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Mayor Wants Ethics Rules for City Hall

By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    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.
    The proposal is part of an ordinance, the "Ethical Public Service Act," he will send to city councilors today.
    "We've got great employees, and the percentage of bad apples is no greater than any other organization," Chávez said Thursday in an interview. "But we want to weed out the bad apples."
    The ordinance must win City Council approval to take effect, though Chávez said he would sign executive orders to carry out some of the measures that don't require the council's OK.
    The proposal would shake up his own administration by making the city clerk more independent of the mayor's office. The clerk, like other department heads, is hired directly by the mayor— often after having served as a campaign volunteer— and can be dismissed "at will."
    Chávez said that system was fine for a long time, but the clerk's duties now include overseeing Albuquerque's public-financing system for political campaigns and public-records law.
    "It now calls for a much higher degree of expertise and much more independence from the political process," Chávez said.
    His proposal calls for a 21-member ethics panel to consider applicants for the clerk's job in a "competitive hiring process" and select at least three nominees. The mayor would pick one of the nominees and ask the council for confirmation.
    Once in office, the clerk would stay in the job even if the mayoral administration changes. The person could be fired by the mayor only "for cause."
    Randy Autio, a longtime attorney for the city, has filled in as acting clerk for several months and said he may apply for the job under the proposed ordinance.
    Andrew Padilla, president of state chapter of AFSCME, which represents thousands of city employees, said the union needs to review the latest version of the proposal but likes many of the ideas. Employees support the concept of having the same ethical standards apply to department heads and blue-collar workers alike, as called for in the proposal.
    Here's a closer look at the proposal:
  • City employees would face termination for certain misconduct, depending on the severity.
        If they commit one "terminable" offense, such as accepting a bribe, the city would move to fire them. If they commit three minor offenses within three years— such as a participating in a "dangerous or offensive practical joke"— the city would move for termination.
        Employees would still have a right to contest the allegations before an arbitrator or other hearings called for in their union contracts.
        Elected officials, meanwhile, would face fines, removal from office or a recall election in accordance with rules already outlined in the City Charter.
  • New employees would get ethics training within two weeks. Everyone else would get training annually.