BECOMING A CRISIS MANAGEMENT MAYOR
On Wednesday, March 18, less than 48 hours after the Albuquerque City Council passed and amended “Emergency Powers Ordinance”, Mayor Tim Keller declared a “public health emergency” to deal with the corona virus epidemic in the city. The Mayor announced and signed the “Declaration of Local State of Emergency Due to Novel Corona Virus COVID-19” on a video posted on social media and distributed to the local new outlets. In the video announcement, Keller said the declaration “frees up financial resources for our city and flexibility so we can deal with this situation the best way possible.”
You can review the entire video here:
With his Public Health Emergency declaration, Mayor Tim Keller became the first Mayor in the city’s history to become a “crisis management Mayor” to deal with a major health crisis and epidemic. How Keller acts and leads in a substantive manner will likely determine if he is a one term mayor.
The emergency declaration allows the Keller administration to allocate city staff as necessary to address the current COVID-19 pandemic. It also allows for the city to make “emergency procurements” to protect the health and safety of citizens and property. It also serves as a request for state and federal assistance.
The Mayor’s Emergency Declaration” makes two specific requests for financial assistance from the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and state agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The entire written Emergency Declaration can be read here:
$100,000 A DAY SPENT ON CITY RESPONSE; EXPECT MAJOR HIT TO GENERAL FUND REVENUES
During the April 7 meeting of the Albuquerque City Council, Sanjay Bhakta, the Chief Financial Officer for the City, told the council that the City is spending about $100,000 per day on its response to the corona virus. According to Bhakta, the expenses include employee overtime, cleaning supplies and “information technology” programs. The corona virus has yet to peak, and the daily expenses will go up before they go down.
The biggest problem is not the daily expenses to the city. Its anticipated that the city’s budget will take a major hit in the form of lost tax revenue. 67% of the City’s general fund revenues is from its share of gross receipts tax collected by the state. It is the general fund that is used to finance basic essential services such as police, fire and street maintenance and other basic city services.
Albuquerque’s current gross receipts tax is 7.8750% and each quarter cent generates upwards of $60 million in revenues a year to the city. With retail businesses forced to closure under the state’s stay-at-home order, the city will inevitably see a major loss in gross receipts tax that will mandate major cuts to the general fund budget and that will have an impact on essential services.
A NEW LEVEL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS TO INFORM THE PUBLIC
Ever since Mayor Tim Keller assumed office on December 1, 2017, he has taken photo ops and press conferences to all new levels. Keller attends protest rallies to speak at, attends marches and political protests, attends heavy metal concerts to introduce the band, runs in track meets and participates in exhibition football games as the quarterback and enjoying reliving his high school glory days and posting pictures and videos on his FACEBOOK page.
With the corona virus pandemic, Keller is now conducting daily press briefings on the city’s efforts to deal with the corona virus and attempting to keep up with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s daily briefings on the state level. The corona virus pandemic is also allowing Mayor Keller to take his public relations efforts to even higher levels to deal with the pandemic and to announce city initiatives and inform the public.
The best example of the new level of public relations is that Keller and his longtime political consultant Alan Packman, who now works full time for the City’s 311 call center, and other top Keller Administration Department Directors are conducting “virtual town hall” meetings. The town hall meetings are sophisticated telephone conference calls to thousands to provide to the public information and to answer the public’s questions regarding what the city is doing.
Mayor Keller makes the calls to city residences and he begins the call by telling the person who answers the phone, including cell phones, to stay on the line in order to participate. Instructions are given on how to ask a question of the Mayor. It’s is more likely than not that it’s the city’s 311 Call Center that is assisting with providing the phone numbers of targeted city residents to make calls to participate.
On April 1, Mayor Keller and Alan Packman, along with other key staff participants including an APD Deputy Chief and the Directors of Economic Development and of Human Services conducted a second virtual town hall. It was represented that upwards of 14,000 people were “on the line” participating in the townhall. The townhall allowed for questions that were screened as Alann Packman acted as the announcer and the one that identified the callers.
KELLER ANNOUNCES CITY INITIATIVES
On March 15, three days before Keller declared a “public health” emergency, the city announced it would continue essential services while maximizing distance between employees. It announced that all BioPark facilities will be closed through April 15. It likely the BioPark closure will be extended.
According to a news release, all employees who can will be allowed to “teleworking” to work from home. Non-essential employees who cannot telework were sent home. Essential employees who can work in the field such as solid waste workers will be asked to do so exclusively. Workers who are unable to go into work because of these policies are paid leave.
The City announced that the Westside Emergency Housing Center is be kept open 24-hours a day until further notice with the city screening and testing people who are using the shelter.
On March 30, the Keller Administration made the following announcements regarding city building and services:
CITYWIDE: All City buildings were closed to the public, as of 5 p.m., March 24. This includes City Hall.
CITY CLERK: All hearings were either postponed or will be held remotely.
PLANNING DEPARTMENT: Plaza del Sol, where the Planning Deaprtment is located, was closed to the public. Permitting will continues via telephone, while inspections and field work continue as normal.
ALBUQUERQUE-BERNALILLO COUNTY WATER UTILITY AUTHORITY: All walk-in payment locations are temporarily closed. Payments may be mailed or made online.
PARKS & RECREATION AND CITYWIDE YOUTH PROGRAMS:
All Spring Break youth programs have been canceled.
City golf courses are closed
All playgrounds in City parks are closed, although the parks themselves will remain open.
The Maloof Air Park is closed.
Horsemen’s Complex is closed; however, owners must continue to care for their animals.
ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY CITY SOCIAL SERVICE CENTERS
The Keller Administration announced that people who have medical needs that have been made worse by the corona virus will be able to get help at one of four Health and Social Services Centers in Albuquerque. According to Deputy Director of Public Health Gilbert Ramirez, each quadrant of the city has a center, and each has been designated a “mission critical” facility.
The services and items provided by the centers include monthly food boxes, limited supplies of diapers and hygiene products, and clothing. The centers also have an eviction prevention program funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants facing eviction must have identification and a lease or payment history that reflects delinquency and how much is owed. The problem is the federal program has just under $47,000 available. The city is asking for donations for its motel voucher program for homeless people, particularly for those who have chronic medical problems and reduced immune systems.
Two community centers have been designated to provide emergency shelter for those who do not have the virus but are in the higher-risk older-age demographic. Individuals placed at the 2 centers must be referred from the West Side Emergency Housing Center.
CORONA VIRUS RESPONSE TEAMS
On March 19, 2020 Mayor Tim Keller activated what he called short- and long-term coronavirus response teams. The teams are responsible for identifying critical city plans related to a wide range of actions including: community health, emergency funding, kids programming, economic and housing impacts, workers’ well being. The teams also focus on what it will take to keep essential services going while considering socioeconomic consequences and social distancing and other public health precautions.
MICRO-BUSINESS RELIEF PROGRAM
On Monday, March 30, in order to help small businesses in Albuquerque affected by the Corona Virus closures, Mayor Tim Keller and the city’s Economic Development Department announced a $500,000 Micro-Business Relief Program. It is a grant program that offered up to $5,000 to small businesses who meet the following requirements:
1. The business must have 5 or fewer employees, including the owner(s).
2. The business must be registered and physically located within Albuquerque city limits.
3. The business must have experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.
4. The business must have been in business for at least 6 months.
5. Grant funds must be deposited into a business bank account and only be used for business expenses. The City of Albuquerque will make electronic deposits.
6. Business owners must agree to provide a report about the use and results of the grant funds six months after receipt.
7. Businesses that are franchises or restricted to patrons above the age of 18 or older will not be eligible for the award — like bars or smoke shops.
The city’s web page on the grant program with application can be found here:
Mayor Keller had this to say in announcing the grant program:
“Albuquerque small businesses are vital not only to our economy, but to the vibrant fabric of our community. The next few months will be tough, and we’re committed to supporting our local economy through this unprecedented and uncertain time. Through the Micro-Business Relief Program, we’re supporting small businesses across Albuquerque that are hurting because of COVID-19. We reached out to business leaders and organizations to develop this program and fill a gap for small companies so they can stay afloat.”
On April 2, a mere 3 days after the grant program was announced, it was reported that more than 500 businesses applied for the micro-business grants, hundreds more than the program will be able to pay. The total grant funding was $500,000 and it provides for up to $5,000 in working capital grants dictating that only 100 businesses will be able to secure a grant.
GOING FORWARD WITH APPROVED CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS
On April 1, the City of Albuquerque announced it was going forward with $70 million worth of construction projects in the next six months. According to city officials, the work will not only produce new facilities and improved infrastructure but also promote construction activity during the economy’s COVID-19-related ever-increasing slowdown. Virtually all of the projects have existing funding including the $128 million general obligation bond program city voters approved last November, 2020 NM Legislature appropriations and past bond cycle funding.
Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael had this to say about the construction projects:
“We know part of the recovery in the community is the economy … and how the economy rebounds after we get past this pandemic that we’re facing. Part of that is investing in our infrastructure in a way that makes sense for the community but also creates economic vitality.”
The $70 million dollars in construction projects include:
A $7 million International District public library
A pump station meant to thwart flooding in the city’s downtown core
A new Singing Arrow Community Center in Southeast Albuquerque
A West Side community center at 98th and DeVargas
A new field at the Jennifer Riordan Spark Kindness Sports Complex
Upgrading the pedestrian underpass at First and Central
Americans with Disabilities Act-related improvements in several areas of the city
Construction of a roundabout at 12th and Menaul
Included in the $70 million is installing new “pin curbing” and medians along parts of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) route. The ART Bus line has been temporarily suspended as a result of the corona virus pandemic. During the temporary closure, the city is constructing “pin curbs” which are concrete edging to form a barrier on the outside boundary of the dedicated bus lanes to prevent vehicles from traveling into the dedicated lanes.
Although the city and state are under “stay at home” orders to deal with the corona virus, construction is considered essential work under current state orders issued by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
CONVENTION CENTER UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR PATIENT CARE
On April 4 , Mayor Keller announce that the Albuquerque Convention Center is under consideration for use as a potential space for COVID-19 patients. The east wing of the building would work as an emergency hospital and the west would could be used as a place for essential employees to stay if they need to quarantine and can’t go home. The Mayor said the convention center space is not needed right now, but that they will be reevaluating to make sure the space is ready in case they do need it. The former Lovelace Hospital on Gibson is the first choice for such use and it has upwards of 300 patient rooms.
MURDER AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RATES RISE
On March 26, a Channel 7 investigative report found there have been 51 fewer people arrested on felonies when compared to the same time last year. There is also a 6% drop in police reports filed this year.
Notwithstanding, some say they are seeing more crime despite what the data says. In the same news report Peter Darrel Kindig, owner of Narrowgate Security Agency said businesses that are forced to close have been calling him, wanting his service and a new type of security system that alerts security officers in the field if there is suspicious motion.
According to Kindig:
“The number of car burglaries and business burglaries in the last 48 hours is completely off the chart. My phone is ringing off the hook. … People now don’t want just an alarm that goes off after they are burglarized. … They want something that alerts before the burglary takes place.”
Despite the coronavirus outbreak and the self-quarantine measures, the city’s increase in homicides is continuing. In 2019, Albuquerque had its 19th homicide on April 11 and on April 2, 2019 there were 17 homicides in the city.
On April 2, 2020, the Albuquerque Police Department announced there have been 19 homicides in the city in 2020, which is ahead of 2019’s record-setting homicide pace. The city’s 19th homicide happened around on Thursday, April 2nd near Central and University.
On April 5, the online news agency New Mexico Politcal reported that “domestic violence incidents in Bernalillo County reportedly jumped 78 percent, right in line with soaring unemployment, gun sales and other predictors of abuse. … Across New Mexico, domestic violence survivors and the shelters that serve them are confronting a new and uncertain landscape brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Stay-at-home orders have effectively kept victims inside with their abusers, depriving them of a safe time and place to call for help.”
KELLER APPOINTS 3rd CHIEF OF STAFF
On March 17, Mayor Tim Keller appointed 53 year old Michael Puelle, formerly CEO and lobbyist for Associated General Contractors (AGC) New Mexico, as his chief of staff. According to the news release announcing the appointment, Puelle “will manage and direct the day-to-day operations of the Office of Mayor, supervising a number of areas including public affairs, constituent services, communication, intergovernmental relations, strategic initiatives, community engagement, and administrative functions” Puelle replaces government affairs veteran Santiago Chavez as Keller’s Chief of Staff. making him the third one to hold the post under Keller.
For 10 years, Puelle was the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Public Policy and Government Relations for Associated General Contractors (AGC) New Mexico. In addition to lobbying for the general contractor’s association, he oversaw its state-wide strategic agenda, staff, budget, and programming, as well as directing and coordinating advocacy efforts and community engagement activities.
Sarita Nair remains Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the city. The CAO is a position mandated by the City Charter to supervise the overall daily affairs of government, and all city departments including the police and fire departments and city attorney’s office.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A) A POLITICAL APPOINTMENT
The appointment of Michael Puelle by Mayor Keller as his new Chief of Staff was purely political. It raised more than a few concerns within city hall. The position is not mandated by the city charter nor created by ordinance, yet it clearly one of the top paid executives, at will positions, at city hall. The appointment makes political sense on many levels.
The appointment is consistent with the approach Keller is taking to help mitigate the economic damage cause by the pandemic to the Albuquerque business community and the city’s economy and going forward with major construction projects. It makes sense politically in that Keller will no doubt will be asking support of the construction industry and developers as he deals with the pandemic crisis and runs for another term. Keller will want and need their contributions either directly to his Mayor’s campaign or to measured finance committees set up to promote Keller’s election to a second term.
With the appointment of Puelle as his third Chief of staff by Mayor Keller, the construction industry and the city developers now have an executive they can rely on for help during the impending and likely recession to help orchestrate construction and development projects. Puelle’s connections and his friendships within the Associated General Contractors, and his connections within the construction and development industries will also come in handy as Mayor Tim Keller seeks his second term next year.
B) CRISIS MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
By all accounts, Mayor Tim Keller is taking as many initiatives that he can in order to deal with the corona virus pandemic. He appears to be doing his best to show leadership as he tries to keep up with the ever-evolving crisis and as he tries to follow the lead of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The city’s funding of small business grants and going forward with $70 million in construction projects will provide tangible work and progress that has been undertaken by the Mayor during the pandemic.
The number of corona cases in the city and state has yet to peak. There is no guarantee any of the major initiatives will be effective enough to deal with the pandemic let alone mitigate the inevitable recession the city will likely be confronted with within a year.
C) VIOLENT CRIME RATES STILL PERSISTENT PROBLEM
On April 2, 2020, the Albuquerque Police Department announced there have been 19 homicides in the city in 2020, which is ahead of 2019’s record-setting homicide pace. The fact that “domestic violence” incidents in Bernalillo County reportedly jumped 78% since the corona virus outbreak, right in line with soaring unemployment, gun sales and other predictors of abuse, is an alarming trend that indicates the city’s violent crime rates are still escalating despite the quarantine or stay at home orders. Under Mayor Keller the city’s crime rates have continued and become even worse under his tenure.
In 2021, voters will be deciding if Mayor Tim Keller has kept his promises and done a good job. Voters will also be deciding if he has done a good job in managing and handling the delivery of city services in the middle of a epidemic, including public safety initiatives. How Keller reacts and the extent of leadership he provides that make a difference during the pandemic will have the effect of determining if Mayor Tim Keller is a one term Mayor.
For a elated blog article see: