Friday, October 13, 2006

Governor’s Image

What's Wrong With This Picture?

This is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson after giving a welcoming speech to the 2006 Southwest Conference on Disability, shaking hands with Ronald Saunders of Crownpoint, Oct. 4, 2006, at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque.

Richardson has been on the move so much, out of state quite a bit, and not publicly campaigning. This was the first time during this campaign season I was able to catch up with the governor to photograph him for the work I am doing for New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan - - since late July.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Here, Richardson poses with people attending the conference. When people wanting pictures taken with him, but had no one to take them, or their cellular phone cameras were not working properly, the governor turned and asked me to take pictures with two different individuals. I do not begrudge them their moment with Richardson.

Let’s digress a moment. I was photographing Richardson as a photojournalistic endeavor, not as his staff, or for his campaign. I was also not shooting for the conference. When Saunders asked Richardson if he could get his picture taken with him, Richardson turned to me and asked that I take their picture. I am sure Saunders had no idea who I was.

There is more than one way I could have handled this, but denying the request of the governor of the state, while acting in his official capacity and not as a partisan campaign activity, although the line is nearly indistinguishable, raises a couple of interesting ethical and social questions.

To deny the request would be socially inappropriate. When you are equipped, how do you not respond to the request of the governor? It’s not based on any personal or political consideration, pro or con; I am not dealing with the personality or even the politics of Bill Richardson. I am dealing with the Governor of the State of New Mexico.

So I will send a print of Sunders to the governor for his signature, to then pass on to his constituent and see if the Richardson makes good on some payment for my service.

I won’t speculate as to that outcome. I am sure there are some journalists and photographers who won’t view the situation the same way. I can already hear an ethical discussion that I am pandering to the political goals of a politician.

However, Richardson is not the only one to make such requests. Earlier this summer, I attended a Bernalillo County Republican Party fundraiser to photograph Republican state candidates and was asked by one of the organizers if I would sell some of my pictures for their purposes. That conversation was different than the one with the governor; it was not in a crowd of people looking to shake his hand. I explained that I was trying to maintain journalistic neutrality and was under contract for my pictures. He alluded to the fact that I was welcomed to their event and suggested that I might not be. He went to a fine Republican position that he was sure that I worked for a living and they would pay.

To resolve the issue I gave him my business card and I took some pictures of multiple candidates and organized a group shot of all the candidates present.

A number of loyal Republicans produced cameras and flashes abounded. I never received a call from the Party.

This “campaign” seems more about fundraising than it does about appearing in public forums to talk about issues.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Obscured Transparency

What's Wrong With This Picture?

This is the Governor’s Ethics Reform Task Force holding its final meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 3, co-chaired by former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, who is dean of New Mexico State University College of Business and Dean Suellyn Scarnecchia, of the University of New Mexico School of Law. The group was scheduled to render their report to the Governor the following day.

I had requested of the governor’s public information office the opportunity to photograph the ceremonial transfer of the report. The answer was no, as the governor was going to meet privately with the chair to receive the task force’s recommendations.

It wasn’t just webloggers that were uninvited; the entire press corps, as it is, were also not invited.

Now it seems true that those in political power don’t want to recognize the new electronic medium as possibly being journalists.

The bias runs deeper than just towards your humble blogger.

I know that Jon Knudsen - - who also writes under the name Johnny Mango for Duke City Fix - - was summarily dismissed when he attempted to cover a press conference of Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez. Knudsen persisted, but knew from the harsh stares of Chávez’ staff that he was unwelcome.

In trying to cover my beat for my journalism class, I requested of Pahl Shipley, director of communications in Richardson’s public information office and again, two weeks later followed up by phone and another email with Yasine Mogharreban, special assistant for communications, to be placed on their list of electronic notification press conferences, photo opportunities and public appearances.

“I am covering local and state government issues, events and politics and as such, request that you include me, on your e-mail or phone list, of any upcoming press conferences or photo opportunities of the governor's office and in particular events in the Albuquerque metro area,” I wrote.

I also contacted Deborah James, the City of Albuquerque’s communications officer by phone. She said my name would be added to their press contact list. I sent a follow up email, similar to the governor's, but about the mayor’s activities. More than two weeks now, no hint of any information has been received, though one continues to read in the newspaper and see on the evening TV news, Chávez standing before his issue of the day venue.

One might surmise that I am considered persona non-gratis. I know why Chávez dislikes me. I have called his hand repeatedly since his first-term as mayor. I challenge his authority to propose and enforce unconstitutional city ordinances, resolutions and bond initiatives. I completed a legal analysis of his activities with ABQPAC that was used as a basis for one of the three groups that successfully brought ethics charges against him.

My photograph of Chávez’ examination during those ethics hearings, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, was used in negative ad campaign pieces by the Republican Party in support of one of his opponents.

"I've never seen a campaign this dirty. ...The surprise in this election was the hatefulness of the Winter campaign," Chávez said in a post election statement to Albuquerque Journal city hall reporter Jim Ludwig two years ago.

The photograph depicted him during one of the lowest points of his political history. Chávez didn’t like it; it wasn’t a particularly nice ad, but the photograph was accurate.

I make no apologies for my photographs, then or in the future. I show my viewers what I see. I pick photographs that give the sense of the event being covered as it impacts me.

This is Chávez during the announcement of the City’s Ethics and Campaign Practices Board’s finding him guilty of violating the City Charter by taking gifts and soliciting contributions from people doing business with the city and from city employees. To his left is one of his four attorneys Antoinette M. Sedillo-Lopez, Ethics Professor at the University of New Mexico Law School. Chávez tried to hide behind Sedillo-Lopez, but I extended my camera arms-length to get around her and capture his reaction to the findings. To the right of Chávez is James, city PIO. Her jaw visibly tightened as this photograph was taken.

Faithful readers of this spot have read the analysis of Chávez’ propensity to misuse public nuisance abatement ordinances for a whole range of what he perceives as social ills. I have repeatedly chastised him for coming up with quick and easy fixes to complex problems using more than questionable methods:
KANGAROO COURT - May 21, 2006
CAMEL IN THE TENT - May 22, 2006
STOP THIS NONSENSE - June 14, 2006

Though I have not written about it, a fine example, that the American Civil Liberties Union and advocates for the mentally ill, have well in hand, is Kendra’s law. Chávez, impatient with the state legislature, which failed to pass a statewide statute permitting the forced medication of the supposedly dangerously mentally ill, on an out patient basis, pushed through a local ordinance. Of course what he misses is that there already exists a statute dictating what the proper procedure is for dealing with the dangerously mentally ill.

A municipality may not write an ordinance superseding state statute. Chávez is a lawyer and a former state senator who should know this. He simply doesn’t care to uphold his oath of office, or to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work of convincing the state legislature of passing a new procedure.

Chávez may have attempted to get all of the points legally correct, but he took it before the wrong legislative body. Just for the record, he didn’t get all intellectual points legally correct. He is attacking the mentally ill on an “out patient” basis without providing any additional services to attempt to remediate the problems the mentally ill face in the community.

According to their 2006 report, the National Alliance on Mental Illness ranks New Mexico 51st nationally, including the District of Columbia, in per capita mental health spending at $28.80.

Earlier this year, both Lovelace Sandia Health System's and the University of New Mexico Hospital stopped providing outpatient behavioral health care. UNMH closed its intensive outpatient programs for mentally ill patients. The mentally ill now face civil and criminal charges if they choose not to take their medication; a right that they have.

So what's wrong with these pictures?

This is Chief General Counsel Hilary Tompkins, Richardson’s lawyer at the Ethics Reform Task Force. When a majority of the members of the task force said that they would be in attendance to present their recommendations, I asked her if the press would be able to have a photo opportunity. She said no. I asked if the meeting of the majority of the task force members didn’t still make it an open meeting. She said that the task force was not subject to the open meetings act. I questioned her further saying that’s not what the law says. “I’m a lawyer and that’s the law,” she snapped.

Chapter 10. Public Officers and Employees
Article 15. Open Meetings
§ 10-15-1. Formation of public policy; procedures for open meetings; exceptions and procedures for closed meetings.

A. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. The formation of public policy or the conduct of business by vote shall not be conducted in closed meeting. All meetings of any public body except the legislature and the courts shall be public meetings, and all persons so desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings. Reasonable efforts shall be made to accommodate the use of audio and video recording devices.

The magic language is, “The formation of public policy or the conduct of business by vote shall not be conducted in closed meeting." More specifically, “…or the conduct of business by vote….”

Does not, “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them,” apply to the governor’s acceptance of the recommendations as an “official act?”

Now we know that in every issue resolved by lawyers, half of them will be wrong. Bluster does not make one right. However, even if I conceded that she is correct on the law, which I do not, she would still be wrong as a matter of statesmanship and governance.

It boggles my mind that when Richardson received the Ethics Reform Task Force recommendations, which includes reinforcing the concept that government is best served when it is transparent to the citizenry, he would not allow the press to view the ceremony.

The hypocrisy is huge!

There is a common misperception of what the press is and who decides who the press is. Members of the press, owners of presses or other media are very competitive. They want to be the only members of the press out of a profit motive. Many in the media buy into the theory that the press is the fourth estate; that they are a branch of government that watches over the other three: legislative, executive and judiciary.

I agree that some in the press act as watchdogs of government but they are not part of the government. Why be restrained as the government is? The Constitution sets the limits on government and the Bill of Rights reiterates what the people may always do without government interference.

There are those in and out of the government who argue for definitions of who is the press. When those in government define, determine, select or refuse to acknowledge individuals participating in journalistic efforts, they engage in an activity prohibited by the First Amendment.

“Congress shall make no law …or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….”

For state or city public information offices to choose who to recognize as journalists is to create a license. For the director of communications for the governor’s public information office or communications officer for the City of Albuquerque to disregard requests for information on upcoming events in favor of what they perceive as mainstream or established media to the detriment or exclusion of less traditional medium is also prohibited under the theory of equal protection.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Photo Red Light and Photo Radar Violation Hearings (J-school Piece revised)

There was a 2:30 p.m. docket posted on the door of the City of Albuquerque’s administrative hearing room where photo red light and photo radar traffic violations where scheduled to be heard Tuesday.

The room was empty except for one man and his clerk. It wasn’t supposed to be empty.

There was little work because every case on the docket was going to be dismissed. The City had failed to schedule and hold the hearings within the 90 days as required by the Safe Traffic Operations Program ordinance.

This despite the fact there were two additional clerks positions added in the most recent city budget to staff the photo red light and photo radar violation hearings.

“But they haven’t been added,” said Assistant City Clerk Lacresia Armijo-Rivera of the Boards and Commissions Office within the City Clerks Office. She and her fellow clerks in their office carry out the extra duties while still fulfilling their primary roles of staffing other City boards and commissions. Because of the demands of such additional duties, the notices had not gone out on time, Armijo-Rivera said.

In fact she was using the time that afternoon not to handle the case docket but to catch up on a stack of hearing requests yet to be scheduled.

The delays are the result of a rapid increase in automated enforcement notices in Albuquerque.

‘We are now hearing case number 877, about an incident that occurred in May 2006,” City Administrative Hearing Officer Albert Chavez said. “The City should have gotten them notified in a timely manner, but they didn’t, so we’re dismissing them all."

“As of Sept. 26, 2006, there have been 38,446 automated enforcement citations issued,” Albuquerque Police Department’s Public Information Officer John Walsh said in an interview. That generated $2.2 million, in fees assessed to the registered owners of vehicles identified by automated cameras at intersections and from vans with radar triggered cameras.

The automated cameras take pictures of vehicles that enter intersections after the red light illuminates or when a radar unit detects speeds in excess of 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

“We now have 10 intersections with both red light and speed detection,” Walsh said. That is up from seven just last week. “Our goal is to have 20 by the end of 2006,” Walsh said.

Walsh outlined six major cost associated with the program:

1. Engineering, it cost between $10-$15,000 per direction per intersection camera.

2. Time expense for three officer’s operating the radar vans.

3. Lease of the equipment. The three vans lease cost $5,500 per month.

4. The administrative cost of administering the program provided by the contractor Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian-based company with U.S. Headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.

5. The cost of the City’s administrative hearing.

6. The cost of the police officer and equipment to review each photo to assure that a violation has occurred and the vehicle is properly identified and the officer’s presentation at the City’s administrative hearing

The program is now totally funded by violators with the exception of the seed money, which has either been recouped or is well on its way to being paid back, Walsh said.

However, not everyone thinks that idea is good. Attorney Paul Livingston has two suits pending in the state District Court for Bernalillo County. He is attempting to have them both certified as class action suits.

When the city receives a notice of a violation, its bus drivers and other employees who drive city-owned vehicles have had their pay docked, without the opportunity to be heard at the administrative hearing or to have a departmental review. They are now suing. A similar case suit, filed for two New Mexico licensed vehicles and their registered owners, raise constitutional due process and jurisdictional issues.

“The city’s use of nuisance abatement laws changes traffic offenses into something far different than traffic offenses and into something the city is unable to prove legally,” Livingston said. “This is unique. No other state county or municipality in the country has tried this approach using this nuisance abatement scheme.”

The City of Albuquerque’s STOP ordinance finds the registered owners’ vehicle a nuisance and holds the owner liable for the vehicle’s action, not their own, whether they were driving or not.

“I’m hopeful we will prevail on this as a legal matter,” Livingston said.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Obituary: Moko (J-school Piece revised)

Moko, a captured male silverback western lowland gorilla died of heart failure early Wednesday at the Rio Grande Zoo. He was 44.

Born wild in Africa, he was brought to Albuquerque in 1965 at the age of 3.

Lowland gorillas are indigenous to tropical forests of west-central Africa and are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/World Conservation Union’s Red List of endangered species.

Gorillas are the largest primates and their only natural enemy is man. Though protected, they are subjected to poaching as bush meat and for body parts that are considered aphrodisiacs in parts of eastern Asia. In addition their habitat is shrinking because of human expansion.

Twelve years ago Moko and his African born mate, Samba, were separated, from a second group of gorillas that is now lead by 17-year-old Marcus.

Moko and Samba, circa 1971 during the caged days at the Rio Grande Zoo.

Moko sired a daughter, Huerfanita, with Samba in 1973. He had lived alone since Samba died two years ago.

Huerfanita is now at the Bronx Zoo, and she has produced eight offspring.

Second generation offspring are: Jamie, Triska, Tommy, Holli, Billy, Honi, Halima, and Leyla.

Third generation offspring are: Little Joe, Imani, Chipua and Suki, Fran (Bweroni) Kongo M’Billi, Sufi Bettine and two yet unnamed males and an unnamed female.

Fourth generation offspring are: Kuchimba, Shana and a yet unnamed male.

In the three successive generations Moko produced 21 offspring and only one -- an infant male -- passed before him.

According to Rio Grande Zoo’s Assistant Curator of Mammals Lynn Tupa there are less than 300 captive Western lowland gorillas in the U.S. and a total of about 400 worldwide.

The current group of gorillas at Albuquerque’s zoo now consists of three males and five females, Tupa said.