ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal
Text messages released by City Councilor Brad Winter suggest two other councilors — Dan Lewis and Debbie O’Malley — discussed a deal before last week’s meeting to withdraw two controversial bills so they wouldn’t come up for a final vote.
Councilors ultimately did withdraw the bills — one to authorize funding for the Paseo del Norte interchange, the other to place a minimumwage increase on the fall ballot.
Winter read the text messages to the Journal on Tuesday after the newspaper requested them. He opposed withdrawal of the Paseo bill.
“It looks like things were organized behind closed doors to make sure this bill didn’t make it to be heard at council, and it was for political reasons,” Winter said in an interview.
Lewis in his texts talked about pulling both the minimum wage and Paseo bills at the beginning of the meeting and said O’Malley was on board.
Both Lewis and O’Malley said there was no agreement.
“Absolutely not,” Lewis said. “They knew that they needed to withdraw that (wage bill) anyway, and I felt like we needed to withdraw Paseo/I-25 for reasons I’ve stated many times.”
Lewis and other councilors said during last week’s meeting that there was no need to vote on the Paseo bill because the council had already voted on such a proposal in March, when it failed to get the required six votes. In other words, if no one had changed their mind, there was no need to bring it to a vote again, they said.
Lewis said there was no “improper” deal beforehand to avoid another vote.
“I didn’t think the minimum wage should even be on the agenda because it’s (City) Charter-driven,” Lewis said, “and it was absolutely ridiculous to take another vote on the Paseo/I-25 (project) when they weren’t going to change their minds anyway.”
He added: “What kind of underhanded deal are we talking about here? There is none.”
O’Malley said she had a conversation with Lewis about Paseo and told him she was preparing a long speech on the bill. She intended to support withdrawal of the minimumwage bill regardless of any action on Paseo, she said.
“No, we did not have a deal,” O’Malley said. “I was prepared to vote on that (Paseo) bill, to speak on that bill.”
The messages, from Lewis to Winter, appear to discuss a proposed agreement in which Lewis and Winter would withdraw their Paseo bill while other councilors would withdraw the wage proposal.
A withdrawal, which takes a vote of the council, means the bill won’t be brought to a vote for final passage.
Winter read the messages to the Journal and forwarded them to a reporter’s phone upon request. The forwarded version, however, doesn’t say who sent what message. Lewis confirmed their accuracy.
Winter said the messaging happened last Tuesday, the day before the council’s Wednesday meeting.
Lewis’s first message to Winter said, “We would withdraw both bills at beginning of meeting”
Then, also from Lewis: “Debbie will ensure that min wage bill is withdrawn and council makes no decision regarding min wage. Organizers will not have enough time to get a court order to put on nov 6 ballot. Otherwise we will be forced to vote against it and it will automatically go to a 500k special election. They will withdraw if we withdraw Paseo bill.”
Winter responds that he’s trying to get more information.
Lewis’ next message says: “We already put them on the record. They won’t change and we will lose the vote anyway. By withdrawing we make sure min wage is withdrawn and we have no part in it.
“Debbie is ready to make that deal.”
Winter asks why.
Lewis responds: “So that she can avoid the same being put on the spot that we are trying to avoid. We have a gun to each others heads. Its all of us laying the guns down.”
O’Malley is running for the County Commission. The Paseo project is thought to be widely popular among the West Side neighborhoods her new district would include. A super majority was needed to approve bonds for the project without voter approval and O’Malley was one of three councilors who had voted “no.”
But O’Malley said Tuesday she had no reason to try ducking a vote on Paseo because her position on it has been clear to the public for months.
She said the concern about the wage bill had to do with whether the council had any role in the process, given that the supporters had used a City Charter provision involving the circulation of petitions. It wasn’t related to Paseo, she said.
O’Malley has said repeatedly she supports the Paseo improvements — which a new poll indicates has strong public support — but that the funding ought to go before voters for approval. She is one of three councilors — Isaac Benton and Rey Garduño are the others — who have opposed authorizing the bonds immediately without an election.
The way it went down
In Wednesday’s meeting, the action did happen the way the messaging suggested.
At the beginning of the meeting, Benton moved to withdraw the election resolution for the minimum-wage measure. Councilors voted unanimously in favor of the withdrawal.
There was no discussion of why.
Later in the meeting, Lewis moved to withdraw the Paseo bill, which triggered plenty of debate but no mention of an agreement tied to the wage withdrawal.
Several councilors said they didn’t see a need to vote on the Paseo funding bill again, given that they had already taken up such a measure in the spring, when it failed to get the super-majority needed to authorize bonds.
On Wednesday, the Paseo withdrawal won approval on a 6-3 vote, with Lewis, O’Malley, Benton, Ken Sanchez, Don Harris and Garduño in favor. Voting “no” were Winter, Trudy Jones and Michael Cook.
Advocates of the minimum wage proposal lost a court fight Tuesday to force the city to include it on the Nov. 6 ballot, but the judge also rebuked the City Council for not even discussing it and forcing proponents to go to court.
Pleading with Winter
Lewis said Tuesday the mes sages indicate he was simply pleading with Winter to avoid using Paseo as “a political bat to beat (other councilors) over the head with.” He said he believes the wage supporters were planning to withdraw that bill because of unrelated problems with it, regardless of what happened to Paseo.
Winter said he wasn’t sure whether the pre-meeting messages indicated there had been a “rolling quorum.”
New Mexico’s open-meetings law prohibits “rolling” or “walking” quorums in which a majority of a governing board discusses public business or takes action through a series of telephone calls or email conversations.
In this case, the text messages involve or mention Winter, Lewis and O’Malley. It’s unclear whether other councilors participated in such discussions.
Rhetoric has been heated in the wake of last week’s council action. Both O’Malley and Lewis had letters published in Tuesday’s Journal, with O’Malley contending that Winter and Mayor Richard Berry had mishandled the Paseo funding question and were trying to “go around Albuquerque taxpayers.”
Excerpts of texts from City Councilor Dan Lewis to City Councilor Brad Winter
“Debbie will ensure that min wage bill is withdrawn and council makes no decision regarding min wage. Organizers will not have enough time to get a court order to put on nov 6 ballot. Otherwise we will be forced to vote against it and it will automatically go to a 500k special election. They will withdraw if we withdraw Paseo bill.”
“We already put them on the record. They won’t change and we will lose the vote anyway. By withdrawing we make sure min wage is withdrawn and we have no part in it.
“Debbie is ready to make that deal.”
“We have a gun to each others heads. Its all of us laying the guns down.”