The article that the Journal ran Friday about the city’s settlement with the International Association of Fire Fighters 244 (IAFF 244) left out some very important details, which I believe casts the City Council in a negative and unfair light. Yes, the City Council reduced wages for firefighters in 2011, but it did so in the face of a projected $66 million budget shortfall. At that point, the multi-year agreement that former Mayor Martin Chávez entered into was no longer economically feasible. The Council used the authority granted under Â§3-12-18 of the Revised Ordinances of Albuquerque and, on the advice of then- Mayor Richard Berry, decreased wages for both police and fire, as well as for most other city employees in order to avoid layoffs and reductions of services in other departments.
In a press release about the settlement, Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair stated: “Our first responders are paramount to helping us create a safe city for our families.” There’s no argument there – providing funding for our first responders and making sure they are treated fairly has always been paramount to the Council and will continue to be.
Nair goes on to state: “We had a responsibility to both uphold a commitment that was made by the previous administration and reach an agreement that is fair for the taxpayers.” Here’s where we disagree. Under the City Code, the economic aspects of each year of the agreement were subject to review and appropriation by the Council. How fair is the settlement to the taxpayers when, in the first 60 days of the new administration, they settle a years-old lawsuit for $8 million, or $3 million more than the previous administration had settled with the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association (APOA) for essentially the same claim? The APOA has hundreds more members than the IAFF 244, and, unlike the IAFF 244, the APOA has a much harder time recruiting and retaining members.
The Keller administration has been very cautious and circumspect in approaching capital projects and carry-over policy issues from the previous administration. In this instance, perhaps the caution and circumspection should have led it to involve the City Council in its decision and seek its advice rather than blaming it.
This letter was also signed by Councilors Trudy Jones and Brad Winter.