Dinelli: Keller Uninspiring so Far
Keller is slowly morphing into a photogenic version of his Republican predecessor.
The first 5 months for any new Mayor is a transition period and is referred to as the “Honeymoon Period.”
The transition time is used to hire staff and make appointments and prepare a budget that is required to be submitted every April 1 to the city council for the upcoming fiscal.
The first 5 months of any elected officials term usually sets the tone and the direction for the entire remainder of the term.
The people appointed to key executive positions help the Mayor set the trajectory for the entire term assuming they are around for the full four-year term.
Mayor Tim Keller’s Honeymoon Period is over, he has been on the job now for 5 months and he has appointed most if not all of his Directors and has submitted his first budget to the City Council for budget hearings and final approval.
The tone and picture of the Keller Administration is coming into clear focus and the time has come to take notice what has been accomplished.
APPOINTED KEY EXECUTIVES
Mayor Keller has received kudos for the appointments of experienced city hall people like former New Mexico Treasurer James Lewis as Senior Public Safety Advisor, Lawrence Rael as Chief Operations Officer, Attorney David Campbell and former CAO for Mayor RJ Berry as Planning Director and APD Chief Michael Geier as Interim Chief, who retired from both APD and the Rio Rancho Police Department, with all 4 appointments considered safe and not generating controversy.
Keller has also received kudos for the appointment of numerous woman to key executive positions such as Sarita Nair as Chief Administration Officer, Alicia Manzano as Communications Director, Nyka Allen as Aviation Director, Shelle Sanchez as Cultural Services Director, Justine Freeman as Deputy Chief of Staff, Mary Scott as Human Service Director and Ana Sanchez as Senior Affairs Director.
There have been two stumbles with the appointments.
The first stumble was the appointment of 41year old Estaban Aguilar, Jr. as City Attorney who is qualified but who was solicited by the Keller Administration to apply after the application process closed.
The second stumble was with the appointment of City Clerk, with the first nominated candidate withdrawing her application after media scrutiny of her finances and tax problems.
The most common criticism from City Hall insiders is that Mayor Keller has surrounded himself mostly with people with little or absolutely no city hall experience, which is a common complaint with any new Mayor.
Another complaint from city hall insiders is that the Keller appointees do not really know nor understand what they are doing with the biggest common denominator seeming to be that that they are in the same age group as Mayor Keller, who is 40.
THE TONE HAS BEEN SET WITH DECISIONS MADE
In his first five months in office, Mayor Keller’s biggest accomplishments can be listed as follows:
1. Appointing a new interim police chief who is a retired APD commander and former Rio Rancho Police Chief and who by all accounts is doing a good job thus far. However, there has been no announcement of a national search for a new chief as promised by Keller during the campaign. APD insiders are suggesting that the Mayor has already decided to keep Interim Chief Geier and make him permanent and that there will be no national search for a new chief.
2. Replacing the APD command staff. The “new” command staff is more of a reflection of APD’s past. The “new” command staff, especially the Deputy Chiefs, are not outsiders at all but have been with APD for some time. The new command staff do not reflect a new generation of police officer fully committed and trained in constitutional policing. All the previous commanders have been shuffled around with a few retiring. There has been an elimination of the positions of Major which was created a mere 3 years ago by the previous administration. The new reorganization of APD under Keller is a remarkable look alike to what existed under Chief Schultz.
3. Attempting to salvage the $129 million ART bus project, the failed legacy project of his predecessor. Mayor Keller is calling it “turning lemons into lemonade” and trying to secure the $69 million federal grant funding from congress that probably will never be appropriated by congress. Major problems have been identified with most if not all of the buses, but the Keller Administration to date has declined to cancel the $25 million-dollar contract with the bus manufacturer.
4. Negotiating and approving an $8 million settlement with the Albuquerque firefighter’s union, ending a pay raise dispute that dates backs to 2011 when the Berry Administration was at impasse with virtually all the City Unions. The settlement was made so quickly after Keller assumed office that the Albuquerque Journal made the charge that the case was settled as Keller’s way of paying back the union for its endorsement and financial support during the Mayor’s race.
5. Proposing an $88 million-dollar police expansion program over 4 years. The Keller Administration is proposing to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 878 positions filled to 1,200, or by 322 sworn police officers, over a four-year period and return to community-based policing. The Keller Administration proposed 2018-2019 provides for increasing funding of 1,000 sworn police to 1,040. In order to get to the 1,040 figures by this time next year, APD and the Police Academy will need keep up with expected retirements and will have to hire at least 162 new officers either as new recruits or as lateral hires which is a daunting and not a likely task. No specifics have been announced regarding new recruitment incentives.
6. Commitment to implementing the Department of Justice reforms. Keller has met with the Federal Monitor and appeared before the Federal Court assuring them both that APD will implement the mandated reforms, something the City really has no choice but to comply with in order to get out from under the consent decree. During the last three years, the Berry administration and APD command staff resisted the reforms. You can anticipate the reform process will take at least another three years to implement. Thus far, significant progress has been made by the Keller Administration with a stronger commitment to implement the agreed to reforms. The Federal Monitor is now providing “technical assistance” to APD and APD now has a compliance bureau.
7. Signing a city council-initiated $55 million dollar a year tax increase contrary to Mayor Keller’s promise not to raise taxes without a public vote. The revenues raise will go towards the projected $40 million deficit and 80% of the revenues from the tax will go towards public safety. On the campaign trail, candidate Keller said he would raise taxes only as a last resort for public safety but only with voter approval. Keller making the promise as a candidate was at best idealistic and at worse being foolish just to garner votes to get elected.
8. Announcing implementation of major changes to the city’s DWI vehicle forfeiture program. The changes were quickly announced within a week after a federal court ruling in a pending case. APD will continue seize and impound vehicles at the time of arrest as they do now with repeat drunken drivers arrested in their own cars. Changes to the policy will provide more protections to those who were not driving when their vehicle was seized. A major change in policy is that the city will not seek to take ownership of the vehicle and sell it at auction unless the suspect is convicted. What the changes in the new policy means is that unless the actual owner is sitting in the front seat of their car drunk, the city will probably not be initiating vehicle forfeiture proceeding nor seeking boot agreements from the car owner.
9. The Keller Administration is committing $1.9 million to address a backlog of more than 4,000 untested rape kits and implementing a testing program. The rape kit backlog was identified by Keller when he was the State Auditor. It is critical that the backlog of rape kits be processed for felony prosecutions. All too often, DNA evidence and a victim’s testimony are the only evidence available to obtain a conviction for rape and child sexual abuse. DNA evidence found in rape kits is the type of evidence used to identify and convict rapists, especially serial rapists. All too often, DNA evidence results in a conviction of an innocent defendant being thrown out and another criminal identified.
10. Signing what is widely considered a symbolic decriminalization of pot ordinance. The City Council enacted an ordinance requiring APD to issue citations and $25 fines for small amounts of marijuana, but pot possession is still a federal felony. APD officers already have a wide discretion in making arrests and arresting someone for pot possession has always been a low priority.
Some progress has been made with reducing property crime rates for the first quarter of this year as compared to first quarter of last year, but it is premature to list this as a major accomplishment because it is for a 3-month period.
Offsetting the reduction in property crime rates is the homicide rate.
Not a week goes by that another murder is being reported.
As of April 24, 2018, Albuquerque has had 24 homicides since January 1, 2018.
The Keller Administration has yet to announce any economic plan nor what its approach will be taking towards economic development.
No plans nor goals to turn our economy around that are any different from the previous administration have been announced.
ANSWERING THE QUESTION
Well known and longtime political commentator V.B. Price asked the question “Why is Tim Keller seeming more and more like the former mayor — invisible and uninspiring, despite his flurry of good moves following his election victory?”
The answer to the question is that many believe Mayor Tim Keller is slowly morphing into a photogenic version of his Republican predecessor.
Keller seems to be more concerned about public perception, appearing before friendly audiences and crowds, and offering no real change and no substantive leadership direction.
Indications that the Keller Administration is seeking to avoid controversy include the use of press releases to announce major policy changes or decisions, using the Mayor’s FACEBOOK page to make policy announcements and do controlled videos of the Mayor with an emphasis on photo ops and social media communications.
News releases and social media communications also give the advantage of not having to explain the rational nor reason for a decision with no questions asked by the media nor public with any negative comments or posts on FACEBOOK that can be quickly deleted and critics “blocked”.
From a public relations standpoint, it appears Mayor Keller attends all the obligatory ribbon cuttings, dedications and social events and appears to enjoy them all and making a good impression with his comments.
Mayor Keller has taken photo ops to a new level by attending protest rallies to speak at, attending marches, attending heavy metal concerts to introduce the band, running in track meets and participating in exhibition football games as the quarterback and enjoying re-living his high school glory days, and posting smiling pictures on FACEBOOK.
KELLER’S MANDATE FOR CHANGE
Mayor Tim Keller was swept into office with a 62% vote landslide giving him a mandate for change.
High crime rates, public safety, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Department of Justice reforms, the economy and increasing taxes were the biggest issues debated in the 2017 Mayor’s race.
During the last eight years, Albuquerque has fallen to the bottom and in many cases dead last of every meaningful ranking in the country, including economy, jobs, crime, education, real estate, desirability, and traffic.
Under the command leadership of Suzanna Martinez and former Mayor Richard Berry, New Mexico and Albuquerque no doubt have become shipwrecks.
At the very least, the State and City are in distress, rudderless and without the sense of purpose and little better than “flotsam and jetsam” as was described by V.B. Price in a commentary.
In 8 months we will be rid of Governor Susana Martinez and she will quickly join Mayor Richard Berry into political oblivion.
The Keller administration still has time on its side to make changes and make a difference, but 4 years does indeed go by fast, something many would dispute in the age of Donald Trump.
Mayor Keller has yet to take any substantive advantage of his mandate and voters are not seeing the sweeping, visionary change he promised.
Notwithstanding, voters are expecting results and they are impatient after 8 years of failed leadership, high crime rates and a poor economy.
The Keller Administration is still in its infancy, and many voters are loyal with high hopes.
However, the tone and direction the Keller Administration is taking does not represent visionary change and frankly not much of change at all, especially with APD management and economic development.
The trajectory indications from the transition period, the media relations, the executive appointments made and the accomplishment are that Albuquerque is set to have another uninspiring, low key approach to government filled with extensive photo ops, ribbon cuttings and social media communications.
Mayor Keller needs to be more aggressive on the difficult issues the city is facing, especially when dealing with APD, our high crime rates and our economy.
Otherwise, Mayor Keller’s first term will be his last, and it will be viewed as Mayor Berry’s third term in office with not much to point to as far as real accomplishments in the areas of reducing crime and improving the economy.
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