Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our Report On ART Money Concerns Confirmed By City; Incompetence Or Criminal? Separate "Reviews" By City And State Auditor; Join Us Back On The City Beat  

Our blog report and your worst fears about the bungled $135 million ART project were confirmed Wednesday. Shortly after we reported that a senior source told us that the funding for the transit project was undergoing scrutiny because of serious questions about how it was spent Mayor Keller's office reacted:

Today the City of Albuquerque confirmed that it has an ongoing investigation into Albuquerque Rapid Transit (A.R.T.). The investigation is looking at the process for planning the A.R.T. system, including funding and procurement related to construction and buses. The investigation is being conducted by the City of Albuquerque’s independent Inspector General. The investigation will be made public when it is complete. . . We look forward to getting to the bottom of this,” stated Mayor Keller.

But like just about everything to do with ART the messaging on this was unclear. Keller called the IG's involvement an "investigation" but IG Harper in an interview with the newspaper walked that back and called it a "review." That's worrisome because it's obvious a project with bad buses and bad construction deserves an "investigation" not only a review.

Harper did confirm that he is launching a "low level investigation" of a city transit employee for possible misconduct involving ART. Does it seem this IG is very anxious to avoid entertaining any possibility that there was "higher level" wrongdoing? And exactly what does he mean by a "low level" investigation? Does that mean the alleged misconduct is minor?

Harper says he will issue a report in a month or so. Whatever he concludes, by his milquetoast language he has already put the public on notice to be skeptical of his findings.

Getting to the bottom of perhaps the worst handled public works project in the city's modern history now involves not only the IG "review" but State Auditor Wayne Johnson confirms that he has begun an investigation of ART spending. After the IG and Auditor get their look then it could be determined if there is reason for a criminal investigation involving possible wrongdoing on how ART finances have been handled.

Given that this is a federally sanctioned project one would suspect federal law enforcement might have an interest in the outcome of the initial investigations. Also, now that ART is under official scrutiny, what about that $75 million in federal funding the Berry administration promised would be here but has been tied up in Congress for months? Do these developments increase the chances that city taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

And what about that gross receipts tax increase proposal that was introduced at the City Council Wednesday and that has been met mostly with hoots of derision? This is the same City Council that failed to conduct proper oversight of the ART project but now wants a $55 million year tax increase to bail them out of their budget woes. If they could not be trusted to handle ART or oversee the police department, why should they be trusted with even more public money?


We've suggested that after City Hall deals with the messes and possible corruption of the past administration, then and only then should a tax hike be considered. And if we must have one, we should redirect some of the $17 million in construction money that is going to the BioPark each year from a voter-approved tax hike several years ago. Not all agree, including reader Nancy Hendrickson:

Joe, let's not bite the hand that feeds us. I, for one, love the BioPark and its major improvements are pulling in major bucks for the whole area. It is earning a national name for itself and is something that Albuquerque and, indeed, NM, can point to as a major family attraction. We may not be a Balboa Park yet, but for the high desert, we are on our way. A proud moment in some pretty bleak time. So let's not second guess the voters and leave our money in something that can help pull ABQ out of the muck and is brings the families here when jobs, schools, nothing else can attract them.

Reader John comes with a counterpoint:

Way to go (Councilor) Ken Sanchez. Tax us some more. So far all we have seen from the  BioPark tax is one more CAO and one more Deputy CAO at the Park, but no more construction or maintenance crews. Go ahead Ken, tell us how you were asleep while all this happened!

Reader Dan Klein asked this week what happened to the $100 million accumulated under the Berry administration because of savings from vacant police officer positions. This anonymous reader reacts:

In response to Mr. Klein’s question on your blog about where all the salary savings for vacant APD officer positions went, for several years it has mostly gone to pay for Officer overtime. Go to the city’s transparency site and see how many regular patrol officers are making over $100,000 per year. 

That APD overtime is another debacle that the city council and Mayor need to resolve.

Reader Caleb Gluck picks up that thread:

Some good points, especially about where the savings went from allegedly being down 250 officers. Where did that money—was it budgeted?—end up. Personally, to me this “shortage” of officers is a canard. I’m from L.A. and one can drive the city for a day and never see a police car; here, I can’t go 20 ft. without running into one. Ditto San Diego. Just go there and see what I mean. There’s something very fishy about this whole officer shortage, crime rise, etc. etc. etc. Perhaps if 5 officers did not converge around a fender-bender we’d experience a better use of resources. . . In L.A. (again) motorists are expected to resolve their own accidents, nor do they close the freeway when there is the unfortunate fatality. That would not go over well. They call me The Truth Teller.

Welcome aboard, Truth Teller. When it comes to covering and (uncovering) just what happened to our city the past 8 years, your services are needed greatly.


We assume that as State Treasurer Dem Tim Eichenberg is frugal and would appreciate nothing more than a free ride for e-election this year. And he just might get it.

His potential Republican foe, Arthur Castillo, is so tangled up in nominating petition snafus that he says he is seriously considering getting out of the race. And if he doesn't he faces a court hearing in the next week asking that he be disqualified from the June primary ballot because of his many errors, including not submitting enough petition signatures and having people not registered to vote sign them.

Courts are hard to convince to keep candidates off the ballot but if Castillo manages to hang on and qualifies for the June primary, is there a chance that he could still get out of the race and let the GOP Central Committee name his replacement? After the mess he has gotten himself in that might be a relief. Meanwhile, Eichenberg seems to be coasting toward an easy ride if not a free one


We're going to end our blogging week on a positive note. After our recent speaking engagement before the ABQ Teachers Federation Leadership Program, we received a batch of kind notes that were forwarded by Donna Teuteberg:

Your commitment and dedication to your work was insightful! We appreciate your support of New Mexico Teachers and Educators working to serve New Mexican children! Here are some thoughts from our group:

Thank you for coming to speak. We appreciate your time and your expertise! I agree with your perception that New Mexico needs to address the causes of poverty and school failure at the root instead of looking for a scapegoat. Thank you for your service in writing and maintaining your blog. We appreciate your clarity and pro- education viewpoint!

Thank you for coming to talk to us at the union office. Thank you for your political writing because it has the ability to shape public opinion on education and other important topics. Education is political.

Thank you for speaking to us. I appreciate your efforts to inform the public about important issues impacting New Mexicans. A free press is essential to our democracy, and in a time when information is constantly being called into question, I appreciate your voice.

With gratitude---Caitlyn, Amanda, Loyola, Turtle, Ginger, Sondra, Kathy, Deborah, Tomas, Chemain, Candice, Kelly, Mary, Donna, Dwayne, and Ellen

ABQ teachers are often vilified in the public arena and blamed for whatever goes wrong. But they are not to blame. They are on the front lines of an ongoing social conditions crisis, putting up a valiant fight and changing lives for the better. And that's something to be thankful for.

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