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City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

This week’s editorial diatribes masquerading as new coverage of the Charter Revision Task Force were just the latest of many examples of the Journal’s focused attack on nonprofits. We have no issue with the Journal editorializing about whatever it wants – on its editorial page. That is, in fact, the job of an editorial page. But when that perspective drives the news reporting, we need to call them out for it.

It is worth noting that the Task Force’s original charge was no small task.  The last Charter review occurred a decade ago.  It was in this historical context that the City Council passed an ordinance last year creating the Task Force and giving it the mission to review the Albuquerque’s City Charter and report back by the end of April 2009 with any recommendations for changes.  Our Task Force was asked to give particular focus on the following issues:

  • The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
  • The adequacy of the city’s checks and balances.
  • Whether appointed jobs such as the city clerk and city attorney should be independent of the mayor and council.

Accordingly, over the past eight months our distinguished panel took this charge seriously, discussing and debating issues about what essentially amounts to the constitutional framework of Albuquerque city government.  This is hardly insignificant stuff.

Yet over this same period Albuquerque’s “paper of record” accorded these deliberations scant coverage.  Two stories appeared back in August 2008 – one to announce the Task Force’s formation, followed by a next day editorial roundly discounting the efficacy of whole enterprise.

cone_of_silenceThen a couple of weeks ago, after eight months of work, the Journal’s cone of silence was broken when it seemingly  rediscovered the Task Force with a flurry of three stories.  The first (April 19) bore a front page headline, the nonprofit “fight moves to ABQ”, which was then followed by the aforementioned second story (April 24)  suggesting that the Task Force voted to recommend City Council take action on the nonprofit issue.  And that was followed by a third, the “official” editorial (April 27) beating the anti-nonprofit drum one more time.

From this coverage you would never know that over the past eight months the Task Force passed numerous other critical recommendations, usually unanimously, such as creating more independence for the City Clerk’s office, clarifying the much-disputed budget process, and strengthening the City’s planning process. These are no small acts and will make City Government more responsive to its citizens.

The Journal’s news department should be ashamed of itself. The Journal’s editorial driven news has become a joke. By intentionally masking the real, substantive work of the Task Force, the Journal just moves closer to irrelevancy.

These are just a few examples. They give further foundation to the reasons why the Center for Civic Policy now issues this statement as our response to the Journal’s requests for interviews:

“Based on our past experiences, the Center for Civic Policy does not believe that the Albuquerque Journal is able to maintain a clear division between its editorial policies and its news journalism. Therefore, we are refraining from making a comment on this story.”

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