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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Talk Of The Town: Resignation Or Retribution? White Melodrama Swirls; Mayor Gives First Interviews, Plus: State Engineer Said To Be Out 

  • Embattled Public Safety Director Darren White called it quits late Friday, announcing he will leave his position at ABQ City Hall. Here is his statement. White also stepped down from the state Judicial Standards Commission, a position he was recently appointed to by Gov. Martinez.
Maybe one of these days we'll get to tell you about a new business that is relocating to ABQ and bringing it with it 500 high-paying jobs, or about how the Mayor spearheaded a successful philanthropic drive to restart the recently defunct NM Symphony Orchestra, or how the city police and fire departments held a reception in his honor for his skillful leadership guiding the departments. Maybe someday, but it won't be on this day, because like every day this week the public face of ABQ government has been Public Safety Director Darren White and his determination to hold on to power despite all the odds, and a still mushrooming scandal over his intervention at the scene of an auto accident involving his wife.

The non-stop swirling melodrama over White is wearing thin. Even if he were to continue to fight and somehow survive the ordeal, his effectiveness in leading the two most critical agencies of the government of the state's largest city is over. He fights now for only his personal survival. There will be no redemption for him in the eyes of those he is supposed to lead. In other words, you can't unring a bell.

With that as a backdrop, conversation in political circles centered on when and if White will resign. Guesses ranged from within a week to never. The "never" came in the aftermath of a Republican luncheon hosted by longtime GOP activist and lobbyist/lawyer Mickey Barnett. There, battle orders were given to stop the Darren ship from sinking.

Elsewhere, cannon rounds were being fired at the same ship. The four Democratic city councilors announced they want an independent investigation of the White accident (video here) and the ABQ fire fighters union joined with their police brethren and formally gave Darren a vote of no confidence.

There was talk here and elsewhere that the letter announcing the support for an independent investigation might be signed by a Republican or two, sending a clear message to Mayor Berry that White no longer had a leg to stand on, but that Barnett luncheon and other pressure from the GOP base may have kept all the R councilors in check--for now. None of them signed the letter.

Still, a top city Republican was saying with some degree of certitude that there was no need for the R's to pile on. That the end game has been reached. That Mayor Berry finally realizes that White must go--and that his resignation is a near certainty. But no one is going to believe anything until they see or hear it.

A city council committee will meet this afternoon to decide whether to formally approve a council approved investigation of White. Dems control the committee, so the only question was if any R's will join with them in asking the full council for the probe. The two R's on the committee are Trudy Jones and Don Harris. If it is approved, it would be taken up by the full council at it's August 1 meeting, but if that top city R is right, Darren would be gone by then, making the motion academic.

The newspaper came with this:

Several Republicans said they’re inclined to wait before supporting an outside investigation. The IRO’s report should be available at the end of next week, and the City Council meets Aug. 1.

“When the full council comes together, every option will be on the table, and everyone will be held accountable,” Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican, said in an interview.

Mayor Berry has ordered the Independent Review Officer, a former federal judge who is employed by the city, to conduct a probe, but because White has become such a political lightning rod, the ability to conduct an unbiased probe under the executive branch has been questioned.

BERRY BEAT

The Mayor gave his first media interviews on the White crisis to KOAT-TV's Ilana Gold and KRQE-TV's Katie Kim, but he didn't hand out much red meat. He said he is awaiting the report of the IRO to determine what happened at the scene of the accident. It was notable, however, that Berry did not give the same full-throated support to White that he received at that Monday night news conference featuring top city officials. From KRQE:

"It's not a matter of being willing to stand up and answer a question. I'll speak on this incident as to my thoughts on it when I have the facts that I need. Right now I have a concern here and a concern there on both sides of the issue...I don't want anything to get filtered through the Mayor's Office. I don't want people to think that we're somehow getting involved with that."

Berry is trying hard there to sell the independence of the official probe. Judge Deaton, the IRO, is a Democrat. However, he is married to retired Republican District Court Judge Geraldine Rivera. That doesn't mean he can't be independent, but the Democrats on the council are not fully comfortable with leaving the investigation entirely to him. That could play into how the report is perceived. Here's what the four city councilors said on why they want an independent investigation:

The investigation must be conducted without political interference and manipulation from any individual, political party, interests within the City, or closely related associates. To prevent all potential or perceived conflicts of interest, and/or fears of retaliation, we respectfully call for an investigation to be conducted by an independent organization with experience in these types of investigations and in representing government and police misconduct cases.

Why wasn't the Mayor in his TV interviews mimicking that notorious Monday night media-bashing news conference featuring White, Police Chief Schultz and Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry? You could say it is not in his affable nature, but was it also because he is starting to get it that ultimately it is his ass on the line and not Darren's?

Berry's outside demeanor was casual, but if his stomach isn't churning with something that feels like battery acid, he isn't alive.

STATE ENGINEER OUT?
D'Antonio
An Alligator reports from Santa Fe that the State Engineer--who is in charge of NM water policy--is out:

The State Engineer of New Mexico--
John D'Antonio--was notified Thursday by the Martinez administration that they are putting together a search committee to replace him due to the fact that he refused to relinquish water to Elephant Butte Irrigation District farmers in order to preserve the water rights of Middle Rio Grande farmers. They have appointed Steve Hernandez to head the search. Mr. Hernandez represents the EBID farmers and is currently in litigation with the State of New Mexico. How's that for a lead, Joe?

On any other day, it would be a lead story. But Darren knocked you down.

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN?

Let's end the week with what will be good news if it turns out to be true:

A new economic forecast shows New Mexico's financial outlook is improving and more than $360 million in revenues will be available in the upcoming budget year. Members of the Legislative Finance Committee met Thursday in Socorro to review the latest revenue projections. The state expects to collect about $5.8 billion in its main budget account in the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2012. That would mean more than $360 million in "new money" is available to appropriate for programs and services when the Legislature meets in January to start work on the 2013 budget.

Hey, Susana, don't spend it all in one place!

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