for asking for the investigation of Drobik’s overtime, but he needs to do more than make a referral and do public relations.
Mayor Keller now needs to take action and order his police chief to do the same thing, other wise Mayor Keller will be viewed as being not in charge and unwilling to get control of his police department.
There is historical precedent when it comes to taking aggressive action to stop overtime abuse by police officers.
Years ago, APD Chief Bob Stover disbanded the entire APD DWI unit when he found out that they were “padding” their overtime.
APD Chief Bob Stover knew how to manage a police department, knew how important it was to keep the public trust when it came to stopping “waste, fraud and abuse” of taxpayer money.
All the Mayor’s Chief Stover worked for trusted him, they knew he would do the right thing, they would listen to him and let him do his job by not letting politics interfere with the management of the department.
Mayor Keller now needs to “walk the talk” himself and put a stop to any “waste, fraud and abuse” when it comes to APD overtime within the very city government he now heads.
Keller cannot be involved in personnel decisions for classified employees like Drobik, but he damn well sure can order the recommended audits, put a cap of 25 hours on overtime and order the complete revamping of APD overtime policies.
Mayor Keller may be reluctant to order the total and complete revamping of APD overtime policies given the fact that he was endorsed by the police union and probably still feels indebted to the union and will want the unions support when he runs for reelection in 2021.
One action that would clearly stop “overtime abuse” would be for Mayor Keller to order as a condition of work or return to work, that Drobik or any other police officer who is found to have over billed, refund of all the overtime paid during the time an officer is doing two jobs at once and being paid twice in violation of APD standard operating procedures.
Further, Mayor Tim Keller can and should refer the entire CPO Investigative report to the Bernalillo County District Attorney or the Attorney General and allow them to determine if there is “no evidence of possible criminal activity by any of the parties investigated” as was found by the Police Oversight Agency investigation.
Until Mayor Keller takes real action to get a handle on APD’s out of control overtime billing, voters can expect to pay upwards of $14 million dollars in overtime a year to a select group of APD officers, and probably favored few like Simon Drobik
Notwithstanding, no one should hold their breath that news coverage is going to get any better in the city, let alone any one of the news outlets will rise to the true meanings and level of their slogans, but then again hope does spring eternal.
For further Analysis and Commentary see: