New Mexico Sun: “Political Pressure Overrides Safety; Mayor Keller’s Legacy Project Exposes Workers to Asbestos”

On September 13, the online news agency NM Sun published the below guest column:

HEADLINE: Political Pressure Overrides Safety: Mayor Keller’s Legacy Project Exposes Workers to Asbestos

By Pete Dinelli

“The City of Albuquerque and Consolidated Builders face record fines for ignoring asbestos risks at Mayor Keller’s pet project, the Gateway Homeless Shelter, according to a damning report by New Mexico’s OHSB.

On September 1, the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) cited the City of Albuquerque and Consolidated Builders of NM, LLC for workplace safety issues for failure to test and remove asbestos at the Gateway homeless shelter. The investigation found both violated the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Act by exposing employees to asbestos.  

The most damning finding made by OSHA was that safety concerns were raised multiple times but the remodeling project was politically driven with stop orders from the City’s Risk Management ignored to allow work to continue. The fine levied by OHSB against the city is the largest fine ever filed against the city.  

The city was issued a $761,112 fine for five Willful-Serious citations and two Serious citations. Consolidated Builders was issued a $331,475 fine for 8 Willful-Serious citations and 1 Serious citation.

The “willful-serious citations” to the city include:

  • Failing to conduct asbestos work within a regulated area;
  • Failing to ensure that an exposure assessment was conducted at the beginning of the project before potential exposures could occur;
  • Failing to ensure that an asbestos “competent person” was present to supervise certain types of work;
  • Failing to determine the presence, location, and quantity of asbestos-containing material at the Gateway Women’s Shelter prior to work beginning; and
  • Failing to ensure that all waste material was properly contained and disposed of.

The “serious citations” to the city include:

  • Failing to communicate the hazards associated with exposure to respirable asbestos fibers to employees;
  • Failing to designate a “competent person” with the qualifications and authorities to ensure worker safety.

The “willful-serious citations” to Consolidated Builders include:

  • Failing to notify other employers that asbestos work was being conducted;
  • Failing to conduct asbestos work within a regulated area;
  • Failing to ensure that an exposure assessment was conducted at the beginning of the project;
  • Failing to dispose of asbestos materials in a leak-tight container;
  • Failing to use wet methods to clean up asbestos-containing materials;
  • Failing to communicate the hazards associated with exposure to respirable asbestos fibers to employees;
  • Failing to train employees on properly performing asbestos removal;
  • Failing to protect employees from the release of asbestos when removing floor tiles. 

The “serious citation” to Consolidated Builders include:

  •  Failing to implement a respiratory protection program for employees using respirators.

 There are three specific areas of incompetency and ineptness that that fall squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Tim Keller relating to the Gateway Homeless Shelter, its selection and remodeling:

The first was the selection and purchase of the massive 572,000 square-foot complex, for $15 million to convert it into a 24-7 homeless shelter.  The complex has a 201-bed capacity, physician offices, treatment rooms, administration offices, lobby areas and a 300-person auditorium.  A site selection process identified 3 appropriate sites:

  1. University of New Mexico (UNM) land near Interstate 25 and Camino de Salud
  2. Coronado Park at 3rd Street and Interstate 40
  3. The former Lovelace hospital on Gibson

Mayor Tim Keller did a press conference to exert pressure on the UNM regents to allow use of university land, but UNM regents said no. Keller quickly move to purchase the Gibson Medical Center and affected neighborhoods protested.

The second is the Keller Administration did not do due diligence to determine if the facility had the proper zoning to allow a 24-7 overnight shelter.  After the purchase it was discovered, the facility was zoned for a hospital and a conditional use for an overnight shelter was required.  The city refused to rely on the existing zoning to use it as a mental health treatment and substance abuse hospital facility for the homeless and the building sat vacant. 

 The third sign was the discovery of asbestos on the property that required remediation.  The City Planning Department, Municipal Development Department and the Environmental Health Department did not realize that when the Lovelace Hospital was built in the 1950’s asbestos was commonly used in building insulation, ceiling tiles, and flooring.  The Occupational Health and Safety Bureau  investigated after receiving complaints that allege “No inspection or testing was done prior to demolition work” and the city covered it up.

The most obvious explanation for city departments failing to act is that the Gateway Homeless is one of Mayor Keller’s legacy projects.  Keller likely exerted great pressure on his department heads to get the project done and be damned OSHA requirements, hence the finding that the project was politically driven.”

Pete Dinelli is a native of Albuquerque. He is a licensed New Mexico attorney with 27 years of municipal and state government service including as an assistant attorney general, assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes, city of Albuquerque deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer, Albuquerque city councilor, and several years in private practice. Dinelli publishes a blog covering politics in New Mexico:




The New Mexico Sun is part of the Sun Publishing group which is a nonprofit. The New Mexico Sun “mission statement” states in part:

“The New Mexico Sun was established to bring fresh light to issues that matter most to New Mexicans. It will cover the people, events, and wonders of our state. … The New Mexico Sun is non-partisan and fact-based, and we don’t maintain paywalls that lead to uneven information sharing. We don’t publish quotes from anonymous sources that lead to skepticism about our intentions, and we don’t bother our readers with annoying ads about products and services from non-locals that they will never buy. … Many New Mexico media outlets minimize or justify problematic issues based on the individuals involved or the power of their positions. Often reporters fail to ask hard questions, avoid making public officials uncomfortable, and then include only one side of a story. This approach doesn’t provide everything readers need to fully understand what is happening, why it matters, and how it will impact them or their families.”

The home page link to the New Mexico Sun is here:


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.