Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Gets to Decide Whom the Media Is? Part Five: Mayor Richard Berry’s ABQ View Press Conference

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Mayor Richard Berry’s ABQ View Press conference.

I received a less than seven-hour notice of a Transparency Website Briefing from the City Director of Communications Chris Ramirez. This was sent as an email to the “media contact” list for announcing photo opportunities or press conferences. This was an exception to the normal, press releases, which are sent out after an event.

Transparency Website Briefing

From: "Ramirez, Chris T."
To: Media Contacts
Subject: Transparency Website Briefing
Date: Aug 25, 2010 9:16 AM

Mayor Richard J. Berry extends an invitation for you to be briefed on the City of Albuquerque's new Transparency Website. The mayor and City staff have worked for several months to craft the nation's leading website on open government and they are very pleased to show you the website in it's entirety.
Please join the mayor: Today July 24, 2010 
4pm Albuquerque Convention Center, Cochiti Room (Lower Level West Building)
Chris Ramirez 
Director of Communications
Office of Mayor Richard J. Berry
City of Albuquerque
(505) Redacted c
(505) 768-3322 o

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You may notice the date on the email and the date in the body of the text differ by a day. If the text had been correct the event happened 24-hours earlier.

MacQuigg and I attended the Mayor Richard Berry’s press and administration briefing of the City of Albuquerque's new Transparency Website, “ABQ View.”
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government's Executive Director Sarah Welsh, center, and Constituent Services, former City Councillor Sally Mayer, right, is of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo Government cable access channel's photographer sent to cover the press conference for GOV 14 (propagandist).
This is a shot of Fire Chief James Breen, center, white uniform shirt, and Coincillor Rey Garduno, right, one of the authors of the ABQ View legislation in the Council.
The Mayor’s police protective detail’s bodyguard, APD Officer Tony Fincher, stood against the back wall and I sensed uneasiness about him towards me. He said nothing, but did take one tentative step towards me as I took photographs from off Mayor Berry’s left shoulder to show the people in the room. Berry paid no attention to me. Fincher seemed very wary of me at both the July 1, employee wage cutback and at the ABQ-View press conferences.

I sensed a residual affect lingering from the prior administration, where Martin Chávez continually claimed I had intimidated him and falsely accused me of having pushed him. Something I never did. He refused to bring any charges, but had his protective detail officers ban me, rather than accompany me if they believed what Chávez told them. No Albuquerque police officer has ever seen me engage in any unlawful act in their presence, a requirement for an arrest, because it has never happened.
Berry made a 24-minute power point presentation claiming FOG had blessed the efforts as being an opening of government to the citizens.
MacQuigg asked a question of Mayor Berry in this exchange:
MacQuigg: I would like to ask a question about public information officers, which is the flipside of this, the other half... Berry: Yep. MacQuigg: At this point, I would expect to be able to go to a PIO and get the truth as opposed to spin. Berry: Well that’s a subjective question. I don’t know what you’d call spin, I’m not sure what, you’d have to give me a little more information on that. We’ve got Chris Rameriez here with us today, where’s Chris? Chris is our director of communications. We have different PIOs in different departments because certain departments have a great demand. We have got T.J. Wilham, who’s here with us. He’s our PIO, or our communications director for public safety. I would venture to guess that in conversations that I’ve had with the media that I think our track record is pretty darn good. If people ask us a question, we’re pretty good at giving them a straight answer. We’re really making an effort towards that.

I asked Welsh if she truly thought “ABQ View” was heaven? She said yes. So I then asked her if she would join MacQuigg and myself on a trip to Hell – the APS audit Committee meeting – starting in about a half-hour. She showed signs of being more than slightly uncomfortable at that prospect and declined.
KRQE’s Reporter Alex Tomlin, filed an on-air report spot-checking the capabilities of ABQ View and found it wanting. The Journal’s Dan McKay wrote in, “Hey, Who Doesn't Like Berry?”
NAME GAME: A sharp-eyed reader pointed out that mayoral spokesman Chris Ramirez doesn't appear on the city's transparency website, at least not in an obvious way. The "earnings report" lists instead a Chris "Huffman." Ramirez said that's his legal name, but as a professional, he's always gone by his mom's last name: Ramirez.
ABQ View listed Ramirez as Huffman:
Name: Huffman, Christopher T.
Department: Mayor's Office
Earnings Year to Date: $54,379.20
Job Title: Director of Communications
So, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The Mayor’s staff begrudgingly welcomed us, and though Berry is adamant about being open, there are staffers who are bound and determined to protect him from any hint of bad news or tough questioning. I was on the city’s “News Media Press Release” e-mail list,
I was also on the e-mail list, which announces press conferences, photo opportunities and public events the mayor is scheduled to attend. However, after the July first press conference where Mayor Berry announced the incremental cuts in the pay of city workers, I stopped receiving media advisory emails, while I was aware from watching TV news, from the paper, and talking to colleagues about their receiving notices that prompted me to realize that my name was removed.
The Mayor ignored me when I tried to ask a question.
T.J. Wilham called, "Thank you Mayor,” and escorted Berry from the room. Though the Mayor paused as former KOB TV Reporter Misa Maruyama asked a question; Berry deferred to Wilham who shut down Maruyama and beckoned the Mayor, shuttling him out the door.
So I asked Human Resources Director Eugene Moser a number of questions about how the negotiations process was being conducted in light of the decision to unilaterally cut pay. Moser seemed honest and candid in his responses. Staff members noticed him talking to me and literally pulled him away from me mid-sentence in his answer, saying the mayor wanted him immediately.
To Moser’s credit he took one last question, then was hurried away.
I asked the Mayor’s police protective detail’s bodyguard, Tony Fincher, here standing behind Darren White, on left, with Wilham seated and Ramirez-Huffman, far right, if he could send out one of the Mayor’s press people or if he could get me a copy of the handouts, press release, and especially the maps illustrating where other jurisdictions used similar or harsher remedies to deal with the recession, frame grab below.
Fincher told me to, “Go ahead and pack everything up, step outside, I’ll go talk to T.J. (Wilham) and see what I can get...” He returned to the outer hallway and told me someone would give me a call; no one called or contacted me by email, Wilham has never personally contacted me. Though the communications staff tolerates me when I learn of press events and show up, they are not welcoming, as they are of the commercial press.
I had also been on the Albuquerque Police Department media list when officer Nadine Hamby, right, with then Commander Bob Huntsman, was PIO, at least through April 17, 2010, receiving my last press release announcement of a press conference on details of a traffic fatality.
At the July 1st, event there were more mayoral staff, Legal, Police, Human Resource, Finance and Administrative Services, department heads, and Chief Administrative Officers and their staffs than there were members of the press. The room was crowded: Mayor Richard Berry, City Director of Communications Christopher T. Ramirez Huffman, Chief Administrative Officer David Campbell, Public Safety Director Darren White, Public Safety Communications Director Todd "T.J." Wilham, Senior Advisor to the Mayor, City of Albuquerque Sara Lister, City Attorney Rod Perry, Chief of Police Ray Schultz, Human Resource Director Gene Mosher, Finance and Administrative Services Director Lou Hoffman, plus up to six to nine more Mayor/CAO staffers, Tony Fincher Police Officer GOV-16, the City Government Cable channel's Randy Moss, were present.

This is a partial list of members of the media who attended; it seems that there were several outlets with two camera crews doing coverage:

Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer Dan McKay
KOB TV News' Chief Photographer Bazz McClain KOB TV Photographer Isaias Medina former KOB TV Reporter Misa Maruyama.
KOAT TV General Assignment Reporter Christie Ileto
KOAT TV photographer
former KRQE TV Reporter Kaitlin McCarthy
former KRQE TV Reporter Maria Medina
KRQE TV Reporter Jim Winchester
KRQE TV Photographer Mike Lovely

A room crowded with city staff at an announced "Press Conference" is not reason to limit the members of the media to accommodate staff.
It seems that between the 30 people at the July 1, and the 25 people at the August 25, Press Conferences, the communications staffs might have had the right idea to use a bigger room, even if it had fewer people. The mayor has access to large rooms in city facilities all around town. The employee pay cut backs was big news and if nothing else, the number of city staffers that were deemed necessary to attend should have been an indicator of the importance the media was going to give to the issue.
These events would also become the impetus for several further accounts in this series.


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