On April 27, first term City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout announced legislation proposing a City Charter amendment for a public vote that will make the Mayor of Albuquerque a member of the City Council. They want to transfer all the mayor’s executive and city management duties to a city manager chosen by the city council. According to the proposed legislation, the mayor would “be recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes”. It turns out the legislation has never been vetted, researched or recommended for approval by the City Charter Review Task Force responsible for making recommendations for charter amendments.
Under the proposed legislation, a “professional” city manager would be selected by the City Council to oversee and manage all 27 city departments and directors. The city’s existing Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) already serves this function and presumably would be abolished. The city manager would administer the city’s personnel rules and regulations for the over 7,000 city employees. The City manager would be responsible to prepare and formulate the city’s annual operating budget for city council review and adoption. This year’s 2023-2024 proposed budget is $1.4 Billion.
The mayor would preside over council meetings, but would only be allowed to vote in case of a tie vote. The mayor would have no administrative duties, nor hiring authority, and be allowed to vote at council meetings only in the event of a tie. The mayor would have no veto power over enacted legislation and would have less power than a city councilor on pending and enacted legislation.
CHARTER REVIEW TASK FORCE CREATED
The City of Albuquerque has enacted a code of ordinances that deals with the interpretation and enforcement of all city ordinances. Among the city ordinances enacted are those that create 22 permanent standing committees, advisory councils and task forces. Among the more notable permanent standing committees, advisory councils and task forces are the following:
- 2-1-3 Financial Planning Board.
- 2-1-4 Goals Commission.
- 2-1-11 Capital Improvements Advisory Committee.
- 2-1-14 Task Force on Governmental Efficiency and Results.
- 2-1-15 Program and Budget Planning Task Force.
- 2-1-16 Redistricting Committee.
On September 28, 1998 the Albuquerque City Council enacted city ordinance § 2-1-7 creating the Charter Review Task Force. It is a seven-member task force appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council to review and evaluate all areas of the City Charter, including those sections which have been challenged in court or otherwise as well as unchallenged sections.
According to the ordinance the task force “shall be a blue ribbon group, whose members are well respected in the community. Among the members shall be citizens who are knowledgeable as to municipal government organization in Albuquerque and/or in general. Membership shall include attorneys respected in the area of municipal and constitutional law.”
The charge of the Charter Review Task Force is to examine any and all articles, sections, and provisions of the City Charter for the purpose of recommending any amendments to the Charter deemed appropriate. The Task Force is required to hold one or more public hearings at which the citizens of the city shall be encouraged to give their views on the Charter. The Task Force is required to present its recommendations to the Mayor and the Council in the form of a final report.
The convening of an individual Charter Review Task Force is done by the passage of a city council resolution where members are appointed and selected by all City Councilors and the Mayor and the Chair of the Task Force is selected by the Council. The Task Force is then required to hold public meetings, allow public comment and the public is invited to offer suggestions or comments. The task force after completion of its work is required to confer, deliberate and formulate a final report to the Mayor and city council who the ultimately decide if Charter Amendments are in order.
The last time a Charter Review Task Force Charter Report with recommendations was issued was on May 1, 2009.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Democrat City Councilor Louis Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout have pretty much made fools of themselves by proposing a City Charter amendment for a public vote that will make the Mayor of Albuquerque a member of the City Council and creating a city council appointed city manager without it being vetted by the Charter Review Task Force. What they have done smacks of pure political hackery motivated by frustration on their part and caused by sure ignorance of the process used and relied upon for decades to evaluate the city’s form of government.
Both Democrat City Councilor Louis Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout were elected on November 2, 2021 having never been elected nor served before in any other elective office. They have served a mere 16 months as city councilor having been sworn into office on January 1, 2022. Both now proclaim the city needs a complete and dramatic restructuring of city government with a 50 year throwback to the past city commission-city manager form of government without offering any substantive evidence that the current Mayor-Council form of government is failing or not working. All they offer is political rhetoric. They both prefer to sponsor legislation amending the Charter without the convening of the Charter Review Task Force which was created in part to prevent this sort of nefarious conduct by city councilors.
What they do offer is pure political rhetoric showing their sure ignorance of how Albuquerque City government works.
City Councilor Louis Sanchez had this to say:
“I think this is something the citizens have needed for a long time and deserve. … What we’re simply doing is making sure that the council can vote on putting it on the ballot. … It’s time to let the citizens decide if they’ve been impacted at all by safety, security issues. … We hear people always talking from Rio Rancho, ‘Man I don’t want to go to Albuquerque, because Albuquerque’s dangerous’. … I think it’s a great opportunity for our citizens to chime in [and] make Albuquerque a little more efficient, more stable, more fiscally responsible and transparent over time. … [The Mayor] … would still bring a lot to the table [in a council-manager structure]. There is a lot of things that every one of the other mayors [in this form of government] bring to the table, so it’s a very important job.”
What is downright laughable is when City Councilor Louis Sanchez says “this is something the citizens have needed for a long time and deserve” when it was the citizens of Albuquerque who actually created the Mayor-Council form of government by adopting a city charter and it has worked for over 50 years. It laughable when he says the mayor could still propose legislation and policy, but does not say the Mayor would be prohibited from voting on it or vetoing it. What is embarrassing is when he says there is a need for people to “chime in about public safety and security issues.” His comment is reflective of being totally ignorant as an elected official to what has been going on for the last 8 years with the Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree reforms.
The DOJ consent decree was brought on by citizens’ complaints and findings of excessive use of force and deadly force and a “culture of aggression” within APD. The city council has proven to be an absolute failure in overseeing APD and dealing with reducing crime but Sanchez says people need to “chime in” on the city’s crime problems. The public has repeatedly chimed in with complaints of our crime rates through neighborhood associations, the police oversight commission and the community policing councils and with the city council who have the reputation of just not listening and not doing anything meaningful about crime let alone police reform.
City Councilor Renee Grout said this:
“It makes for a government that’s more responsive and better balanced between different interests. … Under the council-manager system, the mayor is included on the council and part of all policy decisions with citizens and other councilors. The mayor is still the head of the city government and he represents the city at public junctions, and I should say he or she. … I am learning that city government, or government, works very slowly and to get anything done takes forever. … If you’re having to start over again [with a new mayor and new priorities], no wonder we’re not making ground. … City managers are selected based on their experience and qualification for this job. They have no guaranteed term of office, they are accountable to the entire council for the quality of their performance on the job. … Dallas and Phoenix both … have this form of government and they are thriving and they are excelling. You see they’re vibrant and I think we’re getting left behind. When a new mayor comes in and that mayor doesn’t like what the previous administration was doing they change everything up.”
Albuquerque is not Phoenix, Arizona, Dallas, Texas nor Oklahoma City, Oklahoma like Grout would like everyone to believe to be when she refers to those cities and their city manager form of government. Albuquerque is in no way as wealthy, but far more unique and diversified in its people and neighborhoods. Grout expressed concern over major projects not carrying over from one mayor to another. There are times a previous Mayor’s legacy projects need to be stopped. Grout has forgotten the disastrous ART bus project started by Mayor Berry but finished by Mayor Keller with council support. When Grout says she is learning that city government … works very slowly and to get anything done takes forever” she acts like that’s wrong and that the city council is not part of the problem. There are times government needs to go slow down, such as with major zoning changes that affect people’s property rights and major expenditures. Grout also ignores the fact the city council is considered by many as the biggest problem and impediment to getting things done and all the delays in drafting and enacting legislation.
When Grout says “[City managers] have no guaranteed term of office, they are accountable to the entire council for the quality of their performance on the job” she must think this a good thing. It is based on the false presumption that 9 city councilors with very different priorities and politcal philosophies will agree on the quality of job performance. What you will have is a city manager jumping to the every little whim and demand of each city councilor to keep them happy. With no “guaranteed term of office”, no professional in their right mind would want the job and would likely demand a contract with a lucrative buy out provision.
There is very little doubt, despite what they are saying publicly, with a straight face no less, what is motivating Sanchez and Grout. It is their sure dislike for Mayor Tim Keller and his progressive policies and the fact he has repeatedly out maneuvered the City Council with his veto. In the last 16 months, Sanchez and Grout have tried and have failed to override at least 5 Keller vetoes. Thus far, they have failed to stop Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” which will allow 750 square foot casitas and duplexes in all residential back yards, and motel conversions, where the city buys motels to convert to low-income housing. They have failed to hold Mayor Keller accountable to any real extent for impropriety, such as the violation of the anti-donation clause with the $236,622 purchase of artificial turf for the Rio Rancho Events Center for the benefit of the privately owned New Mexico Gladiators.
Their solution is simply get rid of Keller’s power as Mayor in case he runs again, which is likely, for another term, and wins, which is highly questionable.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP, NOT OF GOVERNMENT
What Sanchez and Grout are saying with their proposed legislation is that there is a “failure of government” when in fact it is a “failure of leadership.” What the city has been plagued with over the last 14 years is a “failure of leadership” by two term Republican Mayor Richard Berry and now two term Democrat Mayor Tim Keller. The failure of leadership has been augmented by a failure of leadership of City Councils to deal with spiking violent crime rates, failure of police management, failure of police oversight that enabled excessive use of force and deadly force and a “culture of aggression”, and a failure to deal with the city’s ongoing homeless crisis.
Simply put, the Sanchez/Grout proposed charter amendment is nothing more than one great power grab by the two freshman councilors not satisfied with the power they already have. They do not recognize the need for division of power and a system of checks and balances that exists now. Both show at best sure ignorance of city government, how it works, what authority and role they should play as city councilors, especially when they sponsor legislation that has not been properly researched and vetted and based on political rhetoric.
The City Council should reject in no uncertain terms, City Councilors Sanchez and Grout’s power grab and their attempt to establish a city manager form of government at city hall.