Saturday, March 31, 2007

Metropolitan Courthouse

What's wrong with this picture?

This is a sculpture of the scales of justice in front of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse.

This is a graphic shown Thursday night on KOAT TV’s coverage of the federal indictments into allegations of a public corruption kickback scheme during the construction of the courthouse.

Local newscaster, newspaper reporters and bloggers went into a near feeding frenzy over telling this story.

So what's wrong with this picture?

The graphic depicts the Bernalillo County District Courthouse, which was not the topic of the news story.

The sculpture of the scales works backwards. The pans on the scales have water poured into them through internal plumbing. However, the water enters the lowered pan, the one that would already indicate the greater weight of evidence. When the water fills the pan the scales tip the opposite direction than the laws of physics dictate.

Contrary to what appears in these pictures to be happening to the scales, the upper pan should accept water and then move downward. Not as it is now, where the lowered pan accepts water, then rises.

So what does it mean? Is it any indication of how justice actually works in New Mexico? Or is the public supposed to be blind to justice?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

100th Blog

What's wrong with this picture?

This is the 100th posting on this blogspot. It also happens to be one year old.

A celebration? No.

I thought I might review and look back at what the experiences have been writing a blogspot.

Francisco Roque “Rocky” Nogales has been my friend for over 25-years and my editor for 22-years.

He joined the police department in 1980 and we worked along side each other for several years.

We had similar political philosophies, especially about law enforcement, the Albuquerque Police Department and in particular, officers’ issues of hours, wages, working conditions and safety. He became my campaign manager when I ran for president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association in 1985. Nogales served on the executive board of the APOA and in 1989, he became president for a one-year term.

He was promoted to sergeant and lieutenant before retiring in 2002.

Here he is editing a posting of mine a few months ago while he took a break from work as a GEICO fraud investigator.

I give much of the success of this site, thus far to Nogales. He places commas for me, is my sounding board, grammarian and the one who says, “this is a little confusing.” He keeps me from going too far astray.

This blog started as a requirement for an electronic publishing class I took in the 2006 spring semester through the Communications and Journalism track at the University of New Mexico, taught by Zac Van Note.

I developed a formula for my postings based on how I photograph. I look for the unusual or what is out of place. That which stands in contrast to what is projected or meant to be perceived.

I do not use all of the technology available through the blogosphere. To the contrary, I approach this as a blank sheet of paper that allows me to be an electronic pamphleteer.

I do not use hot links and try to maintain some degree of journalistic professionalism. Though I follow many of the standards of news papering, I am more of a columnist and you will get a face full of opinion after I give you the news or history of an event.

I attempt to give you a perspective beyond just the facts and try to avoid allowing spin masters to distort the meat of an issue. I avoid being constrained by the journalistic rules under the guise of fairness that calls for offering an opportunity to respond to a particular issue. Such rules can actually allow for manipulation by public information officers, politicians and those pushing their agendas against facts and realities.

Yes, I have my own agendas, but I try to let you know what they are. They are: the First Amendment, fairness, open government, and due process.

I would like to get both sides of an issue but when confronted by a lack of access or met with spin that avoids the question, I forego the unresponsive answer. I believe, as Linda Elerbee, journalist and author of “And So It Goes: Adventures in television,” who thinks the audience is smart enough to know or figure it out.

By way of example: the City of Albuquerque’s PIO will not return a phone call, the city refuses to respond to requests for inspection of public records. Those city officials who do make comments, sometimes are instructed by department directors not to answer particular questions. There are a number of governmental and political officials at the state and federal levels who also refuse to recognize citizens who are involved in journalistic efforts because they are not the big commercial mainstream media.

Paul Livingston, a lawyer, has had some major influence on this site.

I have known him for about 15 years and we have teamed up on a number of political and social issues in the community.

We approach topics in slightly different ways, but in the collaborative effort, we make a pretty good team.

I met him when he was representing individual city employees and the bus drivers union in labor and personnel issues. We teamed up to oppose the steamroller mentality of the assistant city attorneys and department representatives at labor and personnel board meetings. With my background and experience, Livingston has often used me as a consultant and expert witness on the history of city labor relations.

We have on occasion, recognized events and issues at the same instant, which cried out for public opposition.

Some of the bigger issues have been:
Opposing the closing of public meetings in violation of the state’s open meetings act, involving the police oversight commission.
Seeking to make records public, when the mayor refused to identify the names of applicants for chief of police.
Fighting the lack of due process and jurisdiction in the city’s automated enforcement for red light and photo radar program.
Pursuing the ethical violations of Mayor Martin Chávez’ ABQPAC.
And representing Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap, when the attorney general and county commissioners sought a unilateral injunction to bar her from the continued issuance of gender neutral marriage licenses.

We’ve had some successes and some failures, but we have always been able to bring a different look at public issues.

We occasionally have our differences, but we get past them.

This is City Attorney Bob White, the highest-ranking city official who will openly deal with me, seen here with Livingston at the recent town hall meeting on red light cameras.

Livingston thinks I should chop up my analysis pieces into smaller bytes because I will run out of material to post. However, as long as a person like the mayor is within earshot of an open microphone, I will have an abundant supply of blogging material. The City Council, Albuquerque Public School board and other governmental entities also provide an inexhaustible source of fodder.

Chávez really dislikes me. It goes back a long ways, into his first term when I, along with some other union leaders, mounted a successful effort to defeat a quarter cent “Public Safety” tax. Chávez will not answer my questions.

Chávez is seen here with his PIO Deborah James and Detective Vince Harrison, Mayor's Detail, a plain-clothed police officer, who is assigned as part of his personal security team. Chávez sicced Harrison on me, telling him that I was a “trouble maker.” I got a wink from my former peer.

James, right, consciously turned her back to me at the end of this January 12, 2006, special meeting of the Mid-Region Transit District’s Metropolitan Transportation Board, on widening the Montano bridge. She will not put my name on the list of journalists to be contacted for press conferences or photo opportunities and does not return phone calls or e-mails. They may wonder why I give them no good press coverage. Could it be that they won’t let me cover any?

For the time being, I’ll continue to write and photograph.

I know I have a dedicated audience that doesn’t generate a great deal of comment. I do post commentary, except multi-page missives from political activist pushing their own agendas’ web site.

I want to thank my small, but loyal following. I am always looking for information, leads or problems that might be the spark to another story.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Kumbaya, Then Good Bye

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is the New Mexico Senate, Saturday as they joined hands in prayer lead by Rabbi Leonard Helman. The Rabbi’s invocation was the longest part of the session.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez called for announcements and Senate Minority Floor Leader Sturat Ingle moved to adjourn. Senate President Pro-Tempore Ben Altamirano called for a voice vote and after the shouting match, declared the nays had carried the day. The Republican side challenged the ruling of the chair, calling for a roll call vote.

Several Senators were not present, on the Republican side: Carroll Leavell, Steve Neville and Bill Sharer. Missing on the Democratic side were: Cisco McSorley, Cynthia Nava, Mary Kay Papen and Jerry Ortiz y Pino.

Democratic Sens. John Arthur Smith, Tim Jennings and Linda Lopez joined the Republicans in voting against the chair’s call.

Sen. Altamirano reads the roll call vote 17-18 overruling his call and ending the session.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Lt. Gov. Diane Denish holding up a miniature gavel that one of the Senate clerks gave her. She is showing her granddaughter, Sadie Rittneberry, age 4, where she usually works. Denish did not sit in the chair, as president of the Senate, but was acting Governor on Saturday. Gov. Bill Richardson was off in California raising money for his presidential campaign.

The legislative drama continues. The regular session ended Sat. March 17 and within minutes, Gov. Richardson called a special session wanting issues that were either killed outright, resurrected or those that were left on the table moved forward.

Sen. Jennings told the press that two votes of the Senate to adjourn should be enough. He was anxious to get back to the real emergency caused by 13 tornados that struck the Eastern side of the state including parts of his home district counties of Chaves, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero, rather than the manufactured emergencies of Gov. Richardson.

Sens. Lopez and Smith also spoke to the press about their votes to adjourn.

Frustration was evident on both sides of the aisle as Phil Griego D – Los Alamos, Mora, Sandoval, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Taos counties, contemplates what happened. Joseph Carraro R - Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, rests. “We’re all still exhausted after the 60-day session,” Carraro said. He was frustrated that the open conference committee bill had not gotten through. He said it was a major part of the ethics reforms package that was missing. He explained that during the regular session he had voted for a campaign contribution limits bill. It then went to a closed conference committee. When it came back, the guts had been torn out of it. He had to change his vote.

If the House does not adjourn, but stays in recess the next three days, then, by the State Constitution, the Senate must reconvene on Thursday.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

So Right, Yet So Wrong!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Seen above, in archive photos are: Councillor Don Harris, left, when he first deferred his rules amendment on March 5; Council President Deborah O’Malley, center; and Sally Mayer, right. In the picture, citizen Mayer is seen exercising her right to give public comment before the May 1, 2000, city council meeting, a couple of years before running for office.

At Monday’s session, Councillor Don Harris again deferred his rules amendment. The amendment will move general public comments from the seventh item to the final item on the council’s meeting agendas.

“Sometimes people get confused about the purpose of public comments at city council,” Council President Deborah O’Malley said. “The purpose of city council is to do the work of city council.”

Council Vice President Sally Mayer and former Councillor Tina Cummins, during the last term of the council, successfully changed the rules, placing a cap on the length of meetings. Mayer whined about having to stay up late to do the work of the city. She wanted to stop by 10 p.m., but agreed to adjourn by 10:30. It now takes a vote to suspend the rules to go beyond 10:30.

Mayer joins Harris in wanting to have the general public comments moved on the agenda to the last item. She argues that she doesn’t think the state and federal legislative bodies take public comments, though she has never been to Washington. She’s correct; they don’t, not in the way city council does.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This young citizen, and her even younger sister, spoke at the Oct. 4, 1999, City Council meeting to support the school bus seat belt veto override. It didn’t help; school buses still don’t have seat belts.

President O’Malley could not be more right, nor more profoundly wrong in her statement, “sometimes people get confused about the purpose of public comments at city council.” The people who seem most confused are the City councillors wishing to adopt this rule change.

The purpose of the city council is to do the work of city. The work of the city is the work of the people. The peoples’ concerns should be paramount to the writing of legislation and should be part of the process. Before, not afterwards!

O’Malley suggested that maybe there should be more town hall meetings like the one held a couple of weeks ago on the issue of automated enforcement. The red light cameras have been in operation for two years and it is only now, after the citizenry became outraged that a town hall meeting was held.

I felt very lonely over the years when I continually spoke out against one sort of scheme or another involving automated enforcement, starting about a decade ago with photo-radar. Chief of Police Ray Schultz, who was then a Lieutenant, presented the project. The 1996 council had the wisdom to kill the program.

Even in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, at act 3, scene 1, just shortly before “Et tu Brute!” citizens and soothsayers alike approached with petitions, making pleas, and offering words of advice, warning Caesar and senators while on their way up the steps of the Roman capitol.

Shakespeare got it right! Petition is an ancient concept dating back to the earliest of recorded times, where the governed have asked those who govern for relief.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The city charter and ordinances call for citizen participation.

Harris’ amendment smacks of arrogance; of knowing better what the citizen wants and needs are. Moving public comments to the end of the meeting is a means of avoidance.

Governing bodies use a technique that I have particularly noticed has been utilized by organized labor unions and political parties. It is the habit of taking the most controversial items and placing them at the end of the agenda to wear out the constituency. It is not beyond possibility that a meeting might well drag to 10:30 and adjournment before public comments can be heard. Another favored trick of former presiding officers of this council is to require citizens wishing to speak to sign up, and do so before the meeting begins.

There are other governmental entities that recognize the value of public input and request comments, allowing those interested to queue up behind the podium and take their turn. It’s that simple!

Harris has also suggested limiting what citizens may address in their moments before council. He mentioned to the Journal, in particular, a couple that had approached the council to speak about what they perceived was a lack of fair treatment in a child custody case in state district court. On its face, it might seem that the topic is something in which the council has neither interest nor jurisdiction. However, there is a good chance that the police or the Family and Community Services Department would have a role in such cases.

More importantly, the general public comments section allows citizens a chance to bring their concerns onto the public square, clearly and with a minimum of confusion.

In a representative form of government, the first obligation of representatives is to fulfill the wishes and needs of their constituency. In order to do that, the representatives must be informed. Listening would help; paying attention might also be a good starting point. Being fully informed is crucial to good governmental decision-making.

It’s not often that young citizens speak before the council and I hate using a cheap shot line that Mayor Martin Chávez has used to raise the emotional level. What the heck! If 10:30 is past Mayer’s bedtime; then according to Chávez, “What do we tell the children?” They also want to say their peace or "piece."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Green Flash

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

What’s a Green Flash you ask?

A Green Flash is a meteorological phenomenon associated with the Middle East, in particular, the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, were there is a green flash of light just as the top of the sun sets into the desert. Though I had been in the Gulf of Aqabah about 10 years ago, while sailing towards Jordan at sunset, looking across the Saudi Arabian desert, I did not see it. It was later explained that the reason was the atmosphere was too calm.

It was featured in the ship’s daily newsletter and a traveling professor working for the cruise line, lectured on the existence of the green flash. The color green is significant to several countries in the Muslim world where it has cultural and religious meaning. Most notably is the use of green in the Saudi Arabian flag.

Saturday, I was in the far Northeast Heights at sunset. A great deal of dust was in the air and the setting sun appeared to have rings around it of varying intensities.

Immediately after taking this picture, a slight but distinctive green tint appeared in one of the rings. Before I could get the camera back into action, it was gone. Gone in a flash!

The dust, kicked up by the breezy day, unfortunately didn’t take the pollen away in the same flash. Welcome spring back to New Mexico.


It Ain’t Over Til the Fat Man Signs, Oops! The Fat Lady Sings

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is the end of the 60-day session of the 48th legislature for the State of New Mexico.

As the clock neared noon, both houses notified the Governor that they had completed their duties and were headed home.

There was a last minute effort to pass a campaign contribution limits bill. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish ruled that the Senate had passed a bill by a voice vote. There was a demand for a roll call and Sen. Joe Carraro, R-Sandoval, changed his vote at the last moment from being in favor to being against. The Lt. Gov’s. declaration that the measure had passed was overruled and the bill died 20-21.

Carraro, seen here on the left and Denish had clashed Friday when the Lt. Gov., acting as president of the Senate, called for the sergeant at arms to remove Carraro. This was done when Carraro called Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Valencia, a liar for his characterization of one of Carraro’s comments.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Not so, quick!

Within 20-minutes, Gov. Bill Richardson announced that he was calling a special session, to start Tuesday, because he will be out of state, politicking for his presidential run, Sunday and Monday.

So get the flags back out.

Richardson wants some issues that were left stalled in committees brought forward and debated.

The list includes road construction, more ethics reform, rights for non married heterosexual and same sex partners, according to fellow bloggers and newspaper reporters who covered the Richardson press conference.

These include:
Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell,
Albuquerque Tribune’s Kate Nash,
Albuquerque Journal’s Trip Jennings and Jeff Jones (subscription)
and Heath Haussamen

Seen here from left to right are: Matt Grubs, Santa Fe Bureau Reporter for KOAT TV, Albuquerque Journal’s Trip Jennings and Jeff Jones, Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell and Associated Press' Santa Fe Bureau Reporter Deborah Baker.

See you back in the press gallery Tuesday.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sealed Indictments

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse. It is in the center of a political storm, the likes of which this community may never have seen.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations completed an investigation last summer into allegations of improprieties in the construction of this building and possibly the State District Court.

The then U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, right, a Senate confirmed political appointee, who had been recommended by N.M. Sen. Pete Domenici to President George W. Bush in 2001, sought and obtained indictments before a federal grand jury that have been placed under seal by the court while the criminal investigation continues.

Iglesias was asked to resign on Dec 7. Serving at the pleasure of the president, he stepped down and left office at the end of last month.

Department of Justice had released eight U.S. Attorneys from around the country. In seven cases, Justice officials cited performance failures as the reason for the dismissals. San Diego Based U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who had successfully prosecuted Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham for corruption, was also released. In the eighth case, H.E. "Bud" Cummin was removed to make room for Tim Griffin, a former aide to top presidential political advisor Karl Rove. The Washington Post reports that Griffin will not seek appointment to the position.

Iglesias charged that his departure was due to political pressure applied by N.M. Republicans Rep. Heather Wilson, left, and Domenici in trying to spur the release of the sealed indictments prior to the November 2006 election. Wilson was running behind in the polls to her challenger, Democratic New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

Iglesias said he would not have broken his silence if Justice officials had not attacked his office and the professionalism of his career staff.

Iglesias testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. The judiciary committees are looking into the independence of the U.S. Attorneys.

Wilson and Domenici had made phone calls last fall that Iglesias would later feel were inappropriate attempts to exert influence in releasing the sealed indictments. This was just prior to the election. Iglesias felt it might have been an effort to help Wilson in the election, which she eventually won by less than 900 votes.

According to Iglesias, Wilson asked specifically about the sealed indictments and Domenici wanted to know if they would be released prior to November.

The congressional contacts could be considered violations of the law as interference in the administration of or obstruction of justice. Ethics complaints in both houses of congress are sure to ensue and will take their course.

Republican attorney Pat Rogers, right, who is a major supporter of Wilson, is shown here introducing her at Domenici’s recent announcement running for a seventh Senate term. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Rogers said that he had met Iglesias in October and thought he was out of touch with the community’s questions of why Iglesias was not moving forward.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Sealed indictments during an on-going investigation. What can that mean?

Law enforcement officials and lawyers generally understand the underlying meaning of sealed indictments, but the layman might not. An indictment is a formal criminal charge brought as a result of a grand jury that convenes in secret.

A Grand Jury has two tasks: to determine, using the test of probable cause, that a crime has been committed, and that a particular person probably committed the crime. On a scale of one to 100, probable cause may represent as low as a 35 percent probability of guilt. A conviction of a criminal case requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or somewhere in the high 90-percentile level.

A prosecutor may have reason to believe that one or more persons are involved in a crime. Law enforcement officers might be able to gather sufficient evidence to indict one or more suspects. However, they might not have enough evidence to charge others who are believed to be involved.

In the hypothetical, let’s take a public corruption scenario. Indictments with sufficient evidence are obtained for minor crimes or for low-level co-conspirators. There is some evidence, but not enough to indict others, who maybe even higher-level participants, the main conspirator or the target of the initial investigation.

If the low-level co-conspirators are publicly identified, the ability to pursue the higher level offenders may be compromised.

The prosecutor is not the only player in the decision to seal indictments. There is a judge, usually the one supervising the grand jury, who actually seals the indictment. The prosecutor is required to explain the need for sealing the indictment to maintain secrecy during the ongoing investigation.

Keeping the earlier obtained indictments under seal allows for law enforcement or the prosecutor to continue the probe.

In this case, there is a great deal of speculation, rumor and even some evidence revealed through court documents, of the width and breadth of the investigation and some of the parties involved.

A list of some of the rumored alleged participants might read like the who’s who of the local Democratic Party.

Local Republicans, their operatives and bloggers seemed to salivate at the prospect of having a Republican U.S. Attorney leading the prosecution against Democratic rivals.

Iglesias had indicted two, back-to-back Democratic State Treasurers, Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil, on charges of public corruption including soliciting and collecting bribes, kickbacks and racketeering. Several other co-conspirators were indicted and entered plea agreements to one count only in exchange for their testimony against Vigil.

Vigil was tried and a jury was unable to come to a unanimous finding when a lone juror was not convinced of his guilt. A mistrial was declared and a retrial scheduled.

Then Democratic New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, right, stated her displeasure with the plea arrangements and indicted the co-conspirators. She did not indict Vigil.

Madrid, the Democratic candidate for the N.M Congressional District 1 seat held by incumbent Wilson, had not waived state immunity. In such cases both the state and federal governments may independently prosecute. The lack of state immunity and the state indictments made prosecution difficult for the U.S. Attorney. The co-conspirators were unwilling to cooperate in the federal case because their testimony could be used against them in the state’s prosecution.

Republicans cried foul.

At the retrial, Vigil was convicted of a single count of the 24-count indictment. He was convicted of attempted extortion and received a three-year sentence to federal prison.

The blogging world and Republican operatives seem to want to make a great deal about the fact that the courthouse indictments remain sealed. They seem to ignore the context that there is an ongoing criminal investigation. Some bloggers, who have a history of spinning for the Republicans in general and Wilson in particular, have reframed the issues into attacks on Iglesias and Madrid, in an effort to deflect responsibility that belongs to Wilson and Domenici, left. There is plenty of blame to go around. Iglesias failed to notify his superiors of the contacts. He told congress it was a mistake borne of a misguided sense of loyalty to his mentor, Domenici, and political ally Wilson.

It seems that the operatives believe that the sealed indictments represent a complete and fully prosecutable case. Perhaps they feel that, upon their revelation, all the alleged offenders should immediately plead guilty to every count, which would result in a political implosion.

Iglesias’ office successfully prosecuted the state treasurer scandal. Republicans admittedly are disgruntled with the lack of more felony convictions and longer sentences.

One has to wonder what the Republicans state of mind would be if the sealed courthouse indictments revealed only some low-level functionary and the big fish would then be able to capitalize on the opening of the charges and avoid prosecution all together.

The possibility of not making a successful case against the perceived high-level Democrats rumored to be involved in the courthouse investigation, because of a premature release of indictments, would surely cause a greater outcry than currently exists.

The actions by Wilson and Domenic may be perceived and argued by those eventually charged in the courthouse case that allegations were politically motivated.

The U.S. Attorney will again have an unnecessary complication to overcome.

Iglesias testified at the House Judiciary Subcommittee that, when interviewed by then Attorney General John Ashcroft, he was told that politics stops at the door.

What would be the irony if Domenici were to have to go through the door of the federal courthouse in Albuquerque that bears his name?

Loyalty Above All Else; Except Honor

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is the police peanut gallery in council chambers Tuesday night at a town hall meeting of City Councillors hosted by Brad Winter, billed as a Red Light Camera Discussion. Eight of the nine councillors attended; Martin Heinrich was not present and Craig Loy left due to a family emergency. Chief Ray Schultz offered a video presentation of the City’s Safe Traffic Operations Program referred to as the STOP ordinance.

According to Eye on Albuquerque blog spot, the brass, those Albuquerque Police officers whose rank is signified by metal insignias on their collars: lieutenants and captains, were apparently ordered to attend the meeting by a deputy chief. The three deputy chiefs, along with the civilian Executive Chief, Joe Bowdich and the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety, Nick Bakas, were also present.

They appeared in mass, most in uniform, supporting the use of red light and radar cameras as a political cause. This “show of support” was disconcerting. It became disturbing when the officers started applauding, whooping and hollering, each time a citizen spoke in support of the program. There was occasional booing when an opponent attacked the police involvement with the program.

I’m not aware of such a public gathering of so many uniforms, since Mayor Ken Schultz called together ranking police officers after the 1987 Black Rose incident, where unregistered police officer lobbyists had sent what was perceived as a threatening message to a state legislator for not supporting cops’ issues. Schultz read police the riot act reinforcing the prohibition of on-duty political activity and outlined the requirements for lobbying legislators.

Here Deputy Chief Michael Castro, center, and Public Information Officer John Walsh, right, are seen with Journal Staff Writer Dan McKay, “working the room,” in the glass enclosed media gallery where other journalists were also present.

Councillor Loy, right, a retired APD captain, sponsored the STOP ordinance. He said he brought forward this bill because he had seen too many fatal accidents and made too many death notifications, not to try anything to reduce deaths.

I witnessed a red light running, T-bone fatal crash when I worked the streets. I was unable to breathe life back into the instantaneously dead body of the drunken offending driver. There’re might be those who think that after such an experience, how I could not believe in anything that may help prevent such tragic events.

I might also. Except that, I do not believe that one throws out fundamentals and precepts of centuries old developed law. There is a mistaken belief that imposing and enforcing some Draconian laws will prevent such occurrences.

The continued existence of fatal accidents is as predictable as the sunrise.

It appears that if the city didn’t use the civil approach and had made the offenses traffic code violations, then there was no possible way to prove the case in Metropolitan Court to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Albuquerque Fire Chief Robert Ortega presented information about the reduction of serious injury accidents at intersections with cameras, including no fatal accidents.

It was disheartening to watch the police department’s command staff disregard their formal training in favor of supporting authoritarian rule over civil law. The presence and behavior of these officers smacked of the dreaded “us versus them” attitude officers are sometimes prone to exhibit.

Knowing my long-term opposition to using non-legal concepts in writing city ordinances, Councillor Winter asked that I forward my thoughts to him:

There are several levels of concern related to the automated enforcement provided under STOP: Purpose, Process and Law.

Red light violations and speeding are traffic problems within the community. They are not the only concerns, nor are they the most serious facing the community. It seems that DWIs and wrong way drivers are viewed in the public square as more dangerous.

Automated enforcement is clearly capable of raising a great deal of revenue and there is some evidence that the most serious accident rate intersections are not subjected to the use of the technology.

The general feeling of the community, especially by people who have been ensnared by automated enforcement, is the process of contesting the notice is not what the public expects. This is because they view the violation as a traffic offense and expect to have the right to go through the Metropolitan Court as a misdemeanor.

Some in the public do not perceive STOP as a proper use of the public nuisance abatement laws.

The City and its surrogate contractor, RedFlex Inc., who manage STOP, make threats that assistant city attorneys have told District Court judges they have no intention to follow through with, which are the seizure of offending vehicles.

Hundreds of cases have been dismissed because the City cannot accommodate the numbers of contested notices.

The public is becoming angrier and angrier.

There are some problems about jurisdiction:

The city has no authority over the administration of traffic offenses that would allow for the use of a City Administrative Hearing Officer in lieu of a state court.

State law provides that all misdemeanors, civil complaints and the enforcement of all municipal ordinances are within the exclusive purview of the Metropolitan Court.

The mayor has indicated that all of the more than $6 million generated so far, has gone back into the program. However, a quick check of the math, giving all inference to the City, the cost of this program would be several million dollars less than reported.

Winter announced that as a result of the town hall meeting, he plans to draft changes to STOP. The concerns he noted in a posting on the “Message from the City Council” page included: short yellow light time at camera intersections, fines and penalties that are excessive, and a flawed hearing process that fails to provide due process.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Pete Domenici, when he was president of the Albuquerque City Commission, March 28, 1969, throwing out the first pitch at the grand opening of the Albuquerque Sports Stadium.

Domenici had been a Lobo pitcher as an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico before his 1954 graduation. Fifteen years on, he was one of the few politicians I have seen, when throwing out a first pitch, not only was able to reach the plate but, actually threw with any accuracy. Another former college pitcher, alum of Tufts University and current politician who can throw, is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. I understand that former Yale University baseball player and once owner of the Texas Rangers, President George W. Bush, has a good arm.

Last week Domenici announced his candidacy for a seventh, six-year term to the U.S. Senate amidst questions about his health. He turns 74, May 7.

As a matter of disclosure, I photographed Domenici’s 1970 campaign as the Republican candidate for governor when he lost to Bruce King.

I’m not qualified to assess Domenici’s health, but I can, through photographs over the years, show evidence of his aging.

These five photographs span 37 years. The first frame was the same day as the above shot; the next was taken Jan. 19, 1973, when he was introduced as a newly elected Senator to Republican Party faithful.

I have more than a twenty-year gap in pictures. Though I saw and met with the Senator on several occasions, during this time, I was not actively photographing.

The center picture was taken Oct. 9, 1996, while he received the political endorsements from several Albuquerque area police officer organizations. The fourth frame was taken during Heather Wilson’s victory celebration of her special Congressional election, June 23, 1998, to fill the unexpired term of Congressman Steve Schiff who had died in office. The final picture was taken at the Nov. 1, 2006 dedication of the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service’s newly consolidated Albuquerque Service Center for Human Capital Management Office.

Upon closer examination of this picture, it seems that the senator hadn’t had a close encounter with his razor for a couple of days. He had a busy day; besides the new building event, he held a press conference, as described in the Dec. 5, 2006, posting, “Can We See Laura?” Domenici also had an orientation flight in the newly operational V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft at the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Domenici’s aide parked the Senator’s vehicle in designated handicap spots. Domenici is not above seeking physical support, especially from Rep. Wilson over curbs and uneven walkways.

So what’s Wrong With This Picture?

Beyond the apparent frailty that is creeping up on him, he is lucid and sharp of wit and has a command of his legislative duties. I leave it to my readers to judge for themselves the state of Domenici’s health and ability to run and serve.

He might not still have the arm to throw, but as I see it, he’s still playing hardball.