Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Goodbye ABQPAC. Hello, What Do You Call Yourself?

What's wrong with this picture?

It’s finally over! After more than four years of hearing and appeals into Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez’ ABQPAC, an illegal political action committee, has ended with a whimper as the last court appeal time limit has expired.

This is attorney Tony Jeffries, in the dark suit, with his client Andres Valdez, explaining the outcome of the case to a small group of social activists from the Ethics Brigade who watched the proceedings, Dec. 8, 2006.

The PAC was set up and funded by city officials, employees, contractors and political supporters, paying for a variety of personal expenses, including sending the mayor’s family on international goodwill trips. The Albuquerque Journal’s City Hall Reporter Jim Ludwick, left, broke what would be termed a scandal in a copyrighted story Oct. 3, 2002.

City Councillor Hess Yntema asked then Attorney General Patricia Madrid to investigate the PAC’s activities, but she refused. The full City Council, rather than asking the Attorney General or 2nd Judicial District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to investigate, referred the matter to the City’s Ethics and Campaign Practices Committee.

Three separate groups brought ethics complaints; left picture Yntema, right, along with community activist Elizabeth Cooke, center picture, Common Cause of New Mexico represented by Sally Davis, right, with former City Councillor Ruth Adams, and right picture, New Mexico Vecinos Unidos’ Executive Director Andres Valdez, left, seen with Rose Tijerina and lawyer Paul Livingston.

During the hearing, Chávez, left, admitted to taking the money from city employees and contractors doing business with the city and returned some $60,000 to the PAC though he thought he had done nothing improper by taking the money.

After days of testimony, the Ethics Board found Chávez had violated the City Charter and issued a public reprimand, the least form of action allowable by the City’s ordinance. He could have faced removal from office.

Valdez’ Vecinos Unidos appealed the action to the District Court. The case was returned to the Ethics Board on at least two occasions for clarification and to take action in public in accordance with the State’s Open Meetings Act. The Board defied the court reaffirming its earlier action after meeting in closed session.

Judge Richard Knowles ruled on Dec. 8, 2006, on Vecinos Unidos’ claim that the Board acted arbitrarily and capriciously by imposing only the minimum action. Knowles had to determine whether, in his review, there was substantial evidence to support the Board’s findings.

Chávez’ lead attorney, David Berlin, seen here after court talking to the press, argued that the case should be dismissed because the mayor had been reelected after the board’s findings were made. The city’s electorate voted Chávez back into office despite the decision, Berlin said.

In his analysis, Knowles outlined the options avalible to the Ethics Board upon their finding of Chávez’ violation. Those actions were: to do nothing, to impose a public reprimand, to impose a fine, or to refer the matter to the City Council recommending removal from office.

“I’m not in a position to say this is arbitrary and capricious and therefore, I dismiss the appeal.” Knowles said.

Vecinos Unidos then had 30-days to appeal the case to the State Court of Appeals, but did not do so.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Mayor Chávez recently announced the formation of an exploratory committee, "Marty Chávez for New Mexico," that he claims would allow him to raise money for the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

It seems that state law does not provide for an exploratory committee. Either he is a candidate or he is a political action committee, as my colleague blogger at New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan,, points out in today’s posting.

It would seem that Chávez was engaged in a knee-jerk reaction to Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s recent announcement that she was a candidate for governor four years from now. She already has a million dollars in funds left over from the 2006 Lt. Gov. campaign.

My take is that Chávez, who ran for governor with Denish as his running mate in their 1994 loss to incumbent Gov. Gary Johnson, does not want to be forgotten if he chooses not to run for an unprecedented third term as mayor.

Chávez has had an ongoing public battle with Denish, maintaining his distance on the public stage, as seen here when former President Bill Clinton came to town in support of Patricia Madrid and other Democratic candidates. Chávez was masters of ceremonies.

Most recently, when he was trying to push through one of those safe-kid ordinances that actually belongs solely as a state legislative action, Chávez attacked the Lt. Gov., telling her she needed to stay out of City politics. This was after she asked City Councillor Issac Benton to hold the legislation until after a state wide symposium on the same issue was held, scheduled within a couple of weeks. Benton delayed the discussion at the City Council until after the gathering. Interestingly, Benton is her City Councillor. It appears Chávez is just holding grudges.

Perhaps he is trying to keep all his political options open. He admits that he has not ruled out a run for a third consecutive mayoral term. The City Charter limits a mayor to two consecutive terms. However, that may not be much of an impediment, because similar term limits for councillors, in the charter, were successful challenged.

Is Chávez attempting to emulate Clyde Tingley? He served on the city commission, then served two terms as governor, during the depression, before returning to serve again on the city commission. Tingley’s public service spanned more than forty years; 1912-1953.

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