Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Snow Job?

New Year’s eve snowstorm caused Albuquerque Public Schools to remain closed this week instead of reopening Wednesday. Schools reopened Monday.

The city’s one-day record snowfall, not matched since 1959, and the ensuing cold spell that has not allowed for melting, has wreaked havoc on the City and County governments’ efforts in clearing residential side streets. Schools were blocked in, many side streets were icy or impassable and school bus operators refused to pick up children out of concerns for their safety.

The snow lingers and there are streets that still were impassable as of Thursday evening’s APS Board of Education meeting. My neighborhood park with a great hill had less snow on it as there was an almost round-the-clock group of sliders who cleared the hill of snow with more passes than any of the side streets had with vehicles.

The normal New Mexico axiom about weather did not hold up; if you don’t like the weather in New Mexico, wait five minutes; it will change. No, this storm was followed by days of cold. The snow and melt scenarios that most ordinarily accompany our storms was not here this time. It did make for an interesting fact. I don’t usually photograph snow because I don’t like the cold shock that tends to accompany it. This storm was different; it lasted on the ground and two or three days later I was shooting pictures of still idyllic frozen scenes.

New Mexico, in almost every way, relies on the Zia sun to help us, particularly with street clearing. It didn’t happen for nearly a week. Lots of folks got upset.

“There’s so much in the news about the snow and I just wanted to know about the valiant efforts APS has been making,” APS Board of Education President Paula Maes said.

“We’ve been criticized by the city and I want to make it clear that I find that very disturbing, because we certainly have not pointed fingers,” APS Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt said. “I believe it’s a whole community effort, but busses cannot get through city streets; is not our problem. We are working very hard with the city. I think they’ve done a valid job. Just as we have to get our kids back to school.”

“I wish the criticism were more fairly dealt out,” Everitt said. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez, who has made taking over the School Board a personal goal, blamed the State for not quickly clearing the Interstate highways and Tramway. He also chastised APS for not opening, while city crews did little to clear side streets.

In anticipation of the storm, APS pre-positioned snow removal equipment on the east side of the mountains because it receives a greater accumulation of snow. Albuquerque Public Schools’ Executive Director for Facilities and Support Operations Bradley Winter said. “But because of the roads being so bad in the East Mountains, we couldn’t even get the equipment.”

“Because the roads were so bad on the side streets we could,” not open Thursday, Winter said.

“The question is do we spend a million dollars to buy 20 snowplows and store them for 40 years?” Winter said giving an ad-hoc cost-benefit analysis. “Is that a good use of our time? Probably not.”

“In fairness to the city, this is an unprecedented storm,” Winter, who is also a City Councilor said, “and the same issues are with the city.”

“Now what I think as a City Council, what we’re going to look at, is how we can adapt to put snowplows on, like refuse trucks and things like that. They do that in Denver.” The City does not have the equipment to clear residential areas, Winter said.

“We had some students that were performing at the Holiday Bowl who were driving back to Kansas,” Board Member Robert Lucero, pictured above right, said in commending APS Police Chief Gilbert Lovato. “The band got stuck in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They didn’t have money for hotels and they contacted APS and they were housed at West Mesa High School. They played basketball. Gil found some money. They got a discount at Applebees; the kids could eat and so the kids finally made it back to Kansas.”

The Albuquerque Journal featured a copyrighted front-page headline, Friday, “APS Auditors investigating Police Dept. Financial Discrepancies Probed.” On Monday, the Journal’s headline read “APS Police Chief Put On Leave.” Investigative reporter Colleen Heild wrote that Chief Lovato had unsuccessfully tried get records removed from his office, then ordered that nothing be taken from his office.

Lucero gave an interview to Rod Green of KOAT-TV Action 7 News on Tuesday supporting Lovato. He said that if there were any discrepancies, they would be small and insignificant claiming the audit was triggered by the work of a disgruntled employee.

Does a question of disconnect arise when Lucero commends “Gil found some money,” at the special meeting and an audit begins that looks into, according to the Journal, “part of the focus relates to money tagged into evidence and where it went?” Is Lucero trying to spin the story of the audit by showing Lovato as a “good guy?”

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