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Monday, December 12, 2011

Many Metro Water Management Woes So Where's The Ire? Plus: More On Down & Dirty Downs Deal, And: APD Lawsuits & Chief Schultz 

That old western saying "whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting" is part of the political lexicon around these parts, so why isn't there much fighting over the doings at the agency that governs the use of water in the state's big metro? There is certainly plenty happening, much of it is not very good for water consumers and worth fighting over. An Alligator quenches our thirst for more info and comes with this insider report:

City water rates and the water utility used to be one of the more controversial matters at City Hall. But ever since then-Senate Leader Manny Aragon ripped control of the utility out of the city's hands and placed it with the "Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority" water issues--and the water utility--have dropped off the political radar. That's something of a surprise given the importance of the subject to our high desert metropolis.

A water rate increase that ranged from 9-19% drew some media attention this past summer, but mostly parroted the Water Authority line that there hadn't been a rate increase in some time. The rate increase was something of a one-two punch. It arrived with the news that the Water Authority's bond rating had been downgraded because of the high level of debt the utility has incurred and has ratepayers on the hook for.

This week it was reported the Authority's sewer treatment plant is under an
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order because of violations that range from too much chlorine and ammonia being pumped into the Rio Grande to electrical hazards and holes in the floors of the facility.

Authority officials cite the age of the treatment plant as the reason the EPA has stepped in and say they will need $250 million--an additional rate increases--in order to fix the problems and get the Feds off their case. But some of the issues the EPA cites, such as "failures in equipment maintenance, emergency planning and record keeping," may indicate a lack of management and oversight rather than a lack of money.


Not so long ago, issues like these could mean political death to a mayor or city councilor because they were responsible for the city's water system. The mayor still has a seat on the Authority, but how many people know that? Who is and who actually runs the Water Authority?


Out of sight might be out of mind. But with government bureaucracies that's rarely a good thing..

Interesting stuff. As to who runs the water board, the governing board is composed of Bernalillo County commissioners, ABQ city councilors and the mayor. The longtime executive director is Mark Sanchez, one of the highest compensated public officials in the state.

NEWT AND HEATHER

If Newt Gingrich can take command of the GOP presidential nomination contest basically overnight, what does that mean for the NM GOP US Senate race, if anything?

Well, it means we can't adopt the conventional wisdom that the race is in the bag for Heather Wilson and that Lt. Governor John Sanchez might as well give up. The lesson may be that Republican primary voters are looking for what they deem the true conservative candidate and that Wilson--despite a commanding lead in the early going--could still be vulnerable.

Wilson lost the 2008 US Senate nod to the more conservative Steve Pearce. She may have thought that she was out of danger in 2012, but the rise of Newt again raises the specter. In other words, don't put the GOP US Senate race to bed just yet.

DOWNS DOINGS

The digging on the down and dirty Downs deal continues. Michael Corwin of the liberal Independent Source PAC came Friday with fresh info on campaign contributions to the Governor from the Louisiana owners of the Downs:

We found more contributions from the Louisiana owners of the Downs to Governor Martinez after she was elected. We also looked a little bit deeper into their backgrounds. Also, a bit on Goff getting to help amend the contract. It now looks to me like Susana went to bat on this one for the Louisiana boys not for Paul Blanchard, the former president of the Downs who was a close political and personal associate of former Gov. Richardson and who retains an ownership interest in the racino.

Corwin's PAC filed a bid-rigging complaint with US Attorney Kenneth Gonzales who says he has forwarded it to the FBI.

The newspaper hit with a weekend front-pager also detailing the Louisiana money connection and also covering some of the NM GOP connections to the Downs deal that have been previously talked about here (That would be Pat, Mickey, Darren, Jay and the gang).

The state Board of Finance is expected to give final approval to the 25 year lease deal for the Downs which also includes approval of a new $20 million casino that neighborhood groups have opposed. The bid-rigging charge stems from the short time frame--30 days--that the state fair commission solicited bids to build the Downs racino. Was that done to ensure that there would be few bidders? ABQ businessman Tom Tinnin resigned from Board of Finance after telling the Guv that the Downs deal that was brewing was a stinker.

The Downs deal has been the first major ethical crisis of the Martinez administration which rode into office pledging to reverse what they called the sleazy ethical practices of Big Bill and company. It is not one of those stories that is going to cause Susana to plummet in the public opinion polls, but it is a chink in her armor with longer-term consequences.

APD'S MOUNTING COSTS

Retired ABQ Police Department Seargent Daniel Klein has been tenacious in following the many lawsuits that the city is contending with over APD actions, and today he has more for us:

This is a link to a KRQE-TV news story
regarding how much money the ABQ Police Department has paid out in lawsuits in just the last two years--$7 million and counting. Go back to when Ray Schultz took over as APD chief and I figure the number goes to double digits. Remember, we have the $900,000 settlement for Schultz's actions against one of his officers. Isn't this where the chief is directly accountable--how he manages our money?

Just as the chief is supposed to hold officers accountable for their actions, being a good steward of taxpayer money is where the chief is to be held accountable. More than anything else, this is the reason Schultz needs to be sent packing and a new chief brought in. He has shown an inability to manage our money in a prudent manner. He would have been dismissed for losing this much money if he were employed in the private sector.


So where is Mayor Berry and the City Council on this issue? Just how many millions of taxpayer dollars can the police department lose, before someone stands up and says someone must be held accountable? Do we have anyone steering this ship? I am beginning to think we don't.


Rumors abound that Schultz is on his way out and perhaps he is if Mayor Berry is assessing his political health. The Department of Justice is expected to launch a probe into the numerous fatal police shootings that have plagued the city. That would put the leadership of Schultz under the microscope, an ordeal that could be difficult for him to survive. The chief has been in charge for nearly seven years. Even he must see the need for change.

Newsman Jeff Proctor says the root of APD's problems may go back a decade when then-Mayor Chavez touted the need for a larger force and some entrance standards were relaxed. Whatever the case, the shootings and other mayhem within the department have taken place under the watch of Mayor Berry. He cut his losses when he dumped Darren White as public safety officer. Will he do the same with Schultz?

BILL'S NEW HOUSE

It's a vacation home. He says his primary residence will still be Santa Fe:

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and his wife, Barbara Flavin Richardson, paid $1.67 million for a house on Fox Pond and Strong Island Road, according to the deed recorded on Sept. 15. The couple secured a $675,000 mortgage from the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and purchased the 2,278-square-foot house from Gerald and Stephanie Coughlan of Wellesley.

Mrs. Big Bill has long ties to the Cape Cod area.

WHERE IS EVERYONE?

Will the upcoming session of the legislature tackle this?:

Miles Conway, a political coordinator with the Communications Workers of America, says the administration is targeting the entire Department of Health, in which vacancies are currently widespread. “It’s hard to imagine there’s not some deliberate strategy to set the Department of Health to fail,” Conway tells SFR.

Conway cites the 396 DOH vacancies within his union, which represents more than 1,000 state health employees, as an example. Similarly, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 1,100 state health employees, estimates its DOH positions are at a 30 percent vacancy rate...

Thanks to our contributors for giving us such a meaty blog today. It's why "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" remains the undisputed....home of New Mexico politics.

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