Dan McKay reported in last Friday’s Journal that Mayor Martin Chavez is taking on the issue of ethics at City Hall. McKay writes:
Mayor Martin Chávez says he wants to transform the ethical culture at City Hall– starting with new training for employees, independence for the city clerk and termination for those who flout the rules.
Chavez says, “…we want to weed out the bad apples.”
Also on Friday, this website featured an investigative report by Pulitzer Prize winner Eileen Welsome about Chavez’s relationship with Marc Schiff, the architect who pled guilty to felony charges connected with the Courthouse scandal. That cozy mayoral connection appears to have resulted in the public getting overcharged millions of dollars for the design and construction of the Balloon Museum.
The editorial informs us that Chavez learned his lesson in the wake of the ABQPAC slush fund scandal – “learned enough from the experience to push this initiative.”
It’s sounding much like last year’s similarly highly-touted “Open Government” initiative — the one that the Journal’s latest editorial cites for making “government information as accessible as possible to the public.” Yet in her investigation, Welsome found something quite different as she continually ran into official stonewalling, unreturned phone calls, and tardy fulfillment of public documents requests.
Without question, ABQPAC was the biggest scandal in the history of Albuquerque city government. At that time, Chavez was reprimanded by the Ethics Board. But what of the other principals involved? How would Chavez’s new ethics initiative have prevented Teri Baird, Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office, from serving simultaneously in the role of chief PAC fundraiser?
And what about those “good apples” — those whistleblowers who tried early on to sound the alarm about Schiff’s misconduct — and who risked their careers in the process?
In a new development tonight, KOB-TV Channel 4 Eyewitness News carried a report on how the new Fire Academy, a project originally estimated to cost $3.5 million five years ago, has now almost tripled in cost. Was Schiff involved in this project too?
Here’s the overarching question: How would Chavez’s new “reform” package address these serious breaches that cost the taxpayers millions and in which the “bad apples” weren’t lowly City employees who simply lacked sufficient “ethics training”, but the big enchiladas?
So what are these monumental reforms that Chavez is proposing?
He wants to create “more independence” for the City Clerk, currently appointed by the Mayor, by having future clerks be (drumroll please)… appointed by the Mayor! But this time with Council approval and selected from recommendations by a new panel. Who appoints the new panel? Could the Mayor possibly be involved?
Chavez also proposed that city employees – including, presumably, the Mayor – would face termination for unethical conduct. Can somebody explain how that is any different from the status quo? But that’s not all. Elected officials, according to Chavez, would “face fines, removal from office or a recall election in accordance with rules already outlined in the City Charter.” So in point of fact, there really is not much that is substantively new here at all.
Finally, Chavez highlights that “new employees would get ethics training within two weeks. Everyone else would get training annually.” Now let us agree that this is a good idea. But does “new training” warrant an editorial gush piece — one that contrasts Chavez proposal favorably with ethics practices at the legislature? Indeed, for all of the legislature’s glaring shortcomings in the field of ethics rulemaking and enforcement, the fact of the matter is that it does conduct annual ethics training. So on that score, Chavez’s initiative is hardly innovative at all.
Chavez, the king of sprawl and responsible for our growing carbon footprint, already has a record of green-washing. Now it seems that we can add “ethics-washing” to his business card.