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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

City Slumps, But Salary Hikes For Politicos Grabs Agenda; How Is That? Plus: The Real Depression: Billions For NM Education & Lousy Results 

ABQ metro unemployment has rocketed to a rate not seen in decades; city government faces a big budget shortfall it's covering with property tax money not intended for that purpose; home prices have nosedived and commercial real estate in the city is in a slump that in some areas looks like a Depression. So what is becoming a hot button issue in the October 6 city election? How about raising the pay of the mayor and nine councilors? Talk about bad timing.

The hard-working citizens who comprise the City Charter Review Task Force started their work last August, before the worst of the economic crash. But even as the bear market intensified they seemed oblivious to the economic and political atmosphere. They have continued to force an "independent salary commission" plan to the top of the public agenda.

Never mind that ABQ voters since 1974 have probably rejected a dozen times--and most recently in 2007--the idea of raising the way the mayor and councilors are paid. Yet the task force seems to think that politician pay is among the most pressing matters facing the city. They want a special commission to set the pay because they think our city leaders are underpaid and that is impacting the quality of government we receive. But is it?

The councilors receive 10 percent of the mayor's salary, or about $10,940 a year. He gets about $109,500. But each councilor also has a full-time aide who gets paid $51,688 a year. Also, the president of the city council, elected to a one year term, receives double the salary of his colleagues--$21,881--compensating him for the heavier workload. Also, the Office of Council Services has 26 full-time employees. And this isn't enough for a city of 525,000?

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

We don't see any shortage of candidates running for council or mayor this year. Even under the restrictive new public financing law we have hot races in three of the five council districts up for election and a mayor's race with three not so shabby candidates.

As for the current council, we don't see a bunch of mediocrity there either. Ditto for many of the council candidates. The desire to serve, not the salary, seems the main motivator. That has to be one of the most appealing aspects of our city government. Why destroy it?

The good news is that the mayor, council and task force are done with their food-fight over the salary issue and other proposed charter amendments. They will each be voted on Oct. 6.. Not surprisingly, Mayor Chavez is against a salary commission.

The charter task force was no doubt well-intentioned and all were volunteers, but their work has been overshadowed by the big political disconnect they delivered with the proposed salary commission. The city faces much more difficult and fundamental challenges. Perhaps the next task force will concentrate on those.

A REAL WORRY

If denizens of the Duke City need something to really worry about. They can try this:

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks is describing the state of APS schools as a crisis. That characterization follows the release of 2009 Adequate Yearly Progress reports for every school in the state and news that the APS graduation rate is only 46 percent.

For the state, the new stats show only about 54 percent of our students are finishing high school. It is absolutely maddening that after the billions we have pumped into education from the historic energy surpluses that we continue to languish so badly.

BIG TIME FRUSTRATION
Secretary Garcia
I spoke not long ago with NM Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia, and it was an intense conversation with the Secretary asking me if I was arguing with her or interviewing her. I admitted to big time frustration over the continued failures, despite the huge cash outlays. So did she.

We discussed mainly how the Anglo graduation rate---now 64 percent--is so much higher than the 50.2 percent rate for Hispanics and the even lower 45.4 percent for Native Americans. The national graduation rate is 70 percent.

Former Governor Garrey Carruthers, now dean of the biz school at NM State University, has been arguing for years that more special measures must be taken to reach young Hispanic and Native American students. The ethnic factor must be confronted, he says, as the Anglo grad rate is so much higher. Secretary Garcia calls it an income issue. Whatever it's called, we know that it is the particular needs of minority students that have to be addressed.

The political and intellectual classes are aghast that after this kind of spending we are still in such sorry educational shape. But are most New Mexicans as aggrieved? And if not, why not?

Governor Richardson holds a news conference today to talk about more initiatives to address the graduation problem. He will take a hit for the new stats, as will Light Guv Denish, but no single politician is to blame. Rather than dumping on him--there will be plenty of that a year from now---we can only hope that in his time remaining he can come up with something that moves the needle on one of the most intractable problems facing the Land of Enchantment.

BILL'S BLUES?

Governor Big Bill scored a bounty of national TV shots on the North Korea situation Tuesday, but did it cover the disappointment he may have felt that it was the other Big Bill--Bill Clinton--who was tapped by the White House to travel to the isolated nation to free American journalists? There was some wry amusement in watching the Guv praise his former boss for his successful mission as the two have not spoken since our Big Bill endorsed Obama for president instead of Hillary.

Richardson has visited North Korea several times on troubleshooting missions. You can argue that it took someone of the stature of the former President to do this deal, or you can argue Richardson was shut out by the Clinton's and the White House because he is untouchable until the federal investigations into pay-to-play in his administration are concluded. And argue they will....

SAM IS A SHE

From Lt. Guv Denish:

Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish named Ms. Sam Thompson Communications Director. Previously, Sam served as the Communications Director for Attorney General Patricia Madrid.

Sam is short for Samantha, right?

NEVER TOO EARLY

The action has never been earlier when it comes to a New Mexico election cycle, probably in large measure because of the costs of these campaigns. And then there's just a lot of politicians who want jobs. An early look at Campaign '10 and some pollster Brian Sanderoff analysis here.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. E-mail your news tips and comments.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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