Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mayor Calling for Conflict of Interest Reform???

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Albuquerque Journal’s city hall Staff Writer Jim Ludwick wrote that the Mayor wants the ethics reform bills, now before city council, to contain strict conflicts of interest restrictions.

Hooray! I applaud him!! Just a second!!! I don’t see where the mayor is willing to have those conflicts of interest restrictions apply also to him….

Ludwick suggests that there is a battle brewing between Mayor Martin Chávez, left and Councillor Brad Winter, an Albuquerque Public Schools employee, over the mayor’s efforts to take control of the school system.

Chávez defeated Winter in last year’s mayoral race. At the beginning of the mayor’s 2001 term, his now Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Perlman, below, was then treasurer of Chávez’ campaign and he continued to gather money forming ABQPAC, “as a neat and nifty way to,” funnel money to Chávez for personal expenses.

Chávez and the ABQPAC were charged and found to have violated several sections of the city charter’s ethics rules.

Chávez received a public reprimand and returned some $69,000 to the ABQPAC. Clearly the ABQPAC was conducting illegal activities, though the Attorney General refused to look into the matter and the District Attorney failed to take jurisdiction.

Current Councilor Ken Sanchez also received a campaign contribution in his unsuccessful bid in the Democratic primary for New Mexico State Treasurer.

Ludwick quoted Perlman, about adding to the existing ethics proposals saying, “It's a big concern of the mayor. It also is a big concern of some of the councilors."

The city council has a long history of councillors working for other government agencies outside of the city while serving and voting on issues concerning conflicts of employers, family or personal interests without so much as publicly disclosing their connections during the particular debate.

Councillors Ruth Adams, Alan Armijo, Michael Brasher, Steve Gallegos Vince Griego and Angela Robbins.

This is not an exhaustive list, but during two terms, the 11th and 12th councils from 1994-97, Councillors Alan Armijo, Michael Brasher and Angela Robbins were all employees of APS. Armijo lobbied for the schools at the state legislature. Brasher’s wife also worked for the city. Vince Griego worked for Bernalillo County and had several sons on the city’s payroll. Steve Gallegos was sergeant at arms for the State Senate.

I always thought that such cross-governmental relationships were conflicts of interest.

The most brazen conflict of interest on the council I ever saw displayed was by Ruth Adams. There was a discussion about a zoning waiver on a particular downtown city block. A citizen was testifying about a particular apartment building and he indicated a certain number of units in the building. Adams questioned him about how he had determined the number. He responded that he had counted the mailboxes. Adams told him he was wrong, He asked how she knew he was wrong and asked what the right number was because he wanted to be precise in his testimony. Adams said the number of units was two higher than he said and she knew because she owned the building.

The council dais was thrown into nothing less than a dither. The following discussion of the council gave a fascinating insight to how that particular term viewed conflicts of interest. Adams never perceived herself to be subject to any conflict and didn’t recognize it until it bit her and then she was shocked and surprised when her fellow councillors voted her to be in conflict. She left protesting that she still had the right to vote.

Here is Ruth Adams, after leaving the council with Sally Davis of Common Cause monitoring the Chávez-ABQPAC ethics board hearings. Common Cause was one of three complainants who filed charges of ethics violations of Chávez and the ABQPAC. Davis is now a council recommended member of the city’s ethics board.

Let’s not forget those who have potential conflicts of interest who sit on the current council.

The aforementioned APS link with Winter and Sally Mayer’s association with real estate and developers are examples. There are other considerations that many might try to dismiss having to do with councillors’ past associations with the city; Issac Benton’s architecture firm formerly being under contract; Don Harris having been an assistant city attorney and Loy having retired as a captain from the police department.

Councillor Michael Cadigan, left, should be singled out as frequently recusing himself from participation from matters where he, as an attorney or his firm, represents an interest that is or might give the appearance of being in conflict. This should be to his credit by removing himself, but it raises a question. If he has to recuse himself so often for potential conflicts, is he too close to begin with?

Councillor Craig Loy’s amendment reads;
“No member of the City Council shall… During their term of office participate in any debate or vote on any matter which will likely result in any benefit to the member which benefit is greater than the benefit to the public in general. A benefit for purposes of this paragraph shall mean a financial benefit or a benefit conferred by the City Council member’s employer as a direct result of the member’s participation in the matter.”

The mayor is not similarly constrained in such a way by the current proposed bills. He is only required to disclose any possible conflicts of interest by association with a campaign contributor when he recommends that person who has applied for a professional/technical services contract in excess of $55,000, when they are other than the top recommended offeror. The requirement to disclose is only limited to one and a half years after the contribution.

This neither provides full disclosure nor maintains a degree of political balance. By shifting the balance of political power towards the mayor and eliminating councillors participation in a debate or vote where there is a conflict, this does not hold the mayor to the same standard of disclosure.

At the right is Councillor Loy, whose amendment is possibly a step in the right direction. However, its implementation without the inclusion of the mayor to equal prohibitions will make matters worse, not better.

Ethics is a fine line. Determining campaign contributor and employer conflicts of interest can get tricky.

What is sorely lacking from all these proposals is any meaningful commitment to ethics in our community!

The Cub Scouts have a better ethics handbook than does the City of Albuquerque; and they teach it.

What is needed are serious discussions before drafting a comprehensive piece of legislation with accurate definitions, concise and precise prohibitions, guidance and an educational component for all elected officials, appointed committee members, city staff and employees at every level. A system of ethics counselors or ombudsmen that encourage all to determine, clarify and resolve ethical questions without threatening employees with punishment for seeking to do the right thing in exposing mischief, errors, inappropriate political influence, wrongdoing, corruption or illegality.

It’s time to scrap this knee-jerk reactionary approach to ethics reform that the city repeatedly engages in. Start from scratch with a diverse group of citizens and a few politicians to accurately study ethics, to find the best examples of programs around the country that work effectively. Take the burden off those who may be tempted by their elected and appointed positions to manipulate the rules to create personal and political advantages, loopholes, exceptions and privileges that can be exploited against the public good. Put the matter to a public vote so the people determine how their officials and employees should behave.

You do know what the difference is between the Cub Scouts and the City of Albuquerque? The Scouts have adult leadership!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Down the Drain!

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Happy Tri-Centennial!

The City renamed Tiguex Park just east of Old Town to Tiguex Tricentennial Park.

During the city council debate about the placement of the controversial Juan de Oñate statues at Tiguex Park, several Native American speakers told the story of the Tiguex pueblo. The story goes that when Oñate arrived in what is now New Mexico, in 1598, a pueblo was flourishing in the region. Twelve years later, when the pueblo revolt ran Oñate out of New Mexico, the people of Tiguex had vanished.

You see banners and logos everywhere. I’m not a party pooper, but are we taking this a bit too far?

Did you know there is an official online store at the City of Albuquerque governmental website? I thought government was about providing services in exchange for tax dollars and actual fees.

So why is there an Albuquerque City Store on the tax paid website? The store is an internal link to a city vendor, Zia Graphics, a local screen graphics store on Carlisle N.E. http://www.albuquerquecitystore.com/. Enough of a free plug for them.

They sell T-shirts, caps, mugs, patches, pins and souvenirs of all shapes and manner. You can even buy an old parking meter. The tricentennial logo is a hot item.

Three hundred-years ago, Spanish settlers built the first church where the San Felipe de Neri Parish church now stands in Old Town. Since then, Albuquerque has had several flags fly over it as displayed on the plaza across from the church.

From the left are; the Spanish, Mexican, United States of America, New Mexico and Confederate States of America’s flags.

Mayor Martin Chávez has made the Tricentennial Celebration a major occurrence for the city with parades, parties, art and cultural events. Though there is a token recognition of Native American arts, the focus of the year and a half long party is the domination of the landscape by mostly Europeans, specifically Spanish Conquistadors over the local indigenous people.

Why is the logo associated with waste, as it appears here on a public trash receptacle?

So what's wrong with this picture?

The domination of one people, celebrated over another people, from the same community, stinks.

I guess that’s why the tricentennial logo is on the “sanitary” manhole cover. In other words, it covers the sewer.

Why is He Here?

What's wrong with this picture?

Here is a picture of Utah just east of the Nevada State line on US 50. It is known as "the loneliest route in America," with good reason.

The reason you haven't read anything here lately is because I was on an extended road trip around the Southwest.

So why is a Utah Highway Patrol officer standing in my vista shot?

He was investigating a one-car rollover pickup truck accident.

It was 12:20 pm. It appeared that the accident may have occurred under the cover of darkness and no one noticed it until first light. These kinds of accidents happen with some degree of regularity in the West where the closest town may be more than 80 miles away.

There were three officers and a sergeant at this scene. It must have taken them a couple of hours for all of them to arrive, even running full speed, with lights and sirens.

There were a couple of heavy skid marks that swerved off the road. I could not tell what the cause of the accident was; whether the driver swerved to avoid wildlife or livestock on the road or if it was falling asleep, awakening and finding themselves heading into the opposing lane then over-correcting and driving off the pavement and subsequently rolling over. Result, it was a bad accident.

Utah is one of the few states that openly admits to the problems of drowsy drivers and encourages them to do something about it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July and Flags

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OK, I’ve eaten my hot dogs and engaged in my annual self-imposed ritual of reading the Declaration of Independence; I read the Constitution on New Years day. Now I can go on and listen to the illegal fireworks in the neighborhood. It seems that every neighborhood has its own bad boy pyrotechnic freak. At least mine doesn’t fire guns.

I got to thinking about the flag and the meaning of the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This past week the Senate failed to approve a flag-burning amendment by a single vote.

I don’t have a problem with the act of flag burning as a political protest. Read “Flag” at theblueflyer.com. I have problems with a protester stealing someone else’s flag. I have problems with a protester burning the flag when it constitutes disorderly conduct by starting a fistfight. I just don’t have a problem with it being a demonstration of an act of free speech.

I have a bigger problem with those who profess their support for the flag and at the same time disrespect it.

There is a congressionally approved flag code. It carries no criminal penalties, yet it sets out proper conduct regarding the flag.

The code dictates that it shall not, among other things, be used in advertising, or worn as clothing, or that it should be flown at night unlit, nor be displayed soiled.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Albuquerque Fire Department’s Engine 13 flies an American flag night and day. It is dirty and frayed.

According to the code this display violates the code's requirements:

"When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

The hypocrisy of claiming to respect the flag by flying it improperly is as disrespectful as burning it in protest.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Break! Zoom!! Click!!!

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The United States Air Force’s precision performance flying team, the Thunderbirds start their signature final maneuver, the “starburst” on the command of their flight leader. Flying identical F-16’s, Saturday afternoon over Kirtland Air Base, Lead Pilot Lt. Col. Kevin J. Robbins in the number one airplane barks, “Break!”

Pilot of the number three right-wing position, Maj. Nicole Malachowski, raises the left wing to start her move to the right. Maj. Scottie Zamzow, pilot of number two left-wing position, is a split-second late breaking to his left. If it weren’t for the high-speed nature of this photograph, the faux-pa was otherwise imperceptible.

Flying in the number four slot position below and behind the lead in the diamond formation is Maj. Steve Horton. He is followed by Lead Solo Pilot Maj. Brian Farrar in number five. Farrar spends so much time upside down during the show that the number five is inverted on the side of his aircraft. Opposing Solo Pilot Maj. Ed Casey in number six followed well behind to spiral upwards through the “starburst.”

Casey is shown here landing.

So what's wrong with this picture?

I have to admit that this is simply flying envy. They also get paid to fly fast! It has to be the ultimate flying “dream job.” I’m sure the recruiting tent did a brisk business.

Since first seeing the Thunderbirds when my dad took us to his Amarillo Air Force Base Headquarters office building in the early 60s, when they were flying F-100 Super Sabres, through the F-4 Phantoms, the T-38A Talons and now the F-16 Fighting Falcon, “electric jets,” they have always put on a jaw-dropping show. WOW!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Scattered Thoughts and Thunder Showers

What's wrong with this picture?

This little boy, in front of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, covers his head as he unsuccessfully tries to protect himself from what looks like a famous New Mexico six-inch rain; a rain drop every six-inches.

The activity Thursday evening was a demonstration and performance of healing sessions by curanderas and other traditional healers.

The rains came! It was the same cloudburst that hit the airport and the National Weather Services’ official rain gauge, which recorded 0.74 inches in less than an hour and a half. That more than doubled the amount of rain to date this year.

The center is a beautiful, relatively new facility, dedicated to education, preservation, research and showcase of traditional and contemporary forms of cultural arts, crafts, music, humanities and other interpretive aspects of social life.

It has an impressive list of supporters whose names are attached to their funded projects. They range from; the Intel Center for Technology and Visual Arts, to the Roy E. Disney Center for Performing Arts, to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gallery, to the Albuquerque Journal theater and the Pete V. Domenici Education Building. Other major contributors include Sandia/Lockeed.

The facility is now slightly troubled. It has had six executive directors in its six-year history. The director of the visual arts program was recently forced to leave. Now it seems that three quarters of the visual presentation staff has left.

Part time contractors have filled the void and new permanent staff will be hired this month.

There are little indications of problems. This is part of the row of national flags honoring countries in front of the center just south of downtown Albuquerque.

Note the flags in clockwise order from the top; Paraguay, Peru, Philippines Portugal, Argentina and Venezuela. Besides already being tattered, in the first gust before the rain, they indicate a loss of direction.

Look at the green and red Portuguese flag which has a heraldic shield in the center surrounded by gold straps and ring. It has been metaphorically described to represent a compass rose in honor of their adventurous seafaring tradition.

So what's wrong with the picture? The flag is upside down.

Despite the rain, a troupe of Aztec dancers danced and the healers healed through it all.

Though a bit tattered and temporarily losing its direction, like the cleansing rain and the healing, I am sure the center will also just dance through it all. A new set of flags should help make it all better.