On Wednesday, September 9, during a meeting of the Albuquerque City Council, Republican Albuquerque City Councilor Brook Bassan asked questions of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Sarita Nair if APD Chief Michael Geier still had the confidence and backing of Mayor Tim Keller who appointed him Chief. During the day, rumors of Chief Geier’s immediate departure circulated throughout City Hall and the APD main office building downtown. The line of questioning and answering between Councilor Bassan and CAO Nair became extremely tense and viewed as hostile by many. As is the case with city council meetings, Mayor Tim Keller was not present and CAO Nair responded on his behalf.
LINE OF QUESTIONING
City Councilor Bassan asked questions of CAO Nair on how much direction the Mayor’s Office was giving APD. Bassan asked about a social media posts that alleged that Mayor Keller and his Administration were pushing Chief Geier out. CAO Nair responded that neither she, Mayor Keller nor anyone on City Hall’s “11 th floor”, a reference to where the Mayor’s offices are located, were making tactical decisions for APD.
Nair did not give a definitive answer when Bassan asked directly if Geier had the administration’s support. Nair dismissed the question as “disrespectful” and did not give a direct answer. Nair told the council that Geier was the “right person for the job” when he was hired nearly three years ago. CAO Nair responded this way:
“I think it’s really important that we can dispel myths, but that we don’t fall into the rumor mill. … Chief Geier was one of the first appointments that the mayor made; he was so clearly the right person for the job at that time that even when we went through a national search, he emerged as the top candidate. … I’m sure it’s not your intent, but it is deeply disrespectful to Chief Geier to engage in internet rumormongering at this point.”
NOT THE FIRST TIME
The September 9 City Council meeting was not the first time Bassan had asked CAO Nair about APD nor Geier. During an August City Council meeting, Bassan questioned Nair after media reports that Geier had requested an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation into his Chief of Staff John Ross for engaging nefarious conduct. The alleged conduct was outlined in a complaint to Chief Geier by his Administrative Secretary. The conduct includes:
1. Ross circumventing purchasing rules to make improper purchases,
2. Ross by passing Chief Geier to secure a $10,000 raise taking his pay from $129,304 a year to $140,000 a year
3. Ross absconding with the chief’s signature stamp that was being kept locked in a secretary’s desk drawer,
4. Ross yelling at and intimidating the chief’s secretary, and
5. Ross takin his dog to work without approval and allowing the animal to defecate and urinate in Deputy Chief offices and instructing personnel to walk the animal.
Chief Geier for his part said:
“I take responsibility for what happens in my office with my chief of staff and my assistant. Any suggestion that I am not in control of the department (is) ridiculous. This is nothing more than petty water-cooler talk.”
The link to a related blog article is here:
THAT TWEET THAT WAS
During the September 9 City Council meeting, Bassan asked questions regarding the recent controversy in which APD deleted a tweet from its official account that quoted Chief Geier calling the police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where and African American was shot in the back 7 times by a police officer, as “senseless.” Chief Geier later claimed he was not aware of the shooting and said he would not have issued the statement without knowing all the facts surrounding the shooting.
The tweet was removed and Geier issued an apology for the TWEET saying he did not authorize the TWEET. Department Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos later admitted he was the one who wrote and sent out the TWEET without Geier’s approval. When Bassan asked Nair about the TWEET, Nair said that it was “uncommon” to quote officials without their permission. Nair said that APD Spokesman Gallegos had “stepped up to take accountability for that very human mistake.”
ONATE PROTEST HANDLING QUESTIONED
On June 15, a man was shot in Old Town over the “La Jornada” (The Journey) sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The June 15 event was originally scheduled to be “prayer vigil” for the removal of the Juan de Oñate statue from the Albuquerque Museum. The prayer vigil erupted into a protest riot and a shooting occurred during the protest for the removal of the figure of Juan de Onate de Salazar in the sculpture. APD’s response and its subsequent shooting investigation came under severe criticism from city councilors and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.
During the September 9, meeting, Bassan raised questions regarding APD’s handling of the Juan de Oñate protest. Bassan said she was concerned that the Mayor’s Office had helped make decisions about how APD handled the Onate protest and other protests, an allegation Nair rejected. CAO Nair responded this way to the line of questioning:
“Let me be clear: To the extent you’re suggesting that the 11th floor, as we call it, is making operational or tactical decisions about the Police Department, we are not.”
More than one confidential source has reported that Mayor Tim Keller was in constant contact with CAO Sarita Nair during the June 15 Onate Statue protest at the Albuquerque Museum. According to sources, Keller and Nair were particularly concerned to what extend the Onate statute should be protected and if it even should be protected at all. Mayor Keller had already been informed that the Albuquerque Museum Board of Directors had decided a week earlier that the Onate statue was to be removed and stored until a decision could be made what to do with the statue. As a work of art, the Onate statue is worth upwards of $100,000 and when combined with the other statues, the exhibit originally cost the city $800,000 paid for by voter approved bonds.
CHANNEL 13 NIGHTLY NEWS
On Wednesday, September 9, within a few hours after the City Council meeting, KRQE News 13 during its 10:00 pm news cast reported that effective September 30, APD Chief Michael Geier had been relieved of his duties and was out as APD Chief. News 13 also reported Deputy Chief Harold Medina would take over as acting chief on September 30. When News 13 contacted the Mayor Keller’s office to see what sparked the move, the mayor’s office would not confirm or deny the report.
APD CHIEF MICHAEL GEIER ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
On Thursday morning, September 10, Mayor Tim Keller along with APD Chief Michael Geier, held a press conference to announce that Chief Geier was retiring after 2 years and 9 months as APD Chief. Mayor Keller announced that Deputy Chief Harold Medina would be taking over as interim Chief starting Monday, September 14.
APD Chief Geier’s formal announcement was that he had decided to retire and the announcement came less than 24 hours after the previous night’s City Council meeting. At the Thursday morning news conference, Mayor Tim Keller said the details of Chief Geier’s departure were finalized the morning of September 10. According to Keller it was Geier’s decision to leave at the end of the pay period which is September 18.
Chief Geier for his part teared up and gave at emotional farewell. Chief Geier cited a few factors in his personal life that said lead him to retire, including the amount of work the job requires while also having custody of two grandchildren. Geier said:
“My grandkids were playing and I was doing something for work and they asked a couple times, ‘papa come out and play.’ And the little one came and said, she’s eight years old, she goes, ‘papa do you still love us?’ And that was that moment that I wondered, if I was ever looking for a time when I knew I had to retire, it was then.
I love this department. I’ve had a wonderful career in law enforcement. It was very enjoyable and I feel very rewarded. It gave me the opportunity to serve others, and now it’s time for me to rest and turn the reins over to people who have more energy, are a little bit younger and have a lot more time.”
Chief Geier left immediately after speaking and did not take any media questions.
Links to news coverage are here:
EDITORS NOTE: Chief Geier’s statement read to the press on September 10 is in the postscript to this article. The reasons given by Geier for retiring from APD are remarkably similar to those he gave when he retired as Rio Rancho Police Chief close to 3 years ago. When Geier retired as Chief of RRPD, the reasons he gave were he wanted to spend more time with his wife, who suffers from the rare skin disease scleroderma. Many sources have said that in 2017, then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller running for Mayor, met with Geier and Keller asked Geier to be APD Chief if Keller was elected Mayor, and Geier agreed.
A LABOR DAY WEEKEND WALK IN THE PARK
Confidential sources have provided information that APD Chief Michael Geier was summoned to a city park by Mayor Tim Keller and CAO Sarita Nair during the September 5 Labor Day Holiday weekend. The purpose of the meeting was that Keller had decided to let Geier go, that his services were no longer needed and it was time for Geier to leave APD.
According to sources Keller told Geier he wanted to take APD in a different direction. Geier was given the choice between termination or retirement and Geier agreed that it was time for him to retire. Soon after their walk in the park, sources say that Geier met CAO Nair in her office at city hall and the meeting became hostile. On Thursday morning, September 10, the details of Geier’s “retirement” were worked out and the press conference was held by Keller where Geier read his statement.
KELLER ARTICULATES REASONS FOR GEIER’S DEPARTURE
Keller and Geier have known each other for 15 years. They met when Keller was a freshman state senator representing Albuquerque’s International District and Geier was the APD area commander. Chief Geier was one of the first appointments made by Mayor Tim Keller when he took office on December 1, 2017. Geier is given credit for making great gains in implementing the Department of Justice 270 mandated reforms.
In a written statement, Keller said:
“Chief Geier came in at a pivotal moment for the Department, and did a courageous job righting the ship through our first year, getting new leadership in place, focusing on gun violence and getting reform efforts on track. … I deeply appreciate the extremely difficult job he took on nearly three years ago. He helped move APD in the right direction in so many important ways.”
During the September 10 press conference, Keller said there were many factors contributing to the decision for Geier to retire. According to Keller, those factors included the “big issues our city is facing” as well as “small distractions.” Keller put it this way:
“As we saw the need, I saw the need, for also just increased progress for a faster rate of change. … We think it’s the right time for new leadership at APD. So, I think it’s a mutual decision. We want to move faster and we think it’s time for new leadership and he’s also ready to retire. So, I think it’s the way it should be.”
“Any time we have rising crime, we’re not where we want to be, that’s certainly the case. … Any time our Department of Justice reforms are stalled out, that’s not where I want to be, that’s absolutely the case. But I think you also have to be thoughtful and timely about those issues and when you make changes, and I think now is the right time.”
Keller addressed the internal investigation Geier opened into Chief of Staff John Ross over the summer for allegedly improperly purchasing electronics with Geier’s signature stamp and other “conduct that reflects poorly on the department ” and said it was a distraction by saying:
“That’s also something that no one wants to see. … I don’t want to see that either because I want everyone focused on fighting crime.”
Mayor Keller went on to say he felt the city’s 6 yearlong police reform effort under the Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) should be moving faster. Geier’s departure from APD occurs soon after the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office and the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office announced APD is under investigation for alleged overtime pay fraud.
Mayor Keller, Chief Geier and APD also faced severe criticisms for APD’s releasing crime stats that were seriously flawed and exaggerated the reduction in crime rates. At the time when the statistics were released, Keller held press conferences to announce the statistics and essentially took credit for reducing crime. APD was criticized for its handling of the Juan de Oñate protest and the shooting investigation.
KELLER TAKES CITY COUNCIL TO TASK
During the September 10 Keller press conference announcing Geier’s retirement, Mayor Keller addressed the exchange between City Councilor Bassan and CAO Nair the night before on September 9. In a very uncharacteristic stoic style and without his trade mark smile and grin in his voice, Keller had harsh words for those who he said were “pandering to social media” and said in part:
“I think it’s important that we give the chief and the leadership and the departments at least a couple of days out of respect to understand what they’re doing next and when their last day is. … I think it was totally inappropriate for council to go into those questions in public.”
City Councilor Bassan when contacted was quick to respond saying she disagreed that she was in the wrong. She said she was raising questions brought to her by her constituents. She also said she considered it her responsibility to seek answers for the public. Bassan was direct and said that CAO Nair “evaded” her questions when she could have instead acknowledged the administration was evaluating the chief’s performance. Bassan had this to say:
“I realize … [Mayor Keller and his administration] don’t want me to be vocal; that would make everything a lot simpler [for them.] .. But I seriously believe the city of Albuquerque deserves to know what is happening.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
CAO SARITA NAIR
CAO Sarita Nair is a political operative for Tim Keller. Prior to being appointed as the CAO, Nair served then State Auditor Tim Keller as the State Auditor’s Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel. Keller appointed Nair Chief Administrative Officer(CAO) in December 2017. As CAO, Ms. Nair is the City’s top senior executive manager, overseeing all 19 departments of municipal government and a budget of over $1 billion dollars. Historically, Mayor’s usually appoint CAO’s who have worked for the city and who have understanding how the city is operated. Nair is a bureaucrat who runs the city, yet she has absolutely no prior experience running any city nor any city department and has never been an elected official.
As CAO, Sarita Nair is paid $186,747.20 a year according to the city’s 250 top wage earners. Nair’s inflated pay is the most paid to any CAO in the city’s history and her pay appears to be her biggest accomplishment at city hall.
The line of questioning by the City Councilor Bassan was legitimate and necessary, even if it was based on any rumor of Geier being forced out. When CAO Sarita Nair tells an elected city councilor “I’m sure it’s not your intent, but it is deeply disrespectful to Chief Geier to engage in internet rumor mongering at this point”, it is Nair who is being disrespectful with her backhanded remark and downright arrogance with her “political pivot” answer. Nair could just have easily said she was not prepared to answer the question and moved on.
With regard to the unauthorized tweet that Chief Geier later apologized for, Nair said that it was “uncommon” to quote officials without their permission. Truth is, it was not “uncommon” but a violation of personnel rules and regulation and has an element of fraud. Nair once again deflected the truth and said that APD Spokesman Gallegos had “stepped up to take accountability for that very human mistake.” Nair did not volunteer if anyone asked that Gallegos send out the tweet for Geier, if she was the one who directed Gallegos to send out the tweet nor if she found out why it was sent out in the first place.
With her condescending remark referring to “internet rumor mongering”, it is obvious that CAO Nair does not have a basic understanding that the Albuquerque City Council plays a crucial oversight role of all city departments, including the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and all budgets. The City Council votes to approve the Mayor’s appointment of the CAO and the APD Chief. In short, CAO Nair is a political appointment who reports to the elected City Council. The City Council does not report to Nair and are not required to do her bidding but the bidding of their constituents.
Nair has a history of being less than forthcoming when asked questions by the city councilors. Her responses regarding the Mayor’s office not being involved with the Onate Statue tactical plan has been discredited by confidential sources that have said she was in constant contact with APD and the Mayor during the protest.
Further, the fact that it was confirmed within hours after the September 9 city council meeting that Geier was leaving APD is evidence that Nair was less than candid about Geier’s departure and downright misleading. It is now apparent Nair was fully aware that Geier was on his way out and she knew what was going on or she at worse was lying to the city council by withholding information.
KELLER IS THE ONE PANDERING TO SOCIAL MEDIA
When Keller said City Councilors were “pandering to social media” he also said:
“I think it’s important that we give the chief … at least a couple of days out of respect to understand what they’re doing next and when their last day is. … I think it was totally inappropriate for council to go into those questions in public.”
Keller ostensibly has forgotten that the City Council not only controls the APD budget but also is responsible to vote on and approve whoever the Mayor appoints as APD Chief. The City Council has every right to ask the employment status of those they are required to vote and approve for a job.
The APD Chief as a Department Director is required to appear before council on a regular basis to testify as to budget matters and policy matters. When Keller tries to admonish the city council for asking questions at a meeting Keller did not even attend, it is as if CAO Sarita Nair went crying to her boss to complain and to demand that she be treated with respect.
No doubt Republican City Councilor Brook Baasan feels that she is not indebted to Mayor Keller in the least, and she is not. Least anyone has forgotten, Mayor Tim Keller endorsed Baasan’s Democratic opponent for City Council Anne Romero. Bassan has also made it known that she is a strong advocate of Chef Michael Geier and for that reason alone she had every right to ask her questions no matter what Keller or his political operative Nair felt.
The only one guilty of “pandering to social media” is Mayor Tim Keller himself. Ever since Mayor Tim Keller assumed office on December 1, 2017, he has taken political showmanship to all new levels. Keller is known for his photo ops and press conferences, attending protest rallies to speak at, attending marches, attending heavy metal concerts to introduce the band, running in track meets and participating in exhibition football games as the quarterback and enjoying reliving his high school glory days, and posting pictures, press conferences and “fluff” videos on his FACEBOOK page all to the delight of his hard core supporters who heap praises on him.
KELLER’s 60% APPROVAL RATING LIKELY THE RESULT OF CORNA VIRUS PUBLIC RELATION TACTICS
Keller increased his public relations activities once the corona virus hit hard in February. Keller held daily news conferences as if competing with the Governor’s daily press conferences. He also took it to another level and held telephone “town halls meetings”. The “town hall” meetings were especially effective and consisted of calling upwards of 13,000 people at one time on city compiled call lists likely prepared by the city’s 911 call center.
During the “tele conference” town halls meetings, Keller answered questions about the pandemic, what the city was doing, including small business grants the city was offering. All the questions asked of Keller were screened by Keller’s longtime political consultant Alan Packman who now works for the city at the 311-call center, paid over $80,000 a year and who only answers to Keller.
Keller’s public relations actions have paid off for him but that may be short lived. On Sunday, September 13, the Albuquerque Journal reported that a poll revealed that Keller has a 60% approval rating close to 3 years into his term. Such an approval makes Keller the automatic front runner as he seeks a second term. However, cautionary statements were made by the pollster.
In the Journal report on the poll taken, Pollster Brian Sanderoff, the President of Research and Polling, said it “is unknown whether Keller’s approval dropped at any point in the past two years and then climbed back up.” According to Sanderoff, it appears that the public perception of Keller improved during the COVID-19 pandemic and said that may be partly because the virus has temporarily supplanted crime as voters’ top concern.
The public’s focus may have shifted to COVID-19 for now, but Sanderoff said Keller’s legacy is still tied to the city’s response to crime and put it this way:
“Crime is still lurking as the biggest issue facing the city, and whether people ultimately will continue to approve of the mayor’s performance will ultimately be determined by how he’s perceived as handling crime.”
The link to the Albuquerque Journal report on the poll is here:
REMOVING GEIER MAJOR STEP FOR KELLER’S REELECTION
Candidate for Mayor Tim Keller ran on the platform of reducing the city’s spiking high violent crime rates, increasing the size of the APD, returning to community-based policing and implementing the Department of Justice Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). Keller made it known in November that he will be running for a second term in 2021.
Sources report that Keller intends to run once again as a public finance candidate and he is already approaching people to help with his re-election bid by asking them to commit to collecting $5.00 qualifying donations and nominating petition signatures for him. Simply put, Keller’s high approval rating can drop in a heartbeat during a highly contested race once his record is examined and how he has failed to keep all of his promises. Keller is trying to turn things around at APD, but it may be too late and things are likely to get worse.
Keller’s removal of Geier as APD Chief is viewed by city hall insiders and political observers as a major step to his reelection bid. Despite all of his public relations and implementing 4 data-based programs to reduce violent crime, Keller’s efforts have been less than stellar especially at reducing crime rates. According to FBI statistics, Albuquerque’s crime rates are at 194% higher than the national crime rates. Albuquerque is also on tract in breaking the all-time high record of homicides in one year. APD continues to struggle with implementing the DOJ consent decree mandates, increasing the size of APD and returning to community-based policing.
ASK ME NO QUESTIONS, AND I WILL TELL YOU NO LIES
With the remarks made by Mayor Keller and CAO Nair about the City Council asking questions, they have adopted the philosophy of “ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies”. They are seriously mistaken if they think any City Councilor is going to stop doing that, especially the Republicans on the City Council and those who are eyeing to replace Tim Keller as Mayor such as Democrat President City Councilor Pat Davis.
Voters will be deciding if Keller deserves another 4 years with Mayor Keller likely using the Covid 19 Virus epidemic as an excuse for his need for another 4 years to finish what he started. As has been the case in the last 3 elections for Mayor, in 2021 crime rates will likely be the biggest determining issue in the race as well as how APD is performing.
Crime was a major issue in the 2017 Mayor’s race and Keller pledge to bring down high crime rates by returning to community-based policing and increasing the size of APD to 1,200 police officers. At this point, APD has 984 sworn police with 532 of those officers assigned to the field service patrolling the streets of Albuquerque. Although Albuquerque’s property crime dipped very slightly in 2019, the city’s recorded violent crime has increased and the highest number of homicides recorded in one year reached the highest in 2019 and is on pace to break the record again this year.
FINDING NEW APD CHIEF WILL BE DIFFICULT AT BEST
APD leadership and management is crumbling around Mayor Tim Keller who is failing to keep his campaign promises of reducing high crime rates, returning to community-based policing, increasing the size of APD and implementing the DOJ reforms. The abrupt departure of Chief Geier no doubt will have an impact on implementing the DOJ mandated reforms.
Mayor Keller is now faced with the very difficult task of finding and hiring a new APD Chief 14 months before the election for Mayor. That may not happen because of the possibility that person may also be out of a job if Keller is not reelected. For that reason, it is likely Interim Chief Harold Medina will remain Interim Chief until after the 2021 Mayor’s race. If Keller is reelected, Keller will only then make Medina permanent Chief.
Mayor Tim Keller says he wants to conduct a national search to find a new Chief. If in fact Keller finds a new Chief from a national search, he needs to allow that person to run APD and be free of his interference or the interference of CAO Nair. If that person does not produce results, then Keller needs to find to someone who can. Mayor Keller should take this as an opportunity to also remove all the current Deputy Chief’s and allow whoever he selects to be the new Chief to select and bring in their own command staff.
Keller and Nair must understand that while they oversee APD, it is the chief and command staff who have the police training and experience to lead APD. As Keller begins his search for Geier’s replacement, it is likely career law enforcement candidates will be asking how much authority they will really have and who they can surround themselves with to run the department.
At this point in time the best thing Mayor Tim Keller could do for his reelection is to buckle down and do his own job. That includes reorganize APD, find a new chief and deputy chiefs and let the city council ask all the questions they want.
Keller also needs to tell his CAO Sarita Nair that she is not being paid almost $200,000 a year to be condescending to any elected official, to knock it off, be honest and forthcoming and show respect to elected officials and never mislead or lie to the council.
Ditto for Mayor Tim Keller. In politics, public relations and a smile on your face and a grin in your voice can get you elected. Sooner or later people expect and demand results.
Below is the statement read by Chief Geier at the September 10 press conference announcing his retirement:
“I just wanted to take some time today to send my last personal messages to all members of the Albuquerque Police Department. As you know, I am a 2nd generation police officer, who has served in law enforcement for close to 47 years. It is been a very full and satisfying career and I know that I have touched many lives throughout the years I have served. My father planned for his retirement for many years. He and my mom were going to move to Florida and retire near the Orlando area. He wanted to get a job as security at Disneyworld all his grandkids could come down and visit. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer and retired after 30 years on the police force. He passed away 9 months later at 56 years of age. He never got to live that retirement dream and he got to meet some of his grandkids and great grandkids.
I have always known that the day would come when I would retire. The last several months have taken its toll on all of us. We have faced unprecedented challenges with COVID, protests in the wake of the George Floyd incident, increased violence in our city and let’s not forget, the never-ending scrutiny of our consent decree. Over my career I have been unable to spend quality time with my own family that they deserved. I will never be able to recoup what I missed but I now believe I can make up for lost time. My wife, children and grandchildren always placed my career at the forefront. They endured the varied work schedules, long hours on graveyard shifts, 24 hour on-call status . missed little leagues games, birthday parties, weekends and holidays worked, etc, etc. My goal is to now put all of them on the forefront and spend many hours of quality time I missed out on during my career. It has not been an easy decision but I will be retiring from APD in the next few weeks.
I have been extremely honored and proud to have served as the Chief in the best Police Department in the nation. Every member of APD is a dedicated and compassionate public servant who have devoted their life to helping others and making a difference. To our sworn officers,, remember that as peaceful warriors, you have willing embraced the challenges, risks and uncertainties of our profession knowing that you serve a cause bigger than self- each of you served a great good! Thanks for all you do to make APD great. I will miss you and I will keep you in my prayers. Be safe and take care of each other. Thanks for the memories.”
GEIER’S DEPARTURE FROM RIO RANCHO POLICE DEPARTMENT
January 28th, 2017, it was reported that Chief Michael Geier Rio Rancho Police was stepping down as Police Chief of the Rio Rancho Police Department (RRPD). Geier joined RRPD in 2014, following a 20-year career with the Albuquerque Police Department. Reasons given by Geier for retiring from the RRPD were he wanted to spend more time with his wife, who suffers from the rare skin disease scleroderma. Geier said in 2017:
“I’ve been doing this for 43 years and, at some point, you’ve got to put something first. We’ve been together 42 years …right now, I need an extended sabbatical to help her and give that attention.”
According to news reports, Geier said he would consider a job teaching criminal justice in the future. Confidential sources have said that in 2017, then State Auditor running for Mayor Tim Keller, met with Geier and asked Geier to be APD Chief if Keller was elected Mayor.
A link to related news coverage is here: