City of Albuquerque shelter reports 17 cases of COVID-19

The West Side Emergency Housing Center reported 17 cases of COVID-19 Thursday. The individuals who tested positive for the disease are in isolation and receiving medical care for their symptoms, according to the City of Albuquerque, which issued a news release late Thursday afternoon. The shelter houses about 400 individuals each night, according to the release, but it can house up to 450 people. Until 2019 the shelter only housed people during the winter months, but Mayor Tim Keller converted it into a year-round facility. Though it remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for families during the public health emergency, the shelter is not currently accepting new residents and transportation to the facility has been suspended, according to the release.

Reactions from New Mexico officials to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday. She was 87. The vacancy her seat creates will now give Republicans the opportunity to try to place another conservative justice to the bench. President Donald Trump, reacting to two Supreme Court decisions in June that he didn’t like, tweeted that he would have a new list of conservatives to appoint to the bench by September 1. Within just a few hours of the announcement of Ginsburg’s death, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not wait to bring to a vote for a Trump appointee this election year, according to multiple media sources.

ABQ faces class action suit over disparity in pay for women

The City of Albuquerque is facing a class action lawsuit, filed by female employees who say they have been paid less than their male counterparts for years. 

The suit was filed in 2018, but this month a state district judge ruled that the suit can include any classified female employee who worked at the city between 2013 and 2020 and was paid less than males doing the same job. The suit can also include those who no longer work for the city, but did during that time period. 

Alexandra Freedman Smith, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said she and the other plaintiffs’ attorneys are now in the process of notifying other women who might be owed compensation. 

The impetus of the suit is partly a New Mexico law enacted less than 10 years ago called the Fair Pay for Women Act. 

“The Fair Pay for Women Act was enacted in 2013, so from then on, this has been an issue,” sha said. 

Freedman Smith also said, unlike many other class action lawsuits that offer plaintiffs a cut of a settlement amount, women in this case are owed raises, back pay and possibly a recalculation of retirement pay.  

“The class members are entitled to substantial amounts of money,” she said. “We’re not talking about small amounts, we’re talking about large amounts.”

As part of his decision to allow the suit to become a class action, the judge included evidence that seemed to show a number of men started off at a higher wage than women who had been doing the same job, for longer. 

Freedman Smith said that data shows that the issue is not about job performance or seniority. 

“What we’re talking about is the base pay that people are paid, and they’re just getting a higher base pay from the get go than the women, even women who have been there a lot longer,” Freedman Smith said. 

Freedman Smith also said she has tried to work with the city to address the problem, with no success. 

“We’ve certainly tried to negotiate with them and they just haven’t been willing to do anything about it,” Freedman Smith said. In a statement through a spokesman for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office, the city’s legal department pointed out Keller’s past work advocating for pay equity. 

“While we can’t comment on ongoing litigation, Mayor Keller has been at the forefront of the pay equity fight in New Mexico for years, including leading the first statewide study of pay equity while at the State Auditor’s Office, and he will continue to advance fairness at the city,” the statement read. 

As state auditor, and months before he was elected to be mayor, Keller said his office found pay disparity on a state level. 

But less than a year after Keller became mayor the plaintiff’s filed their suit against the city. At the time, the plaintiffs were represented by Matt Garcia and Jonathan Guss.

U.S. Attorney says federal agents won’t be here in same capacity as in Portland

The U.S. Attorney for New Mexico sent a letter to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller providing assurances that the 35 agents that the federal government said would be sent to New Mexico would not be for the type of activities that have taken place in Portland, Oregon. U.S. Attorney John Anderson sent the combative letter to Keller highlighting the city of Albuquerque’s high crime rate numerous times after the mayor, and other elected officials, expressed concern over the scope of the mission from the federal agents. “Under Operation Legend, federal agents will be engaged in the type of crime fighting investigative activities in which federal agents are well-trained and in which they already engage on a daily basis,” Anderson, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote. “As Attorney General [William] Barr took pains to make clear at the White House, the federal agents will be conducting ‘classic crime fighting’ activities that federal agents have carried out around the country for decades, including in Albuquerque.”

Anderson said Operation Legend, the program in which the agents will be sent to Albuquerque, was separate from the federal role in Portland. “Portland is not an Operation Legend City and Operation Legend was not conceived or announced in response to events in Portland,” Anderson wrote. 

Instead, Anderson wrote, Operation Legend is for cities with high violent crime rates and said that the most recent FBI statistics showed Albuquerque had a violent crime rate nearly four times the national average.

Albuquerque wants guidelines on scope of federal agents’ role in city

The City of Albuquerque sent a letter to U.S. Attorney John Anderson asking to know the scope of actions by federal law enforcement that President Donald Trump announced will be in Albuquerque as part of Operation Legend. The letter from Deputy City Attorney Samantha M. Hults said that the city welcomes aid from federal agencies in fighting violent crime and gun crime, but expressed concern over statements by Trump and actions by federal agents in Portland and asks for a written commitment that any federal law enforcement agents “conspicuously identify themselves as such, carry and display identifications, and wear uniforms that conspicuously identify the agency for which they work.”

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller echoed the concern in a statement on Friday afternoon. “We always welcome partnerships in constitutional crime fighting that are in step with our community, but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send federal agents to attack protesters or round up immigrants,” Keller said. “Unfortunately, look at the President’s own words: he’s ready to incite violence in Democratic cities as a re-election strategy, so Albuquerque must be vigilant to ensure that Operation Legend is actually helpful crime fighting; and not just politics standing in the way of police work that makes us less safe.”

Trump has said that he hopes to target New Mexico in his reelection campaign this year. Hults’ letter said that the city would not welcome arrests or the use of force or arrests on “individuals engaged in First Amendment assemblies;” federal agents not wearing identification or identifying their agency; or the use of unmarked vehicles “to detain and remove individuals exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Federal law enforcement has faced criticism from their handling of protests in Portland, including for the actions described by the city.

Elected officials criticize Trump administration move for more federal agents in ABQ

Albuquerque’s mayor along with the chief of police voiced opposition to a reported plan by the Trump administration to send additional federal law enforcement to Albuquerque and other cities across the nation. CBS News first reported on the memo and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said he was told by the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico that it would be expanded to Albuquerque. Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, “There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city.”

“If this was more than a stunt, these politicians would support constitutional crime fighting efforts that work for our community, not turning Albuquerque into a federal police state. We will not sell out our own community, or our own police department, for this obvious political agenda; as they try to incite violence by targeting our city and our residents,” Keller continued. Albuquerque Police Department Chief Mike Geier similarly criticized the proposed use of federal agents.

ABQ advisory board calls on city to stop using buses to transport police

An Albuquerque advisory board on Thursday voted to condemn the use of city buses for police during protests. 

Outgoing Albuquerque Transit Advisory Board Chair Israel Chávez introduced the resolution, saying that using city buses to transport police, outfitted with tactical gear, sends the wrong message to residents.  

“How many times have we had folks come in and give us feedback about how horribly implemented [Albuquerque Rapid Transit] was or stops being moved? And I think this contributes to that feeling that transit and transit resources aren’t here for the people but they’re really here for the benefit of something else,” Chávez said. The only board member who voted against it didn’t offer a specific reason, but said he wanted to hear from Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller first. 

Albuquerque police have responded to at least two protests with a team of officers transported by city buses. 

The transit board’s incoming chair Christopher Ramirez agreed that police unloading out of a city bus during times of protests or civil unrest is a bad image for the transit department. 

“I don’t want our community looking at public transit as a part of the problem,” Ramirez said. Albuquerque Paratransit Advisory Board Chair Jacqueline Smith also offered up her support of the resolution. She said the use of transit vehicles for police transportation is in an outdated practice in other parts of the country.

Report: Albuquerque homelessness on the rise

A report by the Urban Institute found that homelessness in Albuquerque has nearly quadrupled since 2013. In 2013 there were 144 homeless in Albuquerque but in 2019 there were 567, according to the report. 

The City of Albuquerque funded and assisted with the nonprofit research organization’s report, which was released Wednesday. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller devoted his daily press conference to discussing the report and called the report’s findings “sobering.”

Albuquerque Deputy Director of Housing and Homelessness Lisa Huval said the pandemic is “likely to exacerbate housing instability.”

“More households are struggling,” she said. Keller mentioned that the city’s West Side Shelter went from winter only availability to year-round availability for the city’s homeless shortly after he took office as one way the city has worked to help those who need it to have a bed to sleep in. The city operates the West Side Shelter, which is near the Double Eagle Airport.

Albuquerque summer youth programs single parents and working families

As part of its equity focus, Albuquerque will spend about $1 million for summer meals and summer youth programs to help the underserved, Mayor Tim Keller said during his daily COVID-19 press conference Monday. The city of Albuquerque is implementing the summer youth program primarily to help single parents and parents who work different shifts, Keller said. The city will also continue its free meals program through the summer. He said he expects the summer youth programs will help 10,000 families. Many of the summer programs will be led by older teens.

ABQ officials: ‘Black lives matter. Again, black lives matter.’

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and other city officials took to the podium Friday afternoon to discuss the May 25 death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis and a Black Lives Matter protest that occurred in response to Floyd’s death Thursday night in Albuquerque. 

On Friday, fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, who was killed while handcuffed and unarmed by Chauvin in an altercation that allegedly began over an alleged fake $20 bill. Chauvin knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes, even after Floyd stopped responding.  Three other officers involved were also fired from the Minneapolis Police Department earlier this week. 

Keller said the City of Albuquerque “believes that black lives matter.”

“[George Floyd’s] death has left us, in many ways, with rightful anger and grief. It has highlighted a lot of things wrong with America. It’s also a situation where we know it’s not the first time. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery — the same thing, different context, happening time and time again,” Keller said.