On June 21, the Albuquerque City Council voted 6 NO to 3 YES to reject and place on the November 7 ballot a City Charter amendment that would have created a city-manager form of government. The city’s Mayor-Council form of government has existed for over 50 years and was implemented by voters in 1972 in a landslide vote to replace the city commission-city manager form of government.
The Charter Amendment was sponsored by first term city councilors Democrat City Councilor Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout. The charter amendment if past by voters would have transferred all the mayor’s executive and city management duties and authority to a city manager chosen by the city council. The mayor would preside over city council meetings and vote at council meetings only in the event of a tie. The city council appointed city manager would assume the powers held by the mayor, including the authority to appoint the police chief and other department directors and organize city government.
According to the proposed legislation, the mayor would “be recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes.” It is commonly referred to as a “weak-mayor” form of city government. On June 5, the city council voted to amend the resolution to make the Mayor a 10th voting member of the council which could have resulted in tie votes.
At least 6 of the 9 city councilors were required to vote to put the measure on the November 7 ballot. Voting YES were Conservative Democrat City Councilor Louis Sanchez and Conservative Republicans Renee Grout and Dan Lewis. Voting NO were Progressive Democrats Tammy Feibelcorn, Pat Davis, Isaac Benton, moderate Democrat Klarissa Pena and Conservative Republicans Trudy Jones and Brook Basaan.
Had the Charter Amendment been approved by voters, the change would not have gone into effect until the next mayoral election in 2025. The measure would have affected future mayors, not current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. Keller was first elected in 2017 and was elected to a second term in 2021.
During the debate on the resolution, City Councilor Louis Sanchez argued that the change in government was needed saying “This system isn’t working.” He pointed to several issues as proof. He included the housing crisis and lack of affordable housing, the homeless crisis, the city’s high crime rates and the shortage of police officers. Sanchez argued that a city council-city manager system, without an administration turnover every 4 years with a mayoral election, would provide more long-term solutions and stability.
Republican Brook Bassan and Democrat Pat Davis both expressed concerns about the amendment adding the mayor as a 10th voting member, saying that legislation could get stuck in a 5-5 vote gridlock and grind the city to a halt. Davis called the amendment a “poison pill” to the resolution that made him unable to vote for it and send it to voters.
Other city councilors expressed the concern that if the charter amendment went before voters in November as proposed, voters would misunderstand it and view the vote as a referendum on Mayor Tim Keller or think a “yes” vote might remove him from office. City Councilor Brook Bassan said this:
“There are more people than not that think this will get rid of Mayor Tim Keller. … That is not what this is a proposal of. This is a proposal to take away the democratic process.”
The Keller Administration argued against the charter amendment resolution saying the move would be a step backward, and that having an elected mayor in charge ensures better accountability. Mayor Tim Keller strenuously opposed the Charter Amendment measure early on when it was first introduced and at the time his office issued the following statement:
“We are committed to working with Council and taking a hard look at how we can work more efficiently, but an extreme change to our form of government is not the answer. This proposal would drastically alter Albuquerque’s local government, eliminating individual accountability and checks and balances, placing all city power into a committee and an unelected city manager.”
UNION OPPOSTION TO CHARTER AMENDMENT
What was not at all surprising is that the charter amendment drew major opposition from city union members and representatives. Mayor Tim Keller both times he has run for Mayor has gotten union endorsements. At the beginning of the meeting, at least one third of the city council chamber seats were filled with members of the Carpenters Local Union 1319 wearing orange T-Shirts to stand in opposition to the charter amendment.
Union government affairs consultant for the Southwest Mountain Regional Council of Carpenters Matthew Capably, said the charter amendment proposal was the city council looking for somewhere where the “grass is always greener.” Capably told the council this:
“I have dealt both with strong mayor municipalities and strong manager-council municipalities. … And I have to say, the strong mayor structure is better. It’s more accountable. It’s more transparent. You don’t have an unaccountable, appointed bureaucrat that isn’t accountable to the voters.”
Fire Department Miguel Titman, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 244, echoed Capalby’s statements, saying that he’d spoken with labor leaders across the Southwest about their relationship with a council-manager form of government. Titman said this:
“What I found is that there was one city that enjoyed (it) because they had a good relationship with their city manager. … The rest did not … so when in my position, I would like to negotiate, I’d like to deal with someone with executive authority.”
Links to the quoted news sources are here:
POLITCAL DRAMA THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE
The final vote came with a little political drama thrown in for good measure during the debate leading up to the final vote. Conservative Democrat Louis Sanchez, co sponsor of the charter amendment resolution, had a little hot temper tantrum when it was revealed that University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Paul Krebs was paid by the Keller Administration to do research and to who testified in opposition to the city council-city manager Charter Amendment. Krebs has a history of being hired by the Keller Administration to do research and give his opinions. Krebs did so with Mayor Keller’s ABQ Housing Forward Plan and the proposed amendments to the city’s zoning laws to increase housing density.
Krebs had testified before the city council and made the very strong case that the city’s existing Mayor-City Council form of government represented the “best of both worlds”. Krebs pointed out that the city’s existing strong Mayor-City Council form of government requires the appointment of a Chief Administrative Officer who is required to be approved with a vote by the city council. The Chief Administrative Officer oversees the day-to-day operations of the city and the city’s personnel rules and regulations with the duties and responsibilities being identical to that of a city manager. The current Chief Administrative Officer is Lawrence Rael who has served under 3 Mayors and is paid over $200,000 a year.
UNM Politcal Science Professor Timothy Krebs went so far as to write a guest opinion column published on May 18 by the Albuquerque Journal. In his Journal guest opinion column, Krebs said a city council-manager system would weaken democracy in Albuquerque. Krebs wrote that “Albuquerque’s strong-mayor council system is rooted is a separation of powers arrangement. The city council is the legislative branch, while the mayor is a strong executive with the power to appoint officials and veto.” Krebs argued a city council-city manager form of government concentrates too much power within the city council with no oversight by the Mayor.
The Keller Administration for its part defended the hiring of Krebs saying he was hired to do “factual research” on the city’s existing form of government and how it works. Councilor Sanchez was not having anything to do with what Krebs had to say. Sanchez repeatedly referred to Krebs as a “paid advocate” and was very dismissive of all he had to say.
The mistake the Keller Administration and Krebs made from the get go was failing to disclose that Krebs was on contract and being paid. The problem is the deception. The Keller Administrations failed to mention that Krebs was being paid for speaking and Krebs failed to make it clear he was not representing UNM. Failure to omit a fact is misleading and considered a lie. City Council President Pat Davis had asked if Krebs was being paid to speak and was told by the administration he was not.
What is very disingenuous about the Sanchez outburst over Krebs is the fact the City Council retained the services of an out of state consultant to make a presentation on the benefits of a city council city manager form of government.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is very little doubt what was actually motivating Sanchez, Grout and Lewis to vote for the Charter amendment for a change in the City’s form government to a weak mayor form of government with a city manager appointed by the council. It is their personal dislike for Mayor Tim Keller and many of his progressive policies.
Keller has repeatedly out maneuvered the City Council with his veto. In the last 17 months, Sanchez and Grout have tried and have failed to override at least 5 Keller vetoes. They failed to stop Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” which will allow 750 square foot casitas and duplexes in all residential back yards. They have failed to hold Mayor Keller accountable 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 Gladiator’s.
AND THEN THERE’S DAN
What was not at all surprising with the Charter Amendment vote is that City Councilor Dan Lewis voted for it. In case anyone has forgotten, Dan Lewis ran unsuccessfully for Mayor against Tim Keller in 2017 when Keller won the 2017 runoff by a decisive landslide with 62.20% to Lewis 37.8%. District 9 Conservative Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis previously served two terms on the City Council from 2009 to 2017. Never once for 8 years did he complain that the strong Mayor form of government was not working as he supported and voted for all things Mayor Berry pushed including the disastrous ART bus project on central. On November 2, 2021 Lewis defeated incumbent Democrat Cynthia Borrego who had replaced him 4 years ago.
Since returning to the city council Dan Lewis has emerged as one of the harshest critics of Mayor Tim Keller so much so that once he was sworn into office, he immediately introduced 4 separate resolutions outlining what he intended to pursue to hold Mayor Tim Keller and his administration accountable for past actions. Those resolutions were:
- Repeal the 3/8 of 1% gross receipts tax enacted IN 2014.The city council enacted a 3/8 of 1% gross receipts tax 5 years ago on an 8-1 bipartisan city council vote. Keller singned off on it breaking his pledge not to raise taxes, even for public safety, without a public vote. Lewis proclaimed the tax a financial crutch the city did not need and reversal would put money “back into the pockets of hard-working Albuquerque citizens.” During the April 4 city council meeting the Lewis resolution calling for the repeal of the gross receipts tax hit a “brick wall” when the legislation failed on a 1 to 8 vote. Lewis was the only city councilor to vote for his legislation.
- Bar the city from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for the municipal government workforce. It was on March 21 that the Albuquerque the City Council passed the Dan Lewis City Council resolution that prohibited imposing an employee vaccine mandate and from penalizing those who do not. On April 2, Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the anti-vaccine measure. In his veto message to the City Council, Mayor Keller wrote that city leaders have more pressing concerns than “manufactured ideological disputes” and noted that he has never imposed a COVID-19 vaccine requirement and Keller said “In this context a ban on vaccine mandates is an answer in search of a question.” The city council failed to override the veto not having the necessary 6 votes to override Keller’s veto
- Repeal or limit mayoral authority during a public health emergency. The resolution revoked most of the mayoral public health emergency authority the City Council added at the onset of the pandemic. The resolution past the city council on a 5 to 4 vote, Mayor Keller vetoed it and the council failed to override the veto.
- Direct the city administration to consider and “to the extent advisable,” push to renegotiate the terms of the federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA). The settlement was entered into on November 14, 2014 after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found that APD engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force and had a “culture of aggression.”The City Council Resolution can only be considered “for show” by Lewis in that it will have no affect on the settlement. The settlement is a Federal Court Order that the City Council has no authority over.
More recently City Councilor Dan Lewis gave a rebuttal of Mayor Tim Keller’s 2023 State of the City address that falls in line with his personal vendetta against Keller. The rebuttal was published by the Albuquerque Journal wherein Lewis proclaimed that Keller was out of touch and did not recognize what the city has become.
Privately Lewis has made it known to many of his supporters that he intends to run for Mayor again in 2025, especially against Tim Keller if Keller seeks a third term. From the very get go of his return to the city council, Lewis has made it is clear he intends to be as disruptive as possible on the city council in order to generate the news coverage he so covets to run for Mayor again in 2025.
If Dan Lewis is indeed running for Mayor in 2025, the only real reason why he would vote to change the city’s form of government to a weak mayor form of government is to embarrass Mayor Tim Keller forcing Keller to campaign. Dan Lewis no doubt wants to argue things have gotten so bad under Keller that the city needs to change its form of government or get rid of Keller in 2025 and elect Dan Lewis.