On October 30, the Albuquerque Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a scathing 27 page report that found the Mayor Tim Keller Administration had misused taxpayer money to the tune of more than $97,000 to write, edit, print and publish 598 copies of a book entitled “City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests, and Public Service in Albuquerque”. The book became controversial when released as critics charged that it was nothing more than political propaganda paid for by taxpayers to promote Mayor Tim Keller and his administration. The book includes a chapter dedicated to Keller called “the Metal Mayor”, several dozen photos of Keller, and an introduction written by Mayor Keller and a foreword written by his wife Elizabeth J. Kistin Keller as first lady of the city.
You can read the entire 27 page OIG report at this link:
“As COVID-19 jammed Albuquerque’s famous Route 66, businesses adapted or closed; as case numbers rose, public health needs changed and tensions flared. Add to the long haul of COVID-19 a summer of political unrest, the murder of George Floyd, and protests about historic statues and memorials, and 2020 was one for the books. City at the Crossroads helps preserve the history of pandemic year one in Albuquerque, as journalist Joline Gutierrez Krueger reports on how the city’s government and citizens came together to weather change.”
The Office of inspector General went to far as to label the book “a waste” of taxpayer funds and said this:
“The OIG considered whether it is reasonable to believe, that in the event of another pandemic, someone would seek out and read a book of anecdotal stories as a guide of how to navigate such a crisis. … Obligating the taxpayer’s monies to fund a book that promoted the administrative achievements during the pandemic and where a calculated value may never be known appears to be a waste.”
The OIG report relies on and quotes and interviews with someone who worked closely on the project. They reportedly told OIG inspectors:
“The Mayor wanted to document the unprecedented time as City leaders were scrambling to adapt to the pandemic. The idea was to chronicle this event in case another pandemic happens again. People can go back and look at it as a resource, what was useful, and what wasn’t.”
The report did not find enough evidence supporting claims the city violated its purchasing ordinance or the state’s anti-donation clause producing the book. However, the OIG report suggested evidence of possible favoritism and conflict of interest.
Although a total of 598 copies of the 230 page book were published, as of June 9, almost 500 remained unsold, with some stored in the office of a contractor associated with the book, a few held at city libraries and others still available for purchase at a museum shop. Taking into account the total project costs, the price per book purchased totaled $141.17 each.
Just 91 copies, priced at $19.99 per book on Amazon, were sold directly to consumers. Ten books were sold to the museum for $10 each and at a loss in that the OIG calculated that each book cost $10.25 to print. According to the OIG report anyone who asked for a copy was given one for free.
Mayor Tim Keller’s name is largely absent from the OIG report, with just 3 mentions of the mayor. The OIG report focused primarily on the costs associated with the project, a lack of documentation of how contractors were chosen and errors in official documentation.
The contractor was identified only as “Employee 1” or E1, in the OIG report. But in 2022, the Albquerquerqu Journal reported that it was Amanda Sutton who was contracted by the city to work as a project manager for the book and later began working for the city in a permanent capacity. According to her LinkedIn, she started as a “Special Projects Manager” for the city of Albuquerque in July 2022.
Presuming “Employee 1” or “E1” is Amanda Sutton, she was paid $44,190, or $90 per hour, for work on the book, and $5,760 from other projects with the city. “E1” described the writing process as “chaotic,” adding that it was sometimes “unclear on who was directing.”
Besides the misuse of funds, the OIG report found that One Albuquerque Fund’s in printing and publishing the books was overstated in the memorandum of understanding between the nonprofit and the city. The One Albuquerque Fund is a city endowment fund set up by Keller himself who solicited donations from the private sector to pay for city projects above what is already paid for by the city.
ALBQUERQUE JOUNRAL SUFFERES EMBARASSMENT
The Albuquerque Journal took special interest in the story and suffered an embarrassment when it was revealed that the book was written by none other than longtime Albuquerque Journal columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger. It turns out Gutierrez Krueger was paid $44,700, or $60 per hour, by the city of Albuquerque to write the book without her informing the Journal editors nor getting the papers permission. Gutierrez Krueger contracted with the city while still employed by the Albuquerque Journal which was a violation of the papers policy that prohibits moonlighting for government entities to avoid conflicts of interest. The Journal issued the following statement:
“Gutierrez Krueger contracted with the city while still employed by the Journal, a violation of company policy that prohibits moonlighting for government entities to avoid conflicts of interest.”
But for the fact that Gutierrez Krueger was about to retire, her authorship of the book could have likely been used as grounds for termination by the paper.
Former Journal Editor Karen Moses wrote in a column that the 2018 freelance policy prohibits writing for “any organization or person related to a political party, candidate, or government agency.” Gutierrez Krueger said she was already planning to retire at the time and knew the book would be published after her departure from the Journal. It is more likely than not it was planned that the book would be published after she retired. She said there was a “clear red line” between her Journal column and the work on the book, which she said was completed on her own time, and she was not in contact with the Mayor’s Office besides interviews.
Gutierrez Krueger said she didn’t think there was a conflict of interest during her time at the Albuquerque Journal. She said she was honored to be selected as the author and bring to light the work public officials took to “keep the city afloat” during the pandemic. Gutierrez Krueger said she wasn’t interviewed by the OIG, and said the original call for an investigation came from people with “political agendas” which is a not so suttle reference to Conservative Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis who made a big stink about the book when it first came out and who ran and lost to Keller in a landslide in 2013.
Gutierrez Krueger was is very critical of the OIG report and said she stands behind the book saying the book was not about Tim Keller. She says it’s instead about people who struggled, like store owners and nurses, during the pandemic. Gutierrez Krueger said this:
“The OIG report does a disservice to those people. … I think that’s what makes me the saddest, is these are stories, I think, and these are people that should be known by their community. And with this negativity, I worry that, you know, people are going to get the wrong idea of what the book was. … I never worked directly with the mayor on any of this. He was never… I never, like, sat down with him to discuss what he was envisioning. … I had to interview him, obviously, for the book because you can’t write a story about the city and not write about the mayor. That’s as far as it went for me. The joy of writing it, for me, was writing these stories. … I think one of the reasons the book struggled is people made criticisms of the book without reading it.”
Links to quoted and relied upon news sources are here:
KELLER ADMINISTRATION RESPONDS TO OIG REPORT
Keller Administration officials said the book was not intended to promote the Keller administration, but to promote “the voices of Albuquerque.” Arts and Culture Director Shelle Sanchez said the department stands by the book, the author and the effort behind it. Sanchez in a statement about the report said this:
“The Department of Arts & Culture stands behind and supports this book project, the author, and the exceptional effort that went into the book’s creation. Books like this one are important and lasting resources. Arts & Culture regularly publishes or co-publishes books centered on arts, culture, and exceptional times in our city’s history, and we will continue to do so. We strongly object to the Office of Inspector General equating “misuse or waste” with “profit,” as it is inaccurate and misleading.
The OIG does not provide clear or objective evidence to substantiate the allegation of misuse or waste of public funds. The OIG has demonstrated biased behavior, overreach of authority, and failure to adhere to established auditing protocols, raising serious concerns about their impartiality. A recent change to the OIG ordinance has created a structural lack of independence, violates national standards, and has further politicized the office.“
The link to the quoted and relied upon news source is here:
CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN CITY COUNCILOR DAN LEWIS REACTS
It was a year ago that Conservative Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis publicly asked for an investigation into the book to identify if the purchase violated city purchasing rules and regulations and had any public purpose. When the book was released, Lewis said there was evidence of misuse that warranted asking the OIG to investigate.
Lewis issued the following statement about the OIG report:
“The Office of the Inspector General substantiated serious allegations that the Mayor misused and wasted public funds. Among other findings of misuse and waste, the report specifies the City spent more than $97,000 to create a book and sold only 91 copies to the public. The administration does not appear to take the findings seriously when they dismiss this damaging report as “sharing their short book report.” Unfortunately, the Mayor ignored and ridiculed the investigation. The Inspector General should forward findings to the appropriate law enforcement partner such as the FBI and U.S. Attorneys office.”
The link to the quoted and relied upon news source is here:
Lewis disputed that his call for an investigation was politically motivated and said it is routine for councilors to refer potential issues to the OIG. Lewis cited the department response characterizing part of the OIG report as a “short book review” as evidence the administration was “mocking” the office. Lewis said this:
“Maybe this administration would take it seriously [if the FBI or AG investigated]. … I’m just doing my job. … I’m not running for anything.”
LEWIS NOT THE ONLY CRITIC
The Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis is not the only critic who noticed how frequently the Mayor Tim Keller is mentioned in the book. Paul Gessing with the conservative taxpayer watch dog group Rio Grande Foundation said this:
“I saw a chapter, ‘The Metal Mayor” said Gessing as he flipped through the book and he said “There’s the mayor. Yeah. I mean, we’re less than halfway through the book, and he’s already in there about ten or so times… It is a way to promote the mayor. And that’s where we really have a big problem with it.”
The links to all cited and quoted materials and news sources are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is downright laughable that Conservative Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis says with a straight face “I’m just doing my job. … I’m not running for anything.” It’s laughable because Lewis, within days after being elected in 2021 to return to the city council, said privately to supporters he is running for Mayor again in 2025. He wants a repeat of his 2013 race against Keller who is likely running for a third term.
Although the Office of Inspector General raised and answered the legitimate question if taxpayer funds were spent appropriately and found it to be a waste of taxpayer money, the OIG still did not find anything illegal ignoring the extent Keller benefited from it personally as politcal promotion. The OIG went only so far as to make made recommendations to the city on how to tighten up its controls on the city’s purchasing ordinance.
The city’s personnel rules and regulations make it clear that City property may not be used for personal gain nor profit. If a full-time city employee, not an elected official such as Keller, had used city resources for personal usage or gain, it would have been a violation of the city’s personnel rules and regulations and it would be grounds for termination. But Keller is the elected Mayor and he is not governed by the city’s personnel rules and regulations like all the other 6,000 city employees and so he gets away with it.
The blunt reality is nothing further is going to happen with the OIG report and no one will be held accountable. The Keller Administration arrogantly responded that the OIG report “findings were inaccurate, misleading, oversimplification of this investigation” and further said “We stand behind the book, and we know the IG doesn’t like the book.”
WHITE KNIGHT AGAINST WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE
When Mayor Tim Keller assumed office on December 1, 2017, he instantly began to take photo ops and press conferences to an all-new level by attending protest rallies to speak at, attending marches, attending heavy metal concerts to introduce the band, running in track meets and suiting up as the quarterback to participate in exhibition football games and enjoying reliving his high school glory days, and posting pictures and videos on his FACEBOOK page. He even posts his press conferences on FACEBOOK.
Then in 2021, the pandemic hit the city and hit it hard. The pandemic turned out to be just another opportunity for Keller to promote himself. During the pandemic, Keller held weekly press conferences promoting what the city was doing akin to what Governor Lujan Grisham did with the state. Keller also held “town hall” meetings by phone calling thousands using the 311 frequent citizens contact list orchestrated by his long time pollical consultant who Keller hired to work for the city 311 citizen contact center paying him $80,000 a year and who reported directly to Keller. Keller secured funding from the city council to hand out $50,000 in grant checks to small businesses and did so by use of a “drive up service” to give out the checks personally as the TV cameras were rolling.
Ostensibly, Keller was the only elected official interviewed with his own chapter in the book and there is little mention of the Albuquerque City Council. So much for Keller’s ONE ALBUQUERQUE slogan. The book “City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests, and Public Service in Albuquerque” is Keller promoting what he did during the pandemic proclaiming it to be leadership. Absent from the book is any substantive discussion of the vital role of the Albuquerque City Council and it expanding the emergency powers of the Mayor and allocating funding to the various departments to deal with the crisis’s and allocating funding for grants to help the business community.
In 2017 when then State Auditor Tim Keller was running for Mayor, he was swept into office riding on a wave of popularity he orchestrated as State Auditor for a mere 1 year and six months of his 4-year term in office. He proclaimed he combated “waste, fraud and abuse” in government and promising “transparency”. He took advantage whenever he could to call out government officials wasting taxpayer funds.
Now that he is Mayor, Tim Keller has had no problem with “waste, fraud and abuse” within his own office as long as it has his name on it, promotes his career and his accomplishments. “City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests, and Public Service in Albuquerque” is nothing more than a book that chronicles Mayor Tim Keller’s self-centered, self-absorbed governing style during the pandemic where public relations was proclaimed public service.