I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Turf war erupts between Mayor Martin Chávez, ABQ city council
The city attorney and mayor believe that the Council amended and passed this year’s CIP budget too late, which means the mayor’s version will go before voters in October.
The Capital Improvement Program funds projects like parks, roads and city buildings.
The final legislation approved by the council on April 6 eliminated several of the mayor’s high profile priorities — including a $6.48 million lagoon intended for swimming at Tingley Beach as well as infrastructure for a big soccer field complex to be built on the far West Side near I-40 and Paseo del Volcan. SunCal Corporation offered to donate that land after the Council cut funding, with the Mayor making the offer to the Council on March 13.
But now, City Attorney Bob White — a long-time appointee of the mayor — says the Council didn’t follow the proper timeline specified by the ordinance, which means the mayor’s original proposal stands.
In response, city councilors said at a press conference late yesterday that White is mistaken, and that the decree represents an encroachment on the council’s power.
“If he wants to affect legislation, he should run for City Council,” Councilor Rey Garduño said. “That’s clearly where he belongs. Otherwise, as mayor, when legislation doesn’t suit his purposes, he can’t just reinterpret city ordinance to support his position.”
Councilor Michael Cadigan used even stronger words to describe the turf war.
“This is a blatant grab for power by the mayor,” he said. “He wants to be both the mayor and the city council. He wants to make the budget, and approve the budget.”
But Chávez told KRQE-TV that the councilors “blew their own deadline,” which means the CIP “reverts back to the mayor’s priorities.”
White kicked off the flurry of City Hall salvos with a letter to the mayor and City Council President Isaac Benton yesterday afternoon. In his letter, White cited the city ordinance concerning the CIP to back up his position:
… [the Council] shall approve the Capital Improvements Program as proposed or shall amend it and approve it. Council action shall be within 60 days after it has been submitted by the Mayor. This period begins on the date of introduction of the CIP bill at a City Council meeting.”
Noting that the Council approved the CIP about 90 days after it was introduced on January 5th, White said the mayor’s original proposal is automatically in effect.
But according to analysis provided to councilors by their legal staff, which was obtained by the Independent, White is wrongly conflating separate city ordinances — one pertaining to the city’s annual operating budget and one that pertains to the Capital Improvement Program.
The operating budget ordinance, the analysis argues, explicitly states that the council has to approve the budget within 60 days or the mayor’s operating budget will go into effect. But the ordinance pertaining to the capital program doesn’t have that automatic provision. According to the council’s legal analysis:
The CIP ordinance says the Council must “take action” (not adopt) within 60 days and then purposely does NOT say the Mayor’s proposed CIP goes into effect after that time.
Council staff concluded by saying the council and the mayor “…have long had the same understanding that the times are advisory to keep the process moving.”
Moreover, Councilor Garduño told NMI that the council did take action, as instructed by the ordinance.
The Southeast Heights councilor explained that the CIP has made its way through three committees and a full session of the council, including debate over several controversial elements — like the mayor’s proposal to build a lagoon at Tingley Beach. It was then approved on a 7-2 vote, which is veto proof.
Separately, Councilor Benton told the Independent he questioned why the city attorney was speaking up now.
“Our staff felt that we were within the timeline — and we never heard one word from the city attorney to indicate otherwise until now,” he said.
Chávez responded to White’s letter with his own letter to Benton in which he said it’s clear the council didn’t agree with all of his proposed capital projects, and that he’s open to crafting a “consensus amendment” with the council:
It is clear to me that the majority of the City Council did not agree with all of my proposed CIP. …
I want to assure you and all of the City Council that I want to work with you to forge some kind of compromise that works for everyone. The ordinances provide for amendments by the Mayor and I am open to some form of consensus agreement.