Leonard Waites was surprised. The executive director of the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission had just learned from a reporter that Mayor Tim Keller had hired former U.S. Attorney and defeated congressional candidate Damon Martinez as a senior policy adviser for the Albuquerque Police Department. Waites, who is black and also serves as chairman of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board, was outraged last year by the results of a large-scale federal law enforcement operation. Overseen by Martinez, agents had arrested a grossly disproportionate number of black people for relatively minor crimes in 2016. “I have very, very serious concerns about this,” Waites said Monday of Martinez’s hire, adding that he had heard nothing about it from the Keller administration.
When retired U.S. Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly asked nine high school students how many knew someone who had been shot, all of them raised their hands. The students were from Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and two schools on tribal land. He said that’s the first time every student raised a hand; it’s usually closer to 50 percent when he asks that in other states—and closer to zero percent in other developed nations. Three of the students later said they had been shot at themselves . Kelly appeared with his wife, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Albuquerque on Tuesday.
The debate over enforcement of immigration law was front and center this week, with images of children separated from their parents and held in cages along the border in newspapers and TV news. The White House flip-flopped on its explanations and who was to blame, as shown by a damning video in the Washington Post. Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at stopping the same separations the White House said previously could only be ended by Congress. Even that didn’t stop the outcry, with critics pointing out that it would still allow family separations in some cases and that it would allow indefinite detention of families. While children would not be taken from their parents to be put in federal facilities, they would be held together with their respective families until immigration prosecution could take place.
The City of Albuquerque agreed to a still-undisclosed settlement in a four-year-old lawsuit filed by the minor children of a man who was shot and killed by police. The agreement came Friday, just two days before a jury trial for the lawsuit was set to start. Three children of Mickey Owings filed a lawsuit against the city in 2014 after the U.S. Department of Justice included Owings’ death in its scathing report of the Albuquerque Police Department and its use of excessive force. A spokeswoman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller confirmed the city and the children’s attorneys agreed to settle, but she declined to provide details before a state district court judge approves the agreement. “The parties reached an agreement on the Owings case, which is one of the last few remaining cases still pending from the previous administration listed in the DOJ report,” the mayor’s spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said.
Elected officials will weigh in this week on key energy issues, both in Albuquerque and Washington D.C. What happens in those hearings and committee meetings might not grab headlines, but they affect landscapes, communities and the lives of all New Mexicans, whether they live close to oil and gas wells and coal mines, or hundreds of miles away. When private companies drill or mine on federal lands, they pay a percentage in royalties. Right now, that’s 12.5 percent for onshore coal, oil and gas, though an Obama-era rule—overturned last year—updated valuation rates to increase royalty collections. About half the money collected goes to the federal government and half to the state where the mining or drilling occurred. New Mexico currently receives more royalties from extraction on federal lands than any other state.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed legislation on Tuesday that prevents federal immigration officers from using city facilities to detain or question people about their immigration status. The resolution, sponsored by city councilors Pat Davis and Klarissa Peña, also prevents city officials from investigating a person’s immigration status. In a statement, Keller announced the legislation will bring city residents together and promote trust in local law enforcement officers. “Everyone in our city should be able to report crime or take their kids to the neighborhood park or library without fear of having their family torn apart,” Keller said. The new city ordinance comes months after the Donald Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold federal money from “sanctuary cities,” although there is no official legal definition for the term.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis is no longer a criminal offense under Albuquerque city code. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed city council legislation Thursday making cannabis possession a civil infraction. City councilors approved the measure earlier this month on a 5-4 vote. In a statement, Keller said the new ordinance will allow city police officers to focus on combating other crimes. “We’re facing real challenges in Albuquerque and this is a step in the right direction to allow our officers the flexibility to better prioritize their time tackling violent crime and property crime in our city,” Keller said.
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.
The City of Albuquerque is one step closer to reducing the penalties for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. City councilors voted 5-4 Monday night to replace the current ordinance that allows for possible jail time for cannabis possession with a $25 fine. Now it’s up to Mayor Tim Keller to make it official. Under current city law, possession of an ounce or less of cannabis could result in a $50 fine and up to 15 days in jail for a first offense and a possible $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail for repeat offenses.Councilor Cynthia Borrego was the only Democrat to vote against the proposal. She explained that there is “not really any empirical evidence” showing a correlation between decreased penalties and reduced crime rates.
There’s no doubt the Albuquerque mayoral election stole headlines at NM Political Report this year. The list of candidates was long and at least one candidate got a significant head start raising money. By April, 15 candidates announced their intention to run for mayor. In October, eight candidates faced off, and the top two would head to a one-on-one runoff election, unless one candidate received 50 percent of the vote. None did, and State Auditor Tim Keller faced off against Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis in the runoff election.