Saturday, April 15, 2006

Metropolitan Transportation Board

What’s wrong with these pictures?

City Councilors Brad Winter, Martin Heinrich and Ken Sanchez

Mayor Martin Chávez and Councilor Michael Cadigan

City Councilor Debbie O’Malley

This is the January 12, 2006, meeting of the Mid-Region Transit District’s Metropolitan Transportation Board. Representing the City of Albuquerque’s administration was Mayor Martin Chávez who appointed himself to replace outgoing Chief Administrative Officer James Lewis. The City Council has five of its members on the Board of Directors; Councilors Michael Cadigan, Martin Heinrich, Debbie O’Malley, Ken Sanchez and Brad Winter.

This scene seems serene, however all is not well.

Mayor Chávez called this “emergency meeting” to try to break a procedural log jamb in getting the Montaño Bridge striped for four lanes.

District Judge Theresa Baca lifted an injunction preventing the City from re-striping Montaño Road and Mayor Chávez immediately ordered city crews to re-stripe the roadway from 4th Street to the Rio Grande Boulevard overpass. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval was needed to re-stripe the bridge.

The Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency found that Albuquerque was violating procedural requirements and air quality regulations. They threatened withholding of federal transportation funds from Mid-Region Transit District member communities.

Mid-Region Transit District pleaded with the city to reverse the action that threatened to withhold federal money. The Mayor relented and had orange barrels placed to block off the second lane after which he called for the meeting.

The Metropolitan Transportation Board, had ruled the road "regionally significant" and any changes must meet approval of the Federal Highway Administration, the EPA and the Federal Transit Administration.

The MTB had a meeting scheduled January 26, 2006 to take up the issue of regional significance but Chávez insisted on the emergency meeting.

New Mexico Division Administrator for the Highway Administration J. Don Martinez promised to fast-track the review, once the MTB took action removing the regional significance of the bridge, which they did on a 14-3 vote. The three dissenting votes were; Councilors Heinrich and O’Malley, and Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Mayor Larry Abraham.

Martinez approved the original re-striping.

The Mayor was later quoted as saying he was, "moving aggressively" to get the Corps of Engineers approval. He enlisted the assistance of U.S. Senator Pete Dominici, R-N.M., who applied pressure on the Corps. The Corps granted provisional approval requiring placement of sound dampening walls and an air quality monitoring station that are now in the works.

So what is wrong with these pictures?

City ordinance defines, “A majority of the members of the Council shall constitute a quorum thereof.”

Five of the nine Councilors sit on the MTB, making them a quorum “doing public business,” and therefore triggering the requirements of the State Open Meetings Act and also imposing the city’s own strict requirements including notice and publication of an agenda.

Some may wish to pooh-pooh the idea, but the five pictured here are not just representatives of the council; they are acting as the council. What they do within the MTB has a binding policy effect on the city.

The same five Councilors sit on the Mid-Region Council of Governments Board of Directors and the same problem ensues.

Director of City Council Laura Mason was made aware of the quorum issue the next day and was going to look into it.

Mason discussed the issue with City Attorney Bob White who opined that because the MTB met the requirements of the State Open Meetings Act and the public could watch the actions of the councilors, then the City Council did not also have to meet the requirements.

Mason said in the discussion with White, such actions were not those of the city council, unless the full council made them so at one of their meetings, not withstanding the quorum and notice requirements in their own ordinance.

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