The Albuquerque City Council debated about amending the free city bus fare program and a memorial to reinstate qualified immunity for Albuquerque police officers during its meeting Monday, Nov 7. The city administration was also questioned by a council member about expenses paid by the city during the recent presidential visit, in addition to the city paying for a book written about Mayor Tim Keller.
Bus fares and transit security
A proposed amendment states riders would have to produce a state-issued ID for $1 fare on public transit. Although Councilor Dan Lewis explained that a study on changing the fare for public transit is still needed — as well adding a large amendment to the proposal from him and Councilor Klarissa Pena — several people continued to voice their opposition to charging $1 to ride public transit, which will continue to be free through December.
The new charge to riders would give better incentive for bus drivers with more pay, allow for security on problem routes, and give discounted passes for students, disabled people and veterans. Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn and Councilor Pat Davis questioned whether security was going to be addressed in the proposed bill, and city administration said it was not as of yet. Fiebelkorn explained as a lifelong bus rider, this bill does not seem to address the issues that have always been there for public transit such as enforcement and security, as well as adding a new problem in what she says is a classist way to pick and choose who is identified and asked for proof of paying on the bus, according to the explanation given from the administration about the amendment.
Fiebelkorn also addressed a quote made by Lewis, which she said she hopes was taken out of context, in reference to an interview with Source NM saying, “Our bus system is not intended for everybody.” Lewis said he just wanted to show that there are some people who would rather use their own vehicles and will probably never use the public transit system. Pena said she did not like the direction the debate was going and that it was becoming very unprofessional, so Council President Isaac Benton moved on to public comment during which 30 people spoke on the topic, mostly in opposition to the public transit bus fare change. The bill was deferred to Dec. 5, and the deferral was passed unanimously.
Memorial for qualified immunity to police officers
The memorial proposed by Councilor Louie Sanchez would ask the New Mexico Legislature to reinstate qualified immunity to police officers, meaning officers would be protected from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.
Twelve people spoke on the issue during public comment. The majority opposed the memorial and cited a number of police-involved shootings dating to 2014 including that of James Boyd, who was a homeless man shot down in the northeast foothills, which made national news. The case also sparked the Department of Justice investigation and oversight of Albuquerque Police Department.
Lewis and Fiebelkorn asked the administration if the city supports the memorial, and their response was that the city is in support of the accountability with the current laws set in place for all public officials.
Councilor Pat Davis, who was a police officer once in an officer-involved shooting, said that we need to support officers but that bad apples need to be held responsible, and he would not be supporting the memorial.
Councilor Brook Bassan said she believes that APD has been working hard to change and that she supports APD and the memorial.
Sanchez once again addressed the lack of response or long response times from APD.
“What is failure, if this isn’t? I mean do we go down to 200 officers. There were 640 officers in 1989 when I started. What are we doing to adjust this situation?” he asked.
Police Chief Harold Medina explained the issue of retaining officers is nationwide, and Sanchez said he doesn’t understand why the issue still hasn’t been addressed over the last 10 months.
But he also urged support of the memorial for qualified immunity of APD officers, stating that if people want to get APD to the numbers the department needs to be at, we as a community must back our officers.
“Crime is out of control in our city, and if we can actually add to help these officers and to back them up, then I think we would have a lot better city moving forward,” Sanchez said.
Benton moved to defer the vote to Dec. 5 for further debate, which passed 5-3.
Administrative costs questioned
During the period for city administration questions, Lewis voiced concerns about city expenses related to last week’s visit from President Joe Biden. He asked how much it cost to use Albuquerque Police resources to escort Secret Service to events throughout the city. The city administration did not have a ready response with a full account of the cost but said this is a common expense during a presidential visit to any city.
Lewis also addressed his concerns about a book written about Keller that he says was paid for by the city administration to the tune of $60,000.
“Can we justify taxpayer dollars on that — we can talk about the outrageous amount of unclassified positions we have; but really what it’s all about is an unbelievable amount of ‘we care about these expenses,’ but we could care less about taxpayer dollars on a book or hiring unclassified employees without job descriptions or any kind of a process. I think people see that and [it] is one of the reasons why the mayor’s ratings aren’t too favorable right now, “Lewis explained. No further comment was made by city administrators.
To learn more about the next city council meeting, click the link at cabq.gov.