Friday, May 09, 2008

Ethics at city hall: where do we start?

marjorie says...

Today's Albuquerque Journal reports that Marty Chavez is proposing an "Ethical Public Service Act," an ordinance that would "...transform the ethical culture at City Hall."

The Journal quotes Marty:
"We've got great employees, and the percentage of bad apples is no greater than any other organization, but we want to weed out the bad apples."

In an amazing case of media synergy, KUNM interviewed Eileen Welsome this morning about her report investigating the "special relationship between the Mayor of Albuquerque and indicted architect Mark Schiff." You can read her investigation on the Clearly New Mexico website.

And please, do read it.

Essentially, Marty's had (or has) a tight, even "special," relationship with the architect right at the center of a major kickback scandal, in which $4.2 million was skimmed off and given to public officials during the construction of the Metro Court complex. In her report, Welsome describes Schiff's involvement in the corruption scandal and the current status of the case:

Schiff, architect for the courthouse, was one of at least eight participants in that scheme. In a plea agreement, Schiff said he prepared false invoices for his firm, Design Collaborative Southwest, on his home computer. He then deposited the state checks received for the bogus work into a personal investment account and later transferred the funds to his personal bank account. From that account, he withdrew money to pay various politicians and state officials, including former state Sen. Manny Aragon, a South Valley Democrat, and former Albuquerque Mayor Ken Schultz, who also worked as a DCSW lobbyist, he admitted in his plea agreement

In exchange for the promise of a reduced sentence, Schiff has pleaded guilty to two felony counts and agreed to cooperate with federal law enforcement agents. Schultz has also pleaded guilty and promised cooperation, as has a third defendant. Aragon, who is alleged to have used his position to help direct state money to the Metro Court project, and four other defendants have pleaded not guilty. A trial in U.S. District Court is pending.

Welsome goes on to describe her investigation, which included a review of official City Hall records and interviews with city staff and elected officials, and her conclusion that Mark Schiff had extraordinary access to the Mayor's office. The context is Schiff's role as the planner and architect for the Balloon park, beginning in the mid-90s, from which Schiff's firm made a bundle. Welsome goes on to detail the ability of Schiff to bypass City staff objections to the design and cost of his plans by bypassing them...he'd just go straight to the Mayor's office.

Welsome also notes the many problems of the park, which her report describes in detail despite the lack of transparency by Chavez:

Although the Chávez administration is loathe to give out an accounting of expenditures associated with the balloon complex, a recent city audit states that more than $60 million has been appropriated for the balloon park and museum. That's a three to four-fold increase over what Schiff's firm predicted the balloon complex would cost in 1995. (Nearly $10 million came from the Legislature during a time when Manny Aragon was president pro-tem of the Senate.)

Despite the more than $40 million already spent on the park itself, it still lacks basic amenities, such as permanent restrooms, a public safety command center, utilities for the vendors, drinking fountains, drainage improvements, and a functional transit drop-off area.

You know, a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of elected officials is a real issue in the state, not just the Mayor's office. The corruption scandals of the last couple of years have proven this without a shadow of a doubt. In light of this report and ethical challenges Marty has had in the past, don't you think his "Ethical Public Service Act" should start straight at the top?