BernCo Commission votes down Democracy Dollars ballot access

The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday against adding a public finance proposal to the November general election ballot. The proposal, known as Democracy Dollars, would provide vouchers to citizens, who could apply them to publicly-financed candidates of their choice. While the commission only voted on whether the measure would be on the November 2018 ballot for Albuquerque residents, commissioners mostly criticized  the merits of the proposal itself. Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico Heather Ferguson called the 3-2 vote an “overstep” and “overreach” by commissioners. “What the commission decided to do tonight is to question the will of the voters who knew and understood the program they were signing,” Ferguson said.

City pays $375K to kids whose father was killed by APD officer

The children of a man shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer will receive $375,000 in a legal settlement from the city, four years after they first sued the city of Albuquerque. On Tuesday morning, state court judge Denise Barela-Shepherd approved the settlement agreement between city attorneys and lawyers for the three children of Mickey Owings. Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, said her office had not recieved the official order from Barela-Shepherd. “The city is awaiting the court order that approves the settlement and dismisses the case,” Manzano wrote in a statement to NM Political Report. In a prior statement, Manzano noted this was one of the last few pending cases carried over from the previous administration.

Groups want ‘Democracy Dollars’ to bolster ABQ publicly-financed candidates

On New Mexico’s primary election day, in almost triple-digit heat, former state Senator Dede Feldman stood outside an Albuquerque middle school with a signature-filled clipboard in hand. It’s not uncommon to see people gathering signatures outside of polling locations for various political efforts. But Feldman wasn’t there to get anyone elected. The former four-term lawmaker, shaded by a wide brimmed hat, was collecting signatures to get a public campaign finance initiative on the ballot in November for Albuquerque voters. The initiative that Feldman and others hope to get on the ballot would increase money to at least some municipal candidates in Albuquerque who take part in the city’s public financing system.

Keller administration to review pending DWI vehicle seizure lawsuits against the city

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller this week told city police officers to stop the city’s DWI vehicle seizure program. Under existing ordinance, the police department can impound vehicles after DWI arrests, but before the driver has been convicted. Keller called on the city council to permanently change the policy, but there are still pending lawsuits by people who allege the city violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by taking vehicles and then charging owners to release them. Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said city attorneys are evaluating each case individually before taking any further action. “Our legal department is doing a case-by-case review of every case, whether it’s in the initial stages, whether it was set for a hearing at the city administrative hearing level or whether it’s in the district or higher courts, to make sure that we handle all the cases consistently, fairly and transparently,” Nair told NM Political Report.

Editorial cartoon in ABQ Journal widely condemned as racist, bigoted

After state and U.S. lawmakers called an editorial cartoon in the state’s largest newspaper racist and offensive, the editor-in-chief of the Albuquerque Journal issued an apology. In a statement, Karen Moses apologized for upsetting readers. “In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions,” according to Moses’s statement posted on the paper’s website Thursday. “This was not the intent, and for that, the Journal apologizes.”

Moses also said the cartoon does not reflect the position of the Journal. The Journal’s reporters, who work separately from the editorial board, covered the controversy in the paper’s Thursday edition.

DOJ threatens (again) to withhold funds from Bernalillo County over immigration info sharing

The U.S. Department of Justice is again threatening to withhold some crimefighting funds from Bernalillo County over what the Trump administration has called “sanctuary” policies. The DOJ contacted Bernalillo County and 22 other jurisdictions, including New York City and the states of California, Illinois and Oregon, saying they violated the law that promotes sharing immigration enforcement information with the federal government. DOJ says the statute requires cooperation as a condition for receiving grants through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Wednesday, DOJ threatened to subpoena officials who do not comply with their documents request. The threat is the latest in the fight between the federal government and local jurisdictions they deem as “sanctuary.” There is no formal definition of a so-called “sanctuary” city or county, though the Trump administration generally uses it to refer to local jurisdictions that do not fully comply with federal requests to aid enforcement of immigration law.

Keller announces APD restructuring

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and Albuquerque Interim Police Chief Michael Geier announced Thursday the elimination of half a dozen high-ranking police positions. Keller told reporters the reorganization is aimed at “eliminating a top-heavy structure.”

The APD rank of major will be eliminated, the two said, along with the assistant chief position. Under the new structure, Geier will oversee four bureaus, each run by a deputy chief, compared to six bureaus run by department majors. Keller told reporters he consulted with APD and decided to start from the top down to reorganize the department, which was also one of his campaign promises. “Like any reorganization, we are starting from the top,” Keller said.

Keller names key staff, including interim APD chief

Albuquerque Mayor-Elect Tim Keller announced new leadership positions for his administration this week, including an interim police chief. Keller announced on Monday that Sarita Nair will be the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. Nair is one of multiple members of his staff in the State Auditor’s office that will hold key positions in his administration. Nair will be the first woman to serve in the position in Albuquerque’s history. She worked in the State Auditor’s office as Chief Government Accountability Officer and General Counsel under Keller.

Settlement in UNM whistleblower suit involving alleged rape

After a contentious trial filled with tears, frustration and sharp warnings from the judge, both parties in a whistleblower lawsuit came to an agreement late Thursday night. The confidential settlement between the University of New Mexico Hospital and a former resident came after almost two weeks of testimony and hours before the jury was set to hear closing arguments. Former UNMH medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald sued the school, alleging she was pushed out of the program after she told her bosses she was raped by a male colleague. UNMH attorneys disagreed, saying they removed her from the residency program because she made many possibly fatal mistakes during surgeries, had a prescription drug problem and did not take responsibility for her shortcomings. Related: See all our stories from this trial
Herald told reporters after the trial she feels “a huge sense of relief” but that the decision to settle was not an easy one.

Near-mistrial, heated words in UNMH whistleblower lawsuit trial

A judge nearly threw the case out and a lawyer made a witness cry on the seventh day of trial in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Former UNM medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald alleges UNMH officials unlawfully dismissed her from the residency program after she reported a colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

After almost a full day of routine testimony, the judge came close to declaring a mistrial and had sharp words for Randi McGinn, one of Herald’s lawyers, over her comments to a witness outside the courtroom. Toward the end of the day’s proceedings, Dr. Sally Vender, an anesthesiologist, testified on behalf of UNMH. Vender described her friendship with Herald, which started when they were both first-year medical interns.