City Councilor Klarissa Peña Proposes Abolishing Council Staggered Terms With All 9 City Council Elections Held At The Same Time With Mayor; Proposal Could Result In 100% Turn Over Of All Elected Officials Every 4 Years And Loss Of Stability And Institutional Knowledge; Peña Should Disclose Her Own Future Political Plans If Running For Another City Council Term Or Mayor In 2025

On June 17 the Albuquerque City Council on a 6 to 3 vote passed a Charter Amendment that would eliminate all runoff elections for Mayor and City Council and mandating whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between the two top vote getters.  Whoever secures the most votes of all the candidates running at the same time wins the election out right. In a crowded field, the prevailing candidate would not have a majority vote but a much less percentage less than 50% of the vote.  The charter amendment must be placed on the November 5 general election ballot.  The charter amendment was sponsored Democrat Councilor Klarissa Pena and Republican Dan Lewis. Passage of the charter amendment has been severely criticized as a scheme to dilute the vote to help incumbents and those with high name identification by eliminating voter majority wins Mayor Tim Keller was quick to announce his intent to veto the  charter amendment, but the veto could be overturned on a 6 to 3 vote and the placed on the ballot.

What has not been widely reported is that Democrat City Councilor Klarissa Peña is still not done with attempting to change the basic city election process. Peña has introduced two additional charter amendments that have the goal of bringing all 9  city councilor elections into the same election cycle as the election for Mayor. The goal is to eliminate staggered terms of city councilors.

As it stands now under the city charter, 5 out of 9 City Councilors who represent the odd numbered City Council Districts 1,3,5,7and 9 are up for reelection in the same year as the Mayor. An individual who represents an odd number city council district can only run for City Council or Mayor, but not both. In other words, a City Councilor who represents an odd numbered City Council District must give up their seat if they run for Mayor.

Under one charter amendment the odd-district councilors representing Districts 1,3,5,7and 9 in 2025 would be elected to a two-year terms, then a four-year term in 2027. Under the other proposed charter amendment the even-district number councilors representing Council Districts 2,4,6 and 8 would in 2027 be elected to a two-year term requiring all 9 City Councilors to give up their seats to run for Mayor. Ultimately, only one of the two city charter amendment would be enacted by the city council. The next election for Mayor is in 2025.

It is common knowledge that Mayor Tim Keller is already preparing to run for a third term in 2025.  There are no term limits for Mayor or City Council. Councilors serve four-year terms on a staggered basis and there are no term limits for city council. District 1 City Councilor Louie Sanchez, District 3 City Councilor Klarissa Peña, District 5 City Councilor Dan Lewis, District 7 City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, and District 9 City Councilor Renée Grout are up for reelection in 2025 and then again in 2029. To run for mayor next year in 2025 against Mayor Tim Keller, all 5 would have to surrender their city council seats. In 2013, then two term City Councilor Dan Lewis gave up his seat to run for Mayor. In 2017, then New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller won the  runoff  election by a decisive landslide with 62.20% by securing 60,219 votes to Dan Lewis 37.8% who secured 36,594 votes.

District 2 City Councilor Joaquín Baca, District 4 City Councilor Brook Bassan, District 6 City Councilor Nichole Rogers and District 8 City Councilor Dan Champine are up for reelection in 2027 and then again in  2031.  All 4 could remain on the City Council to run for Mayor in 2025, and if elected Mayor would have to resign their position as a City Councilor but could then  appoint their successor.

Peña said she is very concerned about low voter turn outs in municipal elections. She said it could be beneficial for voter turnout to put all councilors on the ticket with the mayor. Peña said this:

“On the off years, we tend to garner more votes when we run with the mayor. … I think this would really drive out voter participation. … I’m just trying to achieve some fairness with this. … If you’re an odd-numbered councilor … then you really have to decide if this is the end of the road for you. [The 4 even numbered district city councilors] don’t have to make those decisions.”

Both Charter Amendments were introduced by Peña on June 17.  The charter amendments will have to go through the City Council’s committee hearing process and will likely have several rounds of public hearing before the 9 member City Council will take a final vote. Both Charter Amendments were fast-tracked in an effort to get them onto the ballot in November.  The City Council is on summer break and  the next City Council meeting will be on the August 5

The link to relied upon and quoted news source is here:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/half-city-council-seat-run-030100655.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

City Councilor Klarissa Peña’s support and sponsorship of eliminating all runoff elections for Mayor and City Council and now proposing abolishing staggered terms for city council and elections where all 9 city councilors would be up for election at the same time as the Mayor is a recipe for election chaos, total disruption of the election process and will be disastrous on many levels.  It also calls into question what is really motivating her and what are her own political plans.

Simply put, the Charter Amendment to reduce the vote to win a City Council or Mayoral race with whoever gets the most votes with no runoffs is very bad government on many levels and will result in chaos in municipal elections. Common Cause said it best when it was quick to address the city council vote on social media this way:

“[The Albuquerque City Council]  took us backward by amending an already bad proposal. Rather than lowering the threshold to be elected mayor or city councilor from 50% to 40%, they’ve eliminated any threshold altogether. Candidates under this scheme could be elected with 10% for example. The 6-3 passage of this proposal means, voters will be confronted with a question on this November’s ballot to eliminate run-offs and move to a free-for-all voting process where fringe candidates and special interests will dominate our elections.”

The primary purpose for having staggered terms for city councilors is ensure a degree of stability and allow for institutional knowledge on the city council when it comes to the legislative process. If all 9 city councilors are up for election in one election cycle, there could be a real possibly of a 100% turnover the same year on the city  council. This will result in the election of officials who have very little or no knowledge whatsoever of the legislative process, unless they have served on the council before,  that is so vitally needed for city policy and to get things done.

Councilor Klarissa Peña ostensibly believes that all city councilors should have the right to run for Mayor without giving up their seats on the city council, including herself. This is misplaced concern given that when you run for city council, it should be to do your best to represent your constituents with no concern to run for Mayor in the future. Those running for odd number city council districts know full well the limitations of running for Mayor and if not they should just ask Dan Lewis.

City Councilor Klarissa Peña said she is not aware of any odd-district councilors interested in running for mayor in 2025.  The truth is it is still way too early and it is doubtful any City Councilor who wants to run next year for Mayor would disclose it to her now or  to the public.

City Councilor Peña is up for reelection next year in 2025. What she has not disclosed is if she is running for another term or does she intend to run for Mayor against Mayor Tim Keller. In which case she will politically benefit from enactment of all the Charter Amendments she is sponsoring. In the interest of full disclosure and transparency Councilor Klarissa Peña should be far more candid about her own politcal ambitions and intentions before she starts asking voters to change our election process in such dramatic ways.

City Council Adopts And Rejects Amendments To City’s Zoning Code; Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn Persists In Promoting Duplex Remodel Development In Established Neighborhoods Despite Constituent Opposition; Hoping Fiebelkorn One Term City Councilor

On June 18, the Albuquerque City Council adopted as well as rejected  amendments to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) which is the city’s extensive and very complicated zoning code. This is a short summary of what amendments passed and what failed.

MAKING ADOPTION OF IDO AMENDMENTS BIANNUAL

One of the biggest complaints of the general public has been that the city council makes repeated changes and amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance that are often controversial and very difficult to be kept up with by the public.  Since the adoption of the Integrated Development Ordinance by the City Council in 2017, the City Council has amended it upwards of 600 times contributing to confusion and instability in enforcement.  It’s not at all uncommon for city councilors and for that matter Mayor Tim Keller to propose amendments to the IDO promoting their own personal agenda and contrary to the wishes and desires of the general public and voters. This was the case last year when  Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council  promoted Keller’s “Housing Forward Plan” to increase affordable housing with numerous amendments to the IDO which included “casita” and “duplex developments” as permissive uses rather than as  conditional uses in established neighborhoods to increase density and affordable housing. The amendment to make the annual revisions and update of the Integrated Development Ordinance biennial instead of yearly was sought to slow down the extent of the IDO amendments by the City Council.  Regular review and revisions of the IDO will now occur every other year.

EDITORS NOTE: The postscript to this article revisits the enactment of the Integrated Development Ordinance and Mayor Tim Keller’s “Housing Forward Plan”.

TRIBAL CONSULTATION AMENDMENT PASSES

The Tribal Consultation Amendment passed unanimously. This amendment requires the city to consult Native American tribes on new developments near tribal lands. Several city councilors expressed interest in requiring tribal consultation for new developments after President Joe Biden began mandating that federal agencies reestablish tribal consultations.

Over the past year, the city Planning Department, Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison Terry Sloan  and  City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn have been seeking tribal and community input on an amendment to require tribal consultation for new developments near tribal land.  It’s interesting to note that City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who represents District 7 which includes mid town and uptown, has no tribal lands in her district. Pre-submittal tribal meetings will be required for developments adjacent to tribal lands or on land owned by tribes, such as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Sloan said he hasn’t heard of other municipalities adopting similar zoning requirements, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if other cities followed suit.

According to, it took a full year to get the amendment on the books. Sloan said this:

“It really did come to an incredible crescendo [at the the June 18 city council meeting]. I couldn’t believe it was all unanimous.  I almost jumped out of my seat! … It evolved very nicely. … I think it’s a beautiful piece of work, to tell you the truth. … What it does is it truly recognizes tribal sovereignty and self-determination and recognizing them as partners, as colleagues, collaborators in developments. …It gives the tribes a voice in this process, which they should have had for a long time.”

BATTERY STORAGE SYSTEMS AMENDMENT PASSES

The Battery Storage Systems Amendment passed unanimously. The amendment was advocated as a key to transitioning to renewable energy and ensuring power grid resilience. An amendment adopted should ensure that if such a system is built in neighborhoods, it complies with certain standards and visually fits into the neighborhood.

Several public commenters expressed concern about the fire danger associated with battery storage systems. Representatives of the Albuquerque Fire Rescue Department (AFRD) sought to quell those fears. According to an AFRD representative, the Electric Power Research Institute reported that in a sample of 500 utility scale battery storage systems, which is larger than what is provided in the amendment, there were 14 fire incidents, and none resulted in injury or loss of life. AFR said it would oversee plan review and train responders on the storage systems.

Councilor Renée Grout asked if, regardless of whether the amendment went through, a battery storage system could still be installed and the answer was “it potentially could”.  Concerned that the installations might be an eyesore, Grout said she was encouraged by the facade requirements. Grout said said this:

“With these protections in there, it may help in the future. … Energy storage is a new technology … we also need to be proactive about the future. It’s good to hear that Phoenix, which is our neighbor, that they’re doing this.”

THE ALLEY LIGHTING AMENDMENT PASSES

The Alley Amendment to the IDO Passed unanimously. The amendment requires new multifamily or mixed-use developments to provide lighting if they abut an alleyway.

AMENDMENT ALLOWING DUPLEXES FAILS

An amendment that would allow duplex construction as a “permissive use” in established neighborhoods failed on a 6 to 3 vote.  The Council reaffirmed the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee’s rejection of allowing duplexes as permissive uses ¼ mile beyond the Uptown “urban center” which is in City Council District 7 represented by Tammy Fiebelkorn. The District 7 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations representing 13 neighborhood associations passed a resolution opposing allowing duplexes as permissive uses ¼ mile beyond the Uptown “urban center”.  Voting no were Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout and Democrats Klarissa Pena and Louie Sanchez.  Democrats Tammy Fiebelkorn, Nichole Rogers, and Joaquín Baca voted for the duplex amendment.

The Albuquerque Comprehensive Plan provides that the  purpose of Urban Centers (UC) is to incorporate a mix of residential and employment uses at a lower density and intensity than Downtown. While Urban Centers serve a smaller portion of the region, the intent is to   provide a unifying urban identity for the areas that coalesce around them. Growth is encouraged in Urban Centers.  The Centers and Corridors policies contained in the Comprehensive  Plan encourage higher-density and higher-intensity development in appropriate places to create vibrant, walkable districts that offer a wide range of services and recreational opportunities. There are only two urban centers in the City and they are  the Uptown Urban Center (UC) in City Council District 7 represented by Democrat City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn and on the Westside at Paseo del Norte and Unser which is a developing Urban Center in City Council District 5 represented by Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis.

The amendment to the IDO failed despite several compromises intended to make the proposal more palatable. That included limiting the areas where duplexes would be allowed to certain areas and only permissively zoning the use for existing homes.  Five of the nine council districts have areas that would have fallen into that category. Four of nine districts would have no areas impacted by the change.

During public comment, people turned out in favor of and against duplexes.  Proponents said duplexes in established neighborhoods would open up affordable housing opportunities. Opponents said the proposal would increase traffic and eat up starter homes around the city.

City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn said this:

“I find it very fascinating that the reason for opposing it changes every single time we put out a new iteration, but the reasons for supporting it haven’t changed since last year.”

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn’s comments and her vote to allow duplex development in established neighborhoods to increase density should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone given the fact that she was “thick as thieves” with Mayor Tim Keller last year as she promoted and voted for Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ Plan to increase affordable housing by allowing casita and duplex development in established neighborhoods. Fiebelkorn did so despite the strong and vocal opposition to it by many of her own City Council District 7 constituents.

People buy single detached homes wanting to live in low density neighborhoods not high density areas that will reduce their quality of life and reduce the peaceful use and enjoyment of their homes and families.  Allowing duplex remodeling, as the IDO Amendment would have allowed, in all likelihood would result in rentals on single family properties and would seriously damage the character of any neighborhood.

People buy their most important asset, their home, with the expectation they can trust the city not to change substantially the density, quality and appearance of their neighborhood. What happened with the enactment of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ Plan and amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance was a breach of trust between home owners, property owners and the city and its elected officials who put “profits over people” to benefit the development and investment industry.

Fiebelkorn was one of the 3 city councilors who voted for allowing duplexes as permissive uses ¼ mile beyond Uptown “urban center” which is in her City Council District.  She did so despite vocal opposition to the Amendment by the District 7 Coalition Of Neighborhood Associations who voted to oppose the amendment.

Fiebelkorn has the reputation of simply ignoring constituent concerns and complaints and offending constituents and promoting her own personal agenda without any effort at compromise. A prime example of Fiebelkorn’s hypocrisy and  promoting her own personal agenda while ignoring her constituents is where she advocated the Tribal Consultation Amendment requiring that  tribal interests be conferred with before development but then turn around  and voted for allowing duplex development and remodeling in her district, approved by the planning department, over objections of adjacent property owners.  Fiebelkorn is likely to seek a second term in 2025.  With any luck opposition will emerge and Fiebelkorn will be a one term city councilor.  District 7 needs to elect a city councilor who genuinely promotes the best interests of the district, listens to their concerns and need  and not  just promote a personal agenda.

POSTSCRIPT

REVISITING THE IDO AND KELLER’S HOUSING FORWARD PLAN

It was in 2015 that former Mayor Richard Berry during his second term started the rewrite process of the city’s comprehensive zoning code and comprehensive plan to rewrite the city’s entire zoning code. It was initially referred to as the  ABC-Z Comprehensive Plan and later renamed the Integrated Development Ordinance (ID0) once it was passed.  In 2015, there were sixty (60) sector development plans which governed new development in specific neighborhoods. Forty (40) of the development plans had their own “distinct zoning guidelines” that were designed to protect many historical areas of the city. The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of Berry before he left office on December 1, 2017.  IDO was enacted with the support of Democrats and Republicans on the City Council despite opposition from the neighborhood interests and associations.  Under the enacted Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) the number of zones went from 250 to fewer than 20, which by any measure was dramatic. The IDO  granted wide range authority to the Planning Department to review and to  unilaterally approve development applications without public input.

https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/live/news/1581-impacts-of-gentrification-a-policy-primer/for-students/blog/news.php

On October 18, 2023,  Mayor Tim Keller declared that the city was  in need of between 13,000 and 33,000 housing units to address the city’s short supply of housing and that upwards of 40 new people move into the Albuquerque area every day who are in need of housing, Mayor Tim Keller announced his “Housing Forward Abq” plan.  According to Keller, the city needs to work in close conjunction with the city’s residential and commercial real estate developers to solve the city’s housing shortage crisis.

Keller said the goal of his Housing Forward ABQ plan is for the city to bring 5,000 new housing units to the city by 2025. He is proposing to do so mostly through the redevelopment of hotels, or conversions to permanent housing, and changing city zoning codes to allow for the development of “casitas” and duplexes in established neighborhoods. .

In 2023, Mayor Tim Keller pushed for enactment of two major amendments to the  Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) as part of his Housing Forward ABQ Plan to increase affordable housing by increasing density in established neighborhoods. One amendment allows one 750 foot “casita” or one  “accessory dwelling” unit on all built out lots which could double density to 240,000  housing units.  The second amendment would have allowed “duplex development” on existing residents where 750 square foot additions for separate housing would be allowed on existing residences which with casitas would have tripled density to 360,000.  Mayor Keller called the legislation “transformative” updates to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) to carry out his “Housing Forward ABQ”.  

The amendments contained in the legislation was to allow the construction of 750 square foot casitas and 750 square foot duplex additions on every single existing R-1 residential lot that already has single family house built on it in order to increase density. The amendments as originally proposed would allow one “casita” and one “duplex addition” with a kitchen and separate entrance to an existing structure on all built out lots.  City officials said at the time  that 68% of the city’s existing housing is single-family detached homes with 120,000 existing residential lots with already built residences.

The zoning code amendments would have made both casitas and duplex additions “permissive uses”.  Historically, they have always been “conditional uses”.  A “conditional use” requires an application process with the city Planning Department, notice to surrounding property owners and affected neighborhood associations and provides for appeal rights.  A “permissive use” would give the Planning Department exclusive authority to issue permits for construction without notices and hearings and with no appeal process to surrounding property owners. Objecting property owners and neighborhood associations to the permissive casita and duplex uses would be relegated to filing lawsuits to enforce covenants and restrictions.

The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 to approve the zoning code changes with amendments made to the  Integrated Development Ordinance The version of the bill that ultimately passed on a 5-4 vote was amended extensively. The city council voted to allow casita construction as a “permissive use” in all single-family R–1 zone and reduce parking requirements for some multifamily properties and changing building height limitations. This was a major change supported by the development community. The city council voted ultimately to strike the amendment and to not allow duplexes to be permissively zoned in R–1 zone areas, which make up about two-thirds of the city.

On July 6, 2023, Mayor Tim Keller signed into law the zoning amendments that embody his “Housing Forward ABQ Plan”.  It allows  casita construction on 68% of all built out residential lots in the city.  Casita construction is now a “permissive use” on all single-family R–1 zones giving the Planning Department exclusive authority to approve casitas over objections of adjoining property owners.

The Keller Administration was able to narrowly secure some victories on the “Housing Forward ABQ Plan.”   Measures that PASSED included allowing two “Safe Outdoor Spaces” in all 9 City Council Districts, casita construction in established residential areas of the city to increase density and reducing restrictions on motel conversion projects to allow for easier development.  Measures that FAILED included allowing duplex development on existing housing to increase density, reducing parking requirements for multifamily developments and increasing building heights for some apartment buildings.

Links to related blog articles are here:

An In-Depth Analysis of Mayor Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan”; Plan Met With Hostility And Mistrust by Public; Viewed As Destroying Neighborhoods To Benefit Developers

 

Opinion Columns On Keller’s ABQ Housing Forward Plan; Allowing Casitas’s And Duplex Development On 68% Of City Residential Lots Caters To Developers And Will Destroy Neighborhoods

 

Mayor Tim Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” And Efforts To Increase Affordable Housing Failing; Will Not Likely Produce 5,000 Units Of Affordable Housing By 2025 As Keller Caters To Developers

 

Mayor Keller To Veto Charter Amendment On Eliminating All Runoffs; Will Let Stand Two Other Charter Amendments; Voters Need To Talk Some Sense Into City Councilors Who Want To Eliminate Run Off Elections For Sake Of Carrying Out Personal Vendetta Against Keller

On June 17, the Albuquerque City Council passed 3 City Charter amendments to be placed on the November 5 general election ballot for voter approval. Those Charter Amendments are:

  1. Eliminating all runoff elections and mandating whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between two top vote getters.
  2. Establishing a process for removing APD and fire chiefs.
  3. A charter amendment to create a process to fill vacancies on a city committee intended to resolve separation of powers issues between the mayor and city council. The committee includes appointees of both the mayor and city council.

ELIMINATING ALL RUNOFF ELECTIONS

By far the most contentious city charter Amendment that passed on June 17 was the one that would eliminate all runoff elections for Mayor and City Council and mandating whoever gets the most votes wins with no runoff between two top vote getters.  Whoever secures the most votes of all the candidates running wins the election out right. However, if there is a tie between the two top vote getters, then and only then would there be a runoff.  The charter amendment was sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis and co-sponsored by Democrat Councilor Klarissa Pena.  The Charter amendment eliminating all runoffs passed on a 6-3 vote.  Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout and Dan Champine along with Democrat City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Klarissa Pena voted “YES”. Democrat City Councilors Tammy Fiebelkorn, Nichole Rogers and Joaquín Baca voted “NO”.

Dozens of public commenters spoke in opposition to the measure during the City Council meeting. One commenter said that despite the high cost of runoff elections, it was “money well spent.”  Another said “Breaking with established norms, you are proposing to do away with majority rule, a cornerstone of a representative democracy. You are suggesting that a candidate that receives a majority of votes against them is fit to serve and carries a mandate to govern.”

Proponents of the measure said it could decrease the number of runoff elections, which have low voter turnout and high costs.

Several public commentors called the proposal undemocratic which prompted nasty and hostile reactions from City Council President Dan Lewis and Councilor Klarissa Peña, the  bill sponsors.  Lewis said this:

“There’s nothing more democratic than Council to be voting on this tonight. … And nothing more democratic than the general public voting on this in November.”

Councilor Klarissa Peña, the second sponsor of the amendment, pulled the race card saying primary runoff elections are used in only a few states and were rooted in racist policies intended to keep white politicians in power. Peña said this:

“This is history, folks.”

Councilor Peña said she sees problems with low voter turnout, especially in historically disenfranchised communities. Peña said this:

“We’re in really difficult political times, and people feel like their voices aren’t being heard. … When we have such small voter turnouts, and even smaller the second time around, then something’s wrong.”

First term City Councilor Nichole Rogers, the only African American on the city council, and who was elected in November, 2023 in a runoff election after none of the 4 candidates running secured 50% of the vote, rejected Pena’s  argument and said this:

“Do not use my people’s plight to justify … making things easier for you to win.”

SWIFT REACTION

Common Cause is a national, non-partisan, watch dog organization that fights for accountability in government, equal rights and opportunities and representation, including voting, and empowering voices to be heard.  Common Cause was quick to address the city council vote on social media this way:

“[The Albuquerque City Council]  took us backward by amending an already bad proposal. Rather than lowering the threshold to be elected mayor or city councilor from 50% to 40%, they’ve eliminated any threshold altogether. Candidates under this scheme could be elected with 10% for example. The 6-3 passage of this proposal means, voters will be confronted with a question on this November’s ballot to eliminate run-offs and move to a free-for-all voting process where fringe candidates and special interests will dominate our elections.”

MAYOR TIM KELLER WILL VETO CHARTER AMENDMENT ELIMINATING ALL RUNOFF ELECTIONS

Mayor Tim Keller announced  he will  veto the charter amendment  eliminating all runoff elections and said this:

“Now basically you can be mayor with like 10% of the vote. And, I mean, sometimes there are a lot of people who run and lots of candidates. So it’s just very difficult to govern when people expect our leaders to get a lion’s share of the vote.”

Keller gave three reasons for his veto:

First,  voters in 2013 voted to approve a charter amendment  to increase the vote threshold from 40% to 50%. Keller said “The voters have already voted on this. … There’s no reason to make them do that again.”

Second, the change could make it difficult for incumbents to lose in a city with no term limits. Keller said in races with several candidates, plurality would make it easy for candidates with more name recognition to win. Keller said this:

“This version helps incumbents in a way that, even though it would benefit me, it’s just wrong for Albuquerque, and I think wrong for elections. … It’s just too much bias towards incumbency.”

Third the ballot measure could become a “political sideshow.”  Ostensibly this comment references the days when there were multiple candidates running for Mayor and many were considered fringe candidates that diluted the vote with some candidates giving a circus atmosphere to the election.

Regardless of a veto, City Councilor Klarissa Peña said something needs to be done, even if it’s not the charter amendment.  Peña said this:

“I’m not sure plurality is digestible for people. … I just hope people recognize we need to do something about waking the sleeping giant.”

KELLER ANNOUNCES NO VETO OF OTHER TWO CHARTER AMENDMENTS

On June 19, it was reported that Mayor Keller does  not plan to veto the other  two charter amendment proposals that passed the City Council.

Keller said he will not veto the charter amendment to create a process to fill vacancies on a city committee intended to resolve separation of powers issues between the mayor and city council. The committee includes appointees of both the mayor and city council.

Keller said he would not veto charter amendment which would change the process for removing the chief of police or the fire chief.  The current charter requires cause to remove the police and fire chief. An amendment passed would require an employment contract agreement for both positions. The proposal would allow the mayor to terminate the chiefs. The City Council would also be able to remove either position with at least seven votes, after notifying the mayor and chief.  Keller said this:

“We worked together, and we came up with a good piece of legislation to send to the voters that really allows what people want, which is in extreme cases, the council could get rid of a chief with a two-thirds vote, and so could the mayor.”

Those charter amendment will  be on the November 5 ballot. The City Council can override mayoral vetoes with a two-thirds vote.

The link to a quoted news source article is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/keller-plans-to-veto-charter-amendment-that-would-reduce-vote-requirements-from-50/article_e0681188-2dc7-11ef-9c04-7f1a67f581b8.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

It is right for Mayor Keller to announce early that he intends to veto the charter amendment eliminating all runoff elections. The problem is that it was enacted by the City Council on a 6 to 3 vote, meaning his veto could be overridden by the council if all 6 of  the City Councilors who voted for it initially refuse to change their minds. Simply put, the Charter Amendment to reduce the vote to win a City Council or Mayoral race with whoever gets the most votes with no runoffs is very bad government on many levels and will promote chaos in municipal elections.

REAL REASONS FOR COUNCIL’S CHARTER AMENDMENTS

The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council have deteriorated because of the sure frustration the conservatives on the council have experienced in not being able to stop the Keller progressive agenda with overriding vetoes. The conservative leaning  city council has shown significant resistance to Mayor Keller’s progressive agenda as going too far.  Repeatedly the conservative city council has attempted to repeal ordinances and resolutions enacted by the previous more progressive city council and to limit the authority of Mayor Tim Keller.  Prime examples include the following:

  1. A resolution to repeal or limit mayoral authority during a public health emergency.
  2. A resolution baring the city from mandating covid-19 vaccines for the municipal government workforce.
  3. Resolution directing the city administration to consider and “push to renegotiate the terms of the federal court approved settlement agreement.”
  4. Repeal of a quarter cent tax increase in gross receipts tax enacted a few years ago.
  5. Repealing or attempting to amend the City’s “Immigrant Friendly” policy calling it a “Sanctuary City” policy and requiring  APD to assist and cooperate with the federal immigration authorities.

The  charter amendments are not the first time that the conservative city council has attempted to reduce the authority of Mayor Tim Keller by City Charter Amendments. The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council deteriorated so significantly that on April 27, 2023 first term City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout announced legislation proposing a City Charter amendment for a public vote that would have made the Mayor of Albuquerque a member of the City Council.  They wanted 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 have been recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes”.   

The city council is now  trying to get city voters to change in a very dramatic way how we elect city officials in order to carry out a personal vendetta against a Mayor they do not like and who they perceive as ineffective and unpopular.

It’s downright offensive to city voters that City Council President Dan Lewis and Klarissa Pena pulled  the “race card” alleging runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South. Both conveniently ignored  the fact that it was voters who changed the charter provisions by requiring run offs where no one candidate secures 50% of the vote  and it was done so on recommendation of a Charter Review Task Force.

Initially when the Mayor-City Council form of government was created, it was common to have upwards of 15 candidates running for Mayor and who ever got the most votes won. A good example of this type of election occurred in 1997 when Progressive Democrat Jim Baca was elected with 29% of the vote in an 8 candidate race. Baca was hampered during his 4 years as Mayor by critics claiming he did not have a mandate to govern. Baca sought a second term and lost. In 2017, when there were also 8 candidates running for Mayor, and when runoffs were mandated between the two top vote getters, Tim Keller won the 2017 runoff by a decisive landslide with 62.20% by securing 60,219 votes to Dan Lewis 37.8% who secured 36,594 votes.

Mayor Tim Keller, and for that matter the general voting public, should make every effort to try and  talk some sense into the 6 city councilors who voted for this ill-advised amendment to eliminate run offs and encourage them to let the Keller veto stand. Otherwise, every effort should be made by Keller and the general public to campaign and make sure the measure is defeated at the polls come November 5.

 

3 Out of 4 City Charter Amendments Pass City Council With Veto Proof Margins; Will Be On November Election Ballot Unless Mayor Keller Veto’s And No Override

On June 17, the Albuquerque City Council passed 3 out of 4 City Charter amendments with veto proof  margins. The Charter Amendments  will be on the November  5 general election ballot and must be approved by voters to become law unless Mayor Keller vetoes the measures and the council fails to overide.

PASSED 6-3: ELIMINATING ALL RUNOFF ELECTIONS AND MANDATING WHOEVER GETS THE MOST VOTES WINS WITH NO RUNOFF BETWEEN TWO TOP VOTE GETTERS

This was the most contentious of the 4 amendments. This  charter amendment was sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis and co-sponsored by Democrat Councilor Klarissa Pena. It would eliminate all run off elections between the two top vote getters.  Who ever secures the most votes of all the candidates running wins the election out right. If there is a tie between the two top vote getters, then and only then would there be a runoff.  Initially when the Mayor-City Council form of government was created, it was common to have upwards of 15 candidates running for Mayor and who ever got the most votes won.

A best example of this type of election occurred in 1997 when Progressive Democrat Jim Baca was elected with 29% of the vote in an 8 candidate race. Baca was hampered during his 4 years as Mayor by critics claiming he did not have a mandate to govern. In 2017, when there were also 8 candidates running for Mayor, and when  runoffs were mandated between the two top vote getters, Tim Keller won the 2017 runoff by a decisive landslide with 62.20% by securing 60,219 votes to Dan Lewis 37.8% who secured 36,594 votes.

Eliminating runoffs favors incumbents and those who have major name identification. The City Council voted 6-3 in favor of putting the charter amendment before voters. City Republican City Councilors Dan Lewis, Brook Bassan, Renee Grout and Dan Champine and Democrat City Councilors Louie Sanchez and Klariss Pena voted “YES”. Democrat City Councilors Tammy Fiebelkorn, Nichole Rogers and Joaquín Baca voted “NO”.

A few dozens members of public commented on the amendment. One commenter said, despite the high cost of runoff elections, it was “money well spent.”  Many of Tuesday’s public commenters spoke against the  changes and  lowering the percentage of votes a candidate needs to win a city election. “Breaking with established norms, you are proposing to do away with majority rule, a cornerstone of a representative democracy. You are suggesting that a candidate that receives a majority of votes against them is fit to serve and carries a mandate to govern”  said one public commenter.

Several public commentors  called the proposal undemocratic which prompted City Council President Dan Lewis, a  bill sponsor to challenge the comment. Lewis said this:

“There’s nothing more democratic than Council to be voting on this tonight. … And nothing more democratic than the general public voting on this in November.”

Councilor Klarissa Peña, the second sponsor of the amendment, said primary runoff elections are used in only a few states and were rooted in racist policies intended to keep white politicians in power. Peña said this:

“This is history, folks.”

First term City Councilor Nichole Rogers, the only African American on the city council, and who was elected in November, 2023 in a runoff election after none of the 4 candidates running secured 50% of the vote, rejected Pena’s  argument and said this:.

“Do not use my people’s plight to justify … making things easier for you to win.”

FAILED 4-5: CHANGING HIRING AND FIRING FOR CITY CLERK, CITY ATTORNEY

The second charter amendment would have changed the process for hiring and firing of the city clerk and city attorney. Originally, the amendment provided for the creation of  a nominating committee for city clerk and city attorney with representatives from City Council and the Mayor’s Office, but that was voted down by the council.

It was City Councilor Dan Champine who sponsored the amendment to change the removal process for city clerk and city attorney, and who proposed a hiring committee. Champine said the mayor should have the power to appoint people  but that City Council should have a say in removing people.  Champine said this:

“Our mayor is elected to run the city. He builds his cabinet to help him run the city as he sees fit. But the duty of the council is that when he appoints somebody … it is our responsibility to do our due diligence to vet that person properly. … It’s about the position, not the person.”

The removal process was changed so either the city clerk or city attorney could be removed by the vote of seven councilors, or the mayor with the consent of five councilors. City Councilor Brook Bassan said this:

“It’s going to take a small miracle to get seven of us to vote to remove one of these two positions. … If that were the case, those two people … they need to go.”

Ultimately, the charter amendment failed to pass on a  4 YES to 5 No vote.

PASSED 6-3: PROCESS FOR REMOVING APD AND FIRE CHIEFS

On a 6 YES to 3 NO vote, the City Council approved a charter amendment which would change the process for removing the chief of police or the fire chief.  The current charter requires cause to remove the police and fire chief. An amendment passed would require an employment contract agreement for both positions.

PASSED 7-2: SEPARATION OF POWERS

Councilors voted 7 YES to 2  NO in favor of a proposed charter amendment to create a process to fill vacancies on a city committee intended to resolve separation of powers issues between the mayor and city council. The committee includes appointees of both the mayor and city council.

The link to a quoted and relied upon news sources are here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/voters-will-have-chance-to-decide-on-several-charter-amendments-after-city-council-vote/article_e5cf80a8-2d21-11ef-b343-7b977b5b2b9c.html#tncms-source=home-featured-7-block

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico/albuquerque-city-council-votes-on-amendments-to-city-charter/

https://www.krqe.com/news/politics-government/albuquerque-city-council-passes-proposal-for-city-charter-changes/

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

Simply put, the Charter Amendment to reduce the vote to win a City Council or Mayoral race with whoever gets the most votes with no runoffs is very bad government on many levels and will promote chaos in municipal elections. The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council have deteriorated because of the sure frustration the conservatives on the council have experienced in not being able to stop the Keller progressive agenda with overriding vetoes.  As a result, the city council is once again trying to get city voters to change our basic form of city government with charter amendments in order to carry out a personal vendetta against a Mayor they do not like and who they perceive as ineffective and unpopular.

Its downright offensive to city voters that City Council President Dan Lewis  and Klarissa Pena pulled  the “race card” alleging runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South. Both conveniently ignored  the fact that it was voters who changed the charter provisions by requiring run offs where no one candidate secures 50% of the vote  and it was done so on recommendation of a Charter Review Task Force.

Common Cause was quick to address the city council vote on social media this way:

“[The Albuquerque City Council]  took us backward by amending an already bad proposal. Rather than lowering the threshold to be elected mayor or city councilor from 50% to 40%, they’ve eliminated any threshold altogether. Candidates under this scheme could be elected with 10% for example. The 6-3 passage of this proposal means, voters will be confronted with a question on this November’s ballot to eliminate run-offs and move to a free-for-all voting process where fringe candidates and special interests will dominate our elections.”

Mayor Tim  Keller should veto the proposed Charter Amend measure on election votes and try to talk some sense into the Democrats City Councilors Klarissa Pena and Louie Sanchez in the hopes of changing their minds, but that will likely be an exercise in futility given the poor relations he has with the two and for that matter the city council in general.

Links to two related blog articles are here:

ABQ Journal Guest Opinion Columns on City Council Charter Amendments; City Council Should Vote “NO” On All 4 Amendments

Conservative City Council Continues With Personal Vendetta Against Mayor Tim Keller And His Progressive Agenda; Council Proposes Sweeping City Charter Amendments To Impact Mayor Keller Re-Election Chances And To Give City Council More Power Over Appointments If He Is Re Elected, Which Is A Big If

Two ABQ Journal Guest Opinion Columns On APD: “Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”; “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”; Opinion Columns Highlight APD’s Reform Progress Despite Record Civilian Killings

On Sunday, June 16, the Albuquerque Journal published two separate guest opinion columns on APD’s Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) and the implementation of the mandated reforms. The first opinion column was written by Pete Dinelli entitled “Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”. The second opinion column was  written by APD Deputy Chiefs Cecily Barker, Josh Brown, J.J. Greigo, Michael Smathers and George Vega and is entitled “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”.

The two opinion columns were submitted  separately  from each other and totally unbeknownst to each other. The headlines and accompanying photos were written and provided by the Albuquerque Journal.  Read together, the columns complement each other and highlight the direction of APD is moving with the reform process.

Many thanks to the Albuquerque Journal for publishing the articles together. Following are the unedited opinion columns with links:

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: Despite The Progress, APD’s Civilian Killings Are Still Troubling”

By PETE DINELLI

ALBUQUERQUE RESIDENT

 “For the past nine years, the Albuquerque Police Department has been operating under a Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandating 271 reforms after a Department of Justice investigation found that APD had engaged in a pattern of “excessive use of force” and “deadly force” and finding a “culture of aggression.”

Over nine years, the city has spent millions on reform efforts, has created and staffed new divisions to hold APD officers accountable, rewrote use of force policies and procedures and trained APD officers in constitutional policing practices. The reform has been accomplished under the watchful eye of the federal court and an appointed Federal Independent Monitor.

On June 4, a federal court hearing was held on the 19th Federal Independent Monitor’s Report and APD’s progress in implementing the mandated reforms of the CASA. The federal monitor reported that APD has reached 100% primary compliance, 100% secondary compliance and 96% operational compliance of the 271 reforms mandated by the settlement.

Under the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, once APD sustains a 95% compliance rate in all three identified compliance levels and maintains it for two consecutive years, the case can be dismissed. The significance of APD being in compliance is that APD has now entered into a new “sustainment” phase to last until the end of 2025. If there’s no backsliding, which has occurred in the past, the DOJ consent decree can be dismissed.

Despite the improvement and gains made by APD in the implementation of the reforms, APD police officer shootings and the killing of civilians is occurring at a “deeply troubling” rate. In terms of overall shootings, both fatal and non-fatal, law enforcement officers in Albuquerque and surrounding Bernalillo County shot 131 people between 2013 and 2022.

On April 10, the national nonprofit Mapping Police Violence reported that last year, APD killed 10.6 people per million residents, which is more than any police department of comparable size in the nation. APD was ranked No. 1 in police officers killing civilians in a listing of 50 largest cities in the United States.

Federal Judge James Browning asked how APD can be in compliance with the settlement given that the level of police shootings is “at the same level as it was when you started this process. We are still having, I would say, troubling police shootings.”

DOJ attorneys responded saying police are being held accountable and with training and de-escalation skills, police officers are using constitutional policing practices handling lethal encounters.

A cynic would say if you are killed by APD while you commit a crime, at least APD followed constitutional policing practices.

The CASA was not designed to guarantee or completely stop nor prevent police officer shootings. It was designed to implement constitutional policing practices, especially when dealing with the mentally ill. There never was a guarantee that police officer shootings would go down or simply never occur even with reforms.

What the CASA reforms ensure is that police officers are being held accountable when they violate constitutional policing practices and people’s civil rights. All that really can be done is to train and implement constitutional policing practices in the hopes that it will bring down police officer shootings of civilians.

It can be said that the spirit and intent of the CASA have now been fully achieved. Given the extent of the compliance levels, the work of the federal monitor is done. The purpose and intent of the settlement has been achieved and it should now be dismissed. The city should seek to negotiate a stipulated dismissal of the case with the Department of Justice sooner rather than later.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE: Pete Dinelli is a former Albuquerque city councilor, former chief public safety officer and former chief deputy district attorney. You can read his daily news and commentary blog at www.PeteDinelli.com.

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: “APD Ready To Move Forward Using DOJ Reform Standards”

BY APD DEPUTY CHIEFS CECILY BARKER, JOSH BROWN, J.J. GREIGO, MICHAEL SMATHERS AND GEORGE VEGA

“By reaching compliance with all of the requirements of its settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Albuquerque Police Department has proven the department can fight crime and be held to higher standards of accountability at the same time.

Harold Medina was appointed chief at APD when trust in police was at a low point and communities across the nation did not want to invest in law enforcement. Chief Medina made it clear that he would focus on two priorities at once: Organizing the department around fighting crime and meeting the goals of reform.

As deputy chiefs, we have the responsibility to implement Chief Medina’s vision. A major part of that is to take the accountability lessons we learned through the reform process and apply the same standards to fighting crime. Just as the chief demands results from us on a daily basis, we now have a structure, driven by data, which we use throughout the chain of command.

As homicides increased nationwide after COVID-19, APD changed strategies. We modernized our investigation capabilities and dramatically increased the number of solved cases and murder arrests. Homicides are going down and murder suspects are being held accountable.

Albuquerque had the reputation as the top city in the nation for auto theft. An investment in bait cars, a new helicopter, license-plate readers, and other technology, along with aggressive policing, has moved Albuquerque from No. 1 to No. 7 in the rankings, which translates into a reduction of more than 1,000 stolen vehicles per year.

Arrests also declined during COVID, but increased by 23% between 2022 and 2023. At the same time, the number of use-of-force cases continued to drop, meaning APD officers are using force less often. In its latest report, the Independent Monitoring Team that oversees APD’s reform efforts noted that more serious use-of-force incidents are down 37%.

Still, use of force is inevitable in some cases, especially with the dangerous combination of guns and drugs with property crimes. In April, auto theft detectives encountered one such individual who fired a handgun at officers when they tried to take him into custody. They later discovered two bags with meth, along with the handgun, when they searched the vehicle.

A similar scenario played out on Dec. 30, 2023, when officers responded to a stolen vehicle that alerted a license plate reader. As officers attempted to take the suspect into custody, the suspect shot the officer. Another officer shot the suspect, who died as a result of his wounds. Officer Zachary Garris suffered a serious injury to his hand, but he survived. He continues to recover after several surgeries.

Critics continue to emphasize the number of officer-involved shootings in Albuquerque as they argue whether APD has reformed. But DOJ leaders told the judge overseeing the settlement agreement that they engaged multiple experts with law enforcement experience to review APD shootings from 2022 and 2023. The review did not show a continuation of the pattern and practice of unconstitutional uses of force.

One of the benefits of the reform process is a new emphasis on quality data that tracks virtually every aspect of policing in Albuquerque. That data shows APD officers are meeting policy in 97% of use-of-force cases. When force incidents are out of policy, the department is aware of violations and officers are held accountable.

The DOJ announced in court this month that as long as the department continues to meet reform goals, the settlement agreement could end for APD by November 2025. APD has already proven it can meet the requirements for more than half of the settlement agreement. The remaining requirements are being monitored by city monitors or by the Independent Monitoring Team.

In any case, APD has the tools to tackle crime challenges while maintaining its commitment to constitutional policing. As the DOJ said in court, APD has been thoroughly scrutinized during the past decade. It’s time to move forward using the high standards created through reform.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE:  Cecily Barker is the deputy chief of APD’s Field Services Bureau. Josh Brown is deputy chief of the Special Operations Bureau. J.J. Griego is deputy chief of the Support Services Bureau. Michael Smathers is deputy chief of Accountability. George Vega is deputy chief of the Investigations Bureau.

The link to a related Dinelli blog article is here:

Federal Court Hearing On 19th Federal Monitors Report; APD Police Officer Involved Shootings Still Occurring At “Deeply Troubling” Rate;  APD Ranks #1 In Civilian Killings Despite Being In Full Compliance With CASA  Reforms; Mandated  Reforms Achieved Under Settlement Justifies Federal Case Dismissal

 

ABQ Journal Guest Opinion Columns on City Council Charter Amendments; City Council Should Vote “NO” On All 4 Amendments

Conservative Republican City Council President Dan Lewis is leading the charge with sponsorship of 4 major city charter amendments proposing sweeping changes to Albuquerque’s City Charter and the way city government is run.

The first charter amendment sponsored by Republican Dan Lewis and co-sponsored by Democrat Councilor Klarissa Pena. It would reducing the vote threshold to win a City Council or mayoral race from 50% to 40%.  If no candidate secures 40% of the vote, then there would be a runoff.

The second charter amendment would create a committee, staffed with representatives from both the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, to recommend candidates for city attorney and city clerk. The measure would also require the roles to be filled within 90 days of the start of a mayoral term and ensure that the city attorney and city clerk can be removed for cause, determined by the Office of the Inspector General, by the mayor and a two-thirds vote from City Council.

The third charter amendment would change the requirements to remove a chief of police or fire chief. As the amendment stands now, the Mayor could remove either position for any reason or without cause.  The current charter requires cause to remove the police and fire chief. The City Council could also remove either position with a supermajority vote which would be 7 votes of the 9 member city council after cause is determined by the Office of the Inspector General.

The fourth charter amendment would creating a process to fill vacancies on the committee that is intended to handle separation-of-powers conflicts between the mayor and the City Council.

The link to a relied upon news source is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/news/preview-changes-to-city-charter-zoning-code-on-the-city-council-agenda-for-tonight/article_3906fbbe-2b62-11ef-8e4d-7b97b205e99d.html

The sponsors of the 4 amendments say the changes would streamline and add transparency to city elections and hiring procedures.  All four of the Charter Amendment will have to clear the city council before they  are put  on the November ballot unless the Mayor vetoes the measures and the council does not vote to override the vetoes. If the charter amendments  clear the  city council, they will  go directly to voters for their approval.

All 4 charter amendments are scheduled to be debated and voted upon at the June 17 Albuquerque City Council meeting.  

ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL GUEST OPINION COLUMNS

On June 3, the Albuquerque Journal ran a guest opinion column submitted by Mayor Tim Keller and on June 16, ran guest opinion columns submitted by State Senator Bill Tallman, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis and City Councilor Juaquin Baca Juaquin on the 4 proposed charter Amendments. All 4 opinion columns are being published on www.PeteDinelli.com as a public service.

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: “City Charter reforms would make Mayor’s Office less effective and less accountable”

BY Mayor Tim Keller

“Over the past six years, I’ve been honored to serve as your mayor. There’s no question that our city faces tough challenges, but I ran for mayor because I fundamentally believe that a mayor has the ability to impact meaningful change.

I also believe the mayor can – and is – held accountable to all residents in Albuquerque.

I write today not for myself or to explain my accomplishments or vision, but on behalf of the very institution that underpins “the mayor,” regardless of who the person is.

City Council has taken up a number of changes to city policy that are fundamentally about taking accountability away from the only citywide elected official – the mayor – and diluting that individual accountability by creating a system of “governance by committee.”

We know instinctively that if everyone is in charge, then no one is in charge. This is the wrong direction for our city.

Over a decade ago, voters gave a clear mandate and raised the minimum vote requirements for elected officials in our city from 40% to 50%. For me, this common-sense change was about strengthening our democracy and ensuring the broadest levels of support in our community for those in positions of power, including a mayor, who has direct accountability to all residents.

Despite this, some councilors have proposed removing the majority vote in our city elections.

Not only is the proposal undemocratic, it’s political, and the biggest beneficiary of the 40% threshold is incumbents.

As the saying goes, “it takes one to know one,” and this change would lower the bar for incumbents, in a city with no term limits, to stay in office.

And while this move would undoubtedly benefit my own electoral chances, I cannot in good conscious support something so self-serving.

It’s no secret that there are perks and privileges that come with holding elected office. Incumbents enjoy lower barriers of entry to receive media coverage, easier access to other community leaders, and a bully pulpit to communicate more broadly with the public.

These advantages are not typically accessible to those vying for office for the first time. By reducing the number of votes needed to win an election, City Council is inherently voting on a policy that would make it easier to stay in office while boxing out newcomers.

In totality, the charter changes are at best the wrong answers to outdated language, or at worst a political power grab that erodes the fundamental concept of a representative democracy.

Today, I am truly your mayor because the majority gave me this chance. I serve the whole city, not just a district or a party. This job gives me the ability to lead our city and manage our local government, and you rightly hold me accountability for that each and every day.

I know some folks may not always approve; I make missteps as well as progress, but it’s the job I ran for and the job you gave me. There is no dispute that I am your mayor.

These changes destroy that very dynamic, pushing the mayor toward ceremony and soundbite. They hollow out the idea of “the buck stops here” and fundamentally erode direct singular accountability in our city.

These are some of the moments where it matters most — politics aside — to double down on the democratic values that make our city great.

Our community expects, and deserves, us to be focused on tackling crime and finding solutions to curb homelessness, not wasting time on distractions that are ultimately political ploys for power.

Please join me in asking City Council to pause on these reforms and establish a Charter Review task force, as we have in decades past, to have an open and deliberate process with our community to make our democracy stronger.”

The link to the guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-city-charter-reforms-would-make-mayors-office-less-effective-and-accountable/article_0aa64c2e-1f79-11ef-97d7-dfb3754a937d.html

 JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: “All four City Charter proposals are a power grab”

BY State Senator Bill Tallman, Albuquerque Democrat

“Several Albuquerque city councilors have introduced four ordinances dealing with elections and the appointment of certain city officials.

The first deals with reducing the percentage of votes needed for mayoral and City Council candidates to win an election from 50% to 40%. The proponents claim their motive is to save the cost of a runoff election. In truth, this is not about saving city funds, but rather it is all about the realization that the only way for a GOP candidate to win a mayoral or council election is to lower the percent of votes needed to win. Requiring less than a majority vote is undemocratic.

Furthermore, just a short 11 years ago, Albuquerqueans voted to change the percentage of votes needed from 40% to 50%.

The second and third proposals would greatly diminish the mayor’s authority to hire and fire the city attorney, city clerk, police chief and fire chief.

The fourth proposal would give the council an unfair advantage in selecting the third member of a three-member committee tasked with resolving separation of power disputes between the executive and legislative branches.

All four proposals can be characterized as a power grab.

These four proposals would greatly undermine the authority of the mayor and could lead to a weakening of the separation of powers between the policymakers/legislative branch — City Council — and the executive branch — mayor/department heads.

Having served as a city or assistant city manager for 35 years, I have a great deal of experience dealing with the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of city government. It is important that the two branches not be in conflict with each other.

No management expert would recommend this intrusion by the legislative branch into the proper functions of the executive branch. City councilors are similar to a corporation’s board of directors. Rarely would a board of directors intrude into the hiring and firing of the company’s department heads. It simply would not be on anyone’s list of best management practices.

If more of this type of intrusion continues to undermine the separation of powers, it could eventually lead down a slippery slope to chaos whereby everyone is in charge, so no one is in charge.

Why is separation of powers so important?

  1. Policymaking and implementation: Councils create policies, while mayors and city managers implement them. This division of duties ensures a balance between policy development and execution, preventing concentration of power in one branch.
  2. Checks and balances: Similar to the federal government, local governments rely on separation of powers. Councils serve as a check on the mayor’s executive authority, ensuring decisions are well-considered and transparent.
  3. Efficiency and effectiveness: By separating policymaking from operational duties, local governments enhance efficiency and service delivery. Elected officials focus on policy, while mayors and managers handle administrative tasks.
  4. Avoiding dominance: Without checks on power, either the council or the mayor could dominate the government. A city functions best when the mayor and city councilors stay within their respective roles. Separation of powers prevents undue influence and promotes collaboration.

In summary, this separation ensures a healthy balance, accountability, and effective governance within local communities. The last thing ABQ needs is a dysfunctional government.

Among the major cities in the Southwest, ABQ has had the smallest population growth since the 2008 recession and has the least robust economy. These proposed ordinances would do absolutely nothing to reverse our low ranking. Do we want to exasperate an already distressing situation?”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE: Bill Tallman represents District 18 in the New Mexico Senate.

The link to the guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-charter-proposals-could-lead-to-a-weakening-of-the-separation-of-powers/article_77886cf8-2a98-11ef-bf83-8f9b70f1ac40.html

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: “Proposed charter amendments need further examination”

BY Juaquin Baca, Albuquerque City Councilor

“The recent changes proposed to the City Charter by several city councilors require more public input and education than allowed by the current council president.

These changes would reduce the votes needed to win council and mayoral elections without a runoff from the present 50% to 40% and increase the power of the City Council to hire and fire key members of any administration. At the last council meeting, the public comment was late-night, and held long after many members of the public had left.

When major changes to the City Charter involving elections and the balance of power between the various branches have been contemplated in the past, they have been thoroughly vetted in advance by a Charter Review Task Force.

In 2009, for example, a 15-member blue ribbon charter task force held 18 meetings — several of them televised, allowing ample time for public suggestions and testimony. The result was spirited discussion and civic engagement on the Election Code, councilor and mayoral salaries, confirmation of mayoral appointments by the council and methods for amending the charter, which was largely written in 1971. Proposed changes were referred to the council and many were adopted either there or at the ballot box.

To be clear, I do not support these changes to the charter. I don’t understand why we’re revisiting an issue that voters decidedly approved 10 years ago when this council has pressing issues like homelessness, public safety and housing to wrestle with.

All that said, a regular review of what amounts to our city’s constitution is a good idea. That’s why I’ve introduced a resolution, R-24-58, to create such a task force. The measure will be heard at Monday’s City Council meeting, and I invite the public to weigh in.

Like the 2009 task force, this proposed group would include 15 members, one member selected by each councilor, one at-large member selected by the council to chair the task force, and five members selected by the mayor. It would be staffed by both the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.

The current proposals to reduce the number of votes needed to be elected mayor or councilor without a runoff and those that would shift the balance of power between the council and the mayor would be topics, but the task force could consider other updates as well.

Yes, establishing a blue-ribbon Charter Review Task Force will slow down the amendment process. But what exactly is the rush? Is it to make sure that the reduced threshold for winning a council or mayoral election from 50% to 40% will be in place before the next city election?

If the council-initiated measure passes, it will affect current councilors and mayors, reducing the number of votes required to win. Do we really believe that is OK? It may be legal, but it certainly seems like a bad idea.

The 2009 Task Force was chaired by a district judge, and its recommendations, by in large, were adopted. Although its members did not always agree, it was a way to educate the public and forge a consensus, from which recommendations emerged.

That’s a far better way of amending our charter than through a rushed process, which excluded committee hearings, lasted just one month, and allowed for only the bare minimum of public input.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE: Joaquin Baca represents District 2 on the Albuquerque City Council, which includes the greater Downtown, North Valley, West Side, and Kirtland portions of the city.”

The link to the guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-proposed-charter-amendments-need-more-examination-and-public-input/article_908c6b08-29f5-11ef-b2e1-57817d968366.html

JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE HEADLINE: Runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South”

BY Dan Lewis, President Albuquerque City Council

“In 2011, union bosses in Albuquerque initiated a significant change to the city’s electoral system, transitioning from a plurality “most” vote requirement, which allowed for a diverse slate of candidates, to a majority vote winner system.

This shift has led to more than a decade of runoff elections and what many view as voter suppression.

The sole reason for this push was their strong aversion to then-Mayor R.J. Berry, a fiscal conservative who took office after 30 years of Democratic mayors. The city faced hundreds of millions in budget shortfalls at the beginning of Berry’s term, necessitating spending freezes that enraged the union bosses.

Although labor members eventually received unprecedented raises and Berry was reelected with a significant 68% of the vote, the union bosses vowed never to let another fiscal conservative become mayor.

Fast forward to today, and these same union bosses now decry the proposed change back to a popular vote with a 40% threshold as “undemocratic.” The hypocrisy here is striking, considering that many union leaders are elected by simply securing the most votes of their members.

The push for runoff elections is not only hypocritical but also, some argue, rooted in racism. The effort bears a troubling resemblance to historical racist strategies in the South designed to prevent minorities from winning seats long held by white politicians.

The reasoning was that minorities would be less likely to receive a majority of votes in an initial election that required a threshold percentage, and voter turnout would drop in runoff elections, ensuring the election of white candidates.

Democracy advocates like Rock the Vote have highlighted these concerns. In a 2022 article titled “Runoff Election: An Explainer,” the organization explained how, in the South, “white factions that existed in primary elections could unite in a runoff election to support one candidate and reduce the chances of winning for any candidate favored by Black communities or other communities of color.”

Now, the Albuquerque City Council is considering a slate of reforms to City Hall, including a ballot proposition to revert to a system allowing a more diverse slate of candidates.

A “yes” vote on Proposition 1 is a vote for democracy in Albuquerque.

The union bosses say they trust Albuquerque voters. Putting Proposition 1 on the ballot is an opportunity for their members and all Albuquerque voters to decide how they want their government to run.”

JOURNAL FOOTNOTE: Dan Lewis represents District 5 on the Albuquerque City Council and also serves as president of the council.

The link to the guest column is here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/opinion-runoff-elections-are-rooted-in-racist-strategies-in-the-south/article_159a1768-29f7-11ef-b97d-2732dbdccdf0.html

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

On January 1, 2024  the new city council after the November, 2023 election was sworn into office. The philosophical breakdown of the city council  is as follows:

Democrats

District 1 Conservative Democrat Louie Sanchez
District 2 Progressive Democrat Joaquin Baca
District 3 Moderate Democrat Klarissa Peña
District 6 Progressive Democrat Nichole Rogers
District 7 Progressive Democrat Tammy Fiebelkorn

Republicans

District 5 Conservative Republican Dan Lewis
District 4 Conservative Republican Brook Bassan
District 8 Conservative Republican Dan Champine
District 9 Conservative Republican Renee Grout

Although the City Council is split with 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans, Conservative Democrat Louie Sanchez has often allied himself with conservative Republicans Dan Lewis, Renee Grout, and Brook Bassan and Dan Champine to approve or kill measures on a 5-4 vote but being unable to override Mayor Tim Keller’s veto’s with the required 6 votes.

The first item of business of the new city council once they were sworn in on January 1, 2024 was the election of a new City Council President and Vice President. It came as no surprise that Conservative Democrat City Councilor Louis Sanchez voted for Republican Dan Lewis as the new City Council President and voted Republican Renee Grout for Vice President with the votes being Sanchez, Lewis, Bassan, Champine and Grout.

Notwithstanding the Democrat majority, the new more conservative city council has shown significant resistance to Mayor Keller’s progressive agenda as going too far.  Repeatedly the current more conservative city council have attempted to repeal ordinances and resolutions enacted by the previous more progressive city council and to limit the authority of Mayor Tim Keller.  Prime examples include the following:

  1. A resolution to repeal or limit mayoral authority during a public health emergency.
  2. A resolution baring the city from mandating covid-19 vaccines for the municipal government workforce.
  3. Resolution directing the city administration to consider and “push to renegotiate the terms of the federal court approved settlement agreement.”
  4. Repeal of a quarter cent tax increase in gross receipts tax enacted a few years ago.
  5. Repealing or attempting to amend the City’s “Immigrant Friendly” policy calling it a “Sanctuary City” policy and requiring  APD to assist and cooperate with the federal immigration authorities.

NOT THE FIRST TIME

This 4 charter amendment are not the first time that the conservative city council has attempted to reduce the authority of Mayor Tim Keller by City Charter Amendments. The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council deteriorated so significantly that on April 27, 2023 first term City Councilors Democrat Louie Sanchez and Republican Renee Grout announced legislation proposing a City Charter amendment for a public vote that would have made the Mayor of Albuquerque a member of the City Council.  They wanted 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 have been recognized as the head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes”.  

The legislation was never 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.

4 CHARTER AMENDMENTS REFLECT PERSONAL VENDETTA AGAINST KELLER

It is common knowledge that Mayor Tim Keller is seeking a third term as Mayor in 2025. Mayor Keller does so despite the fact that an Albuquerque Journal poll found that Keller has a 33% approval rating which in all likelihood is only getting worse.  A 2024 Citizens Satisfaction Survey found that 63% of residence are concerned over the direction the city is going and 61% disagree that City Government is responsive to Community needs with both survey results reflecting poor leadership of city resources by Mayor Keller. The links to review both polls are here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/2545820/mayor-kellers-job-approval-rating-sinks.html

https://www.cabq.gov/progress/documents/albuquerque-yearly-survey-2023.pdf

Its downright offensive to city voters that City Council President Dan Lewis is pulling the “race card” alleging runoff elections are rooted in racist strategies in the South. It also pathetic that he blames city union bosses for the change in the law.  He conveniently ignores the fact that it was voters who changed the charter provisions by requiring run offs where no one candidate secures 50% of the vote. Least anyone has forgotten, Tim Keller won the 2017 runoff for Mayor against Dan Lewis  by a decisive landslide with 62.20% by securing 60,219 votes to Lewis 37.8% who secured 36,594 votes. Dan Lewis is likely carrying a personal grudge against Tim Keller because of his inability to stop the Keller progressive agenda.

The relations between Mayor Tim Keller and the more conservative majority city council have deteriorated because of the sure frustration the conservatives on the council have experienced in not being able to stop the Keller progressive agenda with overriding vetoes.  As a result, the city council is once again trying to get city voters to change our basic form of city government with charter amendments in order to carry out a personal vendetta against a Mayor they do not like and who they perceive as ineffective and unpopular.

All 4 City Council Charter amendments should be rejected outright. Voters and residents are urged to attend the June 17 city council meeting that will be held beginning at 5:00 pm in city council chambers located in the basement of city hall or call and voice their opinion and tell all city councilors to vote NO on all 4 of the proposed charter amendments. Their phone numbers and email address are:

CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100

CITY COUNCIL EMAILS

lesanchez@cabq.gov
louiesanchez@allstate.com
bmaceachen@cabq.gov,
ibenton@cabq.gov,
namolina@cabq.gov,
kpena@cabq.gov,
rmhernandez@cabq.gov,
bbassan@cabq.gov,
danlewis@cabq.gov,
galvarez@cabq.gov,
patdavis@cabq.gov,
seanforan@cabq.gov,
tfiebelkorn@cabq.gov,
lrummler@cabq.gov,
trudyjones@cabq.gov,
azizachavez@cabq.gov,
rgrout@cabq.gov,
rrmiller@cabq.gov,
LEWISABQ@GMAIL.COM,
nancymontano@cabq.gov,
cortega@cabq.gov
cmelendrez@cabq.gov

The link to a related Dinelli blog article is here:

Conservative City Council Continues With Personal Vendetta Against Mayor Tim Keller And His Progressive Agenda; Council Proposes Sweeping City Charter Amendments To Impact Mayor Keller Re-Election Chances And To Give City Council More Power Over Appointments If He Is Re Elected, Which Is A Big If