On Thursday, March 26, political blogger Joe Monahan on his blog “New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan” broke a story entitled in part “Dangerous Don”? ABQ Councilor Stirs Pot With Controversial Coronavirus Comments; Guv’s Office Pushes Back”. Following are the relevant portions of the article with the link to Mr. Monahan’s blog:
“ABQ GOP City Councilor Don Harris is getting pushback after controversial comments on the coronavirus in New Mexico–comments the Governor’s office calls “dangerous.”
Harris has become one of the first elected officials to publicly question the Governor’s stay at home order to combat the coronavirus. Several hours after the first reported NM death from the virus was reported Wednesday, Harris told us:
I am sensing that the Governor is going lockstep with places that have much different problems than we do, particularly New York. Testing there shows a very high infection rate, while in New Mexico it is two percent. You can’t treat the country as a unified entity when New Mexico is a sparsely populated state and has a a different climate than New York.
The longtime councilor, first elected in 2005 from District 9 in the far NE Heights, also brought up the hot button issue of possible increased suicides among the millions of workers laid off because of the shuttering of much of the economy. President Trump brought up the same issue but the AP came with a fact check that disputes that notion.
Harris, an attorney in private practice, urged an “open discussion” about the stay at home order, saying his chief concern is that it could be extended beyond the scheduled April 10 expiration, causing extensive economic harm.
Hopefully we will have some good data by April 10 and be very cautious about extending it and with regard to whom and how long. We should talk about the young people resuming normal life and keep those people away from the elderly. I think we need to have an open discussion about the harm that the economic lock down is doing to people.
Harris wrote on Facebook that his speaking out was prompted by the state’s use of the emergency alert system Wednesday to urge all New Mexicans to stay home:
I received an emergency text from the Governor or her agency ordering me to stay home. At the time I was walking in the foothills. . . . Albuquerque ranks number one in the nation in per capita for land devoted to open space and we are the fifth least-densely populated state in the country with 17 people per square mile on average. We have a high-desert climate with lots of sun and virus killing UV radiation. We are not New York City.
Harris also questions ABQ Mayor Keller’s order closing city golf courses:
People can stay six feet away from each other. Why not let people go out and golf?
Harris is up for re-election in 2021 but he tells us he is “uncertain” about seeking another term.
Governor’s office spokeswoman Nora Myers Sackett came with this response to the Harris comments:
“Councilor Harris’ misinformed comments are not only misdirected, they are downright dangerous.
The only way to prevent a spike in the infection rate is with measures exactly like what Governor Lujan Grisham is doing; a statewide stay-at-home instruction, closing of non-essential businesses. That is the only way to flatten the curve and not overwhelm the state’s health care facilities, at which point the public health emergency will be disastrous.
If is critically dangerous for the Councilor to imply that only the elderly are affected by COVID-19. That is categorically false. The majority of New Mexico’s cases are under the age of 50. Like most viral infections, high-risk individuals are more at risk, but every New Mexican is at risk of contracting COVID-19. That is why it is essential that all New Mexicans stay home. Period. It is the only way to slow the spread of COVID-19.
New Mexico’s sunshine will not eradicate COVID-19. I am dismayed that an elected official would suggest something so dangerous. The governor understands the terrible situation that this public health emergency puts our economy in – but the alternative, should the spread of COVID-19 not be stopped, is even greater economic and public health devastation.
The only way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is for New Mexicans to stay home and not interact with each other. Not just older New Mexicans, all New Mexicans. Any New Mexican is susceptible to this virus. Want proof? A baby under one was recently announced as having tested positive for COVID-19, with no known exposure to anyone else who had tested positive. This is not a virus of the elderly, and if New Mexicans, including Councilor Harris, do not take this seriously, we will feel the repercussions for months to come.”
The link to “New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan” is here:
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COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Don Harris is a 4 term Republican City Councilor who represents District 9, the far Southeast Heights and Foothills area of the city, including the 4-Hills Country Club area. He was first elected to the City Council in 2005. He is in the private practice of law, but was employed for a few years as an Albuquerque Assistant City Attorney before going into the private practice of law and then running for City Council.
To use Don Harris’ comments, the only “open discussion” we need to have is the discussion as to why his constituents keep electing this do nothing to the city council. Don Harris has a very well deserve reputation for doing very little, and some would say absolutely nothing, on the City Council and just draws his city council salary without doing any work. He is one of those City Councilors who once he leaves, no one will ever know he ever served, which is the classic definition of a “do nothing” elected official.
15 YEAR RECORD OF DO NOTHING DANDY DON HARRIS
Some of the very few highlights of the voting record of Don Harris include:
Don Harris voted repeatedly for and supported Republican Mayor Berry’s ART Bus project and funding. Harris refused to advocate to put ART on the ballot for public approval. Harris voted to spend federal grant money that had yet to be appropriated by congress. The ART Bus project has been a total disaster resulting the destruction of the character of Route 66 and having a negative impact and resulting in several businesses going out of business. Harris failed to attend any of the federal court hearings on the case where Central Businesses were trying to obtain an injunction to stop ART and he failed to attend any of the Berry Administration public meetings on the project to solicit input from citizens.
The Albuquerque City Council plays a crucial oversight role of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) including controlling its budget. Harris was on the City Council when the Department of Justice found a culture of aggression within APD that resulted in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). Don Harris did absolutely nothing when it comes to the APD reforms and never challenged the APD command staff in any meaningful way demanding compliance with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree reforms. Each of the 10 times the Federal Monitor presented his critical reports of APD to the City Council, Harris was nowhere to be found and was silent and has declined to demand accountability from Republican Mayor Berry. Harris failed to hold the APD command staff responsible for dragging their feet on the reforms. Harris failed to attend any of the federal court hearings on the consent decree.
Harris voted for over $63 million dollars in revenue bonds to build pickle ball courts, baseball fields and the ART bus project down Central not seeking public input and bypassing the capital improvements process (CIP) that mandates hearings and public votes. The use of revenue bonds is discretionary with the City Council requiring seven (7) votes and revenue bonds do not require significant review and public hearings as is required with capital improvement bonds.
Republican Don Harris partnered with Democrat Pat Davis to write and sponsor a city ordinance to address blighted, abandoned or substandard commercial properties requiring property owners to make repairs. At the time, Harris a former Assistant City Attorney, already knew that a number of city ordinances and building codes were already on the books that were not being enforced to address substandard properties including one of the strongest nuisance abatement ordinances in the country. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel for publicity sake, Harris and the City Council failed to fully fund the Safe City Strike Force, which Harris served on as an Assistant City Attorney, and refused to utilize condemnation actions to address blighted commercial properties that were irreparable and that had become magnets for crime.
Harris voted for the final adoption of the ABC-Z comprehensive plan which will have long term impact on our neighborhoods and favors developers. The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of Republican Mayor Berry and the development community pushed hard for its enactment before Berry left office. The ABC-Z project rewrite is nothing more than making “gentrification” an official city policy and the “gutting” of long standing sector development plans by the development community to repeal those sector development plans designed to protect neighborhoods and their character.
Don Harris lists on his City Council web page as a major accomplishment a constituent survey he had done on the Tiny Homes Village, which is a joint City and County project. Harris represents portions of the Southeast Heights, including the Four Hills area, where sites had been identified for the Tiny Homes project. In response to the survey results, City Councilor Don Harris sponsored a moratorium on the construction of any tiny home villages in the city until an independent and comprehensive analysis was completed on “the best way to deliver services to the homeless that will generate measurable results.” Don Harris opposing the Tiny Homes project and calling for a moratorium on the project was so damn laughable. He conducted the survey to placate his constituents only after totally ignoring them and ignoring what had been going on in his district for well over a year. Harris failed to attend a single public forum held on the project, ignored his constituents and even refused to meet with a number of them on the issue.
Most recently, on Monday, March 16, the Albuquerque City Council convened an emergency session and enacted changes to the city’s “Emergency Powers Ordinance” . The 1960’ Emergency Powers Ordinance is clearly unconstitutional on many levels that even a first-year law student would understand. The emergency city council meeting was a clear violation of the New Mexico Open Meetings Act by barring the general public. It is embarrassing and damn pathetic that Republican City Councilor Don Harris, who is a licensed New Mexico Attorney, did not question the constitutionality of the original ordinance nor the propriety of excluding the public from the meeting in violation of the law.
With the comments made by Republican Don Harris regarding the Governor’s stay at home orders, it’s obvious he is in lock step with the philosophy of President Trump, despite the fact that the stay at home order is likely to have a major benefit of protecting a large number of his constituent’s. City Council District 9 that Harris represents has a large percentage of people in the high-risk group ages over 60 and a number of retirees.
Don Harris needs to be told that the Juris Doctorate Degree he holds to practice law does not mean he can give free medical advice to avoid a pandemic.
Below is an email received on March 26 from one of City Councillor Don Harris’ many constituents:
“Bravo …! For identifying a few of the inane, but more often illegal, comments and actions coming from Do-Nothing, Dandy Don Harris. Having been subjected here in Dist. 9 to his “throw Four Hills under the bus” retaliatory tactics as a result of those trying to recall him, we are left in the wake of his squalor with
a) a second community center built on a historic archaeological piece of land donated to the city for preservation as a park (Singing Arrow Park),
b) leaving the original SA Park in blight with no plans for demolition or remodeling although Go-Bonds were approved for such),
c) sponsoring a bill that was adopted that allows Councilors to “re-purpose” bond money–although clearly illegal,
d) failing as a lawyer to recognize and dispel illegal acts of City Council when other Councilors request a clarification…ie. When City Councilors ask: “Are we doing something illegal?” He just sits there, talking on the phone, maybe consulting his tarot-card adviser,…
e) leaving the public in harm’s way with a 10-year abandoned shopping center called “Franklin Plaza” where a serial rapist (now convicted) operated freely;
f) turning all the motels into homeless camps through city issued motel vouchers
g) approving the order to have APD stand down on crime in the motels on E. Central,
h) failing to propose a city ordinance he promised APD that would require ID when renting a motel room, regardless if homeless or not,
i) Failing to use a single dollar of MRA funds to revitalize his district…..The list goes on, but I’m tired of typing.It’s time to wake up and look at all the petals that have dropped off Don Harris’ rose.
The flower is dead and only the barbed stem remains.”