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Editorial: Texts Come Back To Bite City Councilors

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Taking a pass on letting Albuquerque voters decide on raising the minimum wage earned city councilors a scolding from a state District Court judge who found herself in the middle of a political fight.

“It is somewhat disturbing that the Council, made up of duly elected representatives, chose not to act or even discuss this proposition opting instead to force Petitioners to seek a judicial remedy,” Judge Nan Nash said in a footnote to her decision to keep the question off the November ballot — a decision summarily reversed by the state Supreme Court.

Nash ended up with the issue because the council withdrew it from its agenda last week, along with a controversial vote on funding the Paseo del Norte I-25 interchange project now instead of letting voters decide in November whether to issue bonds.

The unusual withdrawal of the two issues raised the question: Did certain councilors make a deal to keep from voting on both?

Councilor Brad Winter, who was pushing for the council vote on Paseo, said “it looks like things were organized behind closed doors to make sure this (Paseo) bill didn’t make it to be heard at council, and it was for political reasons.”

Texts sent to him by Councilor Dan Lewis certainly raise that question.

“We already put them on the record. They won’t change and we will lose the (Paseo) vote anyway,” Lewis wrote. “By withdrawing we make sure min wage is withdrawn and we have no part in it. Debbie is ready to make that deal.”

A “deal” would provide cover on Paseo funding to O’Malley, a Democrat seeking a Bernalillo County Commission seat representing a large part of the West Side that favors Paseo improvements, and to Lewis, a West Side Republican, on taking a stand on the minimum wage issue.

Lewis and O’Malley emphatically say there was no deal. Lewis says the Paseo funding bill was dead with or without a vote, and O’Malley says she wasn’t avoiding the Paseo issue because she had not changed her position in favor of an election.

The exchange also raises the question of whether there was a rolling quorum. New Mexico’s open-meetings law prohibits a majority of a governing board from discussing public business or taking action through a series of private conversations.

The maneuvering in the Paseo/minimum wage case smacks of old-fashioned wheeling and dealing, but a smoke-filled back room isn’t required anymore, just a cellphone with the ability to text message.

Whatever the case, it raises the question of whether some councilors were willing to throw their constituents under the political bus when it suited their agendas. And for all of that hustling, the “deal” didn’t keep minimum wage off the ballot after all.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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