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.
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.
Just days after his inauguration, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller was onstage again. This time, in front of a crowd of screaming fans of the heavy metal band Trivium. “My name is Tim Keller,” he told the crowd. “I’m your new mayor and I love heavy metal!”
A KOAT-TV photojournalist was at the show and taped Keller, wearing a Trivium shirt, telling the crowd that Albuquerque “is an awesome metal city” and introduced what the mayor called one of his “favorite bands.”
Matt Heafy, the lead singer and guitarist for Trivium, said on Twitter it was “an unprecedented honor” to have Keller introduce the band. Keller is well-known as a fan of heavy metal music and has often attended shows in Albuquerque.
Gov. Susana Martinez announced Wayne Johnson will take over as State Auditor through the 2018 election on Friday. Martinez made the appointment a day after Tim Keller resigned from the position. Keller will be sworn in as the mayor of Albuquerque Friday after easily winning in a runoff election last month. Johnson, a Republican, is a Bernalillo County Commissioner and told the Albuquerque Journal he expects to resign from that position at some point. Johnson ran for mayor of Albuquerque as well, but did not receive enough votes to make the runoff election.
Another audit turned in months after it was due reveals the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management still has problems with finances and management—some of which date back years—but is showing some signs of improvement. The 2016 audit was publicly released in late October when State Auditor Tim Keller sent a letter back to the department’s secretary, M. Jay Mitchell. The independent audit reveals 14 significant problems, some of which were also found in previous years’ audits. NM Political Report requested an interview with Mitchell or the department’s Chief Financial Officer, Sarah Peterson. The public information officer could not make either available for an interview, but Mitchell did respond via email.
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.
The recent Albuquerque and Las Cruces municipal elections, along with other races nationwide, could signal a warning for Republicans in the 2018 elections. The pendulum looks to be swinging from Republican gains during the Barack Obama years to Democratic gains in response to Donald Trump, according to Brian Sanderoff, the president of the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc.
“I think the political mood right now benefits Democrats,” he said. “And I think part of that is due to the fact that a Republican is in the White House, has lower approval ratings and all the dynamics that go with that.”
In New Mexico, 2018 will be an important election year with the governor’s race, a U.S. Senate seat, three U.S. congressional districts and a number of other statewide positions up for grabs. Locally, Tim Keller’s comprehensive victory in Albuquerque for mayor, the flipping of a previously Republican-held Albuquerque city council seat and the progressive sweep of the Las Cruces city council show how national shifts are reflected in New Mexico politics. “That’s American politics, du jour, that it goes back and forth,” University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said.
The governor is soliciting applications to replace Tim Keller as State Auditor. Keller was elected mayor of Albuquerque on Tuesday, and he will be sworn in on Dec. 1. Once he resigns as State Auditor, Gov. Susana Martinez will be able to appoint a replacement who will serve through the next election in 2018. Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman for the State Auditor’s Office, said Keller will step down on Nov.