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Meeting Draws Negative Attention

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An organization aimed at reforming sex offender laws chose an Albuquerque hotel to host its fourth annual conference, but safety worries prompted the city to beef up security at nearby parks and schools.

The city held a meeting Tuesday evening to address residents’ concerns, but it was sparsely attended. Albuquerque Police Cmdr. Kevin Rowe, who organized the meeting, assured the public that police were prepared for the conference. He even sang a song he said he had written for the occasion.

One of the seven people in the audience stormed out after Rowe would not let him ask a question because the meeting was not organized as a question-and-answer session.

“This is a public relations stunt,” said Eric Schultz, who said he was concerned about the conference’s proximity to schools. “This isn’t an informative meeting.”

The organization, Reform Sex Offender Laws, will be discussing its concerns about sex offender registry laws, which it sees as ineffective and unjust, during a four-day conference beginning Thursday at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center on Hotel Avenue near Interstate 40 and Eubank NE.

After a “concerned constituent” alerted city officials to the conference, the City Attorney’s Office sent a letter to the hotel’s manager warning him about possible danger to guests and neighbors.

“We are concerned that there is a convention of persons who advocate sex between adults and minors so near locations where minors can be found outside the veil of parental protection,” managing assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler wrote in the Aug. 21 letter.

Wheeler claimed the organization had ties to the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which advocates the abolishment of age-of-consent laws between men and boys.

Scott Pawgan, a Texas attorney who represents the group, said a former NAMBLA member was an administrator with the organization “years ago” but was asked to resign when his ties to the organization came to light.

Pawgan said the city doesn’t understand the RSOL organization’s intentions.

“We’re always going to welcome the increased public safety of the added security,” he said. “But the city might be overreacting to the conference.”

In an invitation to Mayor Richard Berry, the group’s executive director, Brenda Jones, sought to assure the mayor that organizers are committed solely to changing sex offender policy, as are the roughly 100 people expected to attend.

“Of that total, very few are actually on a sex offender registry,” Jones said in the invite. “Although they certainly have the right to attend and would be welcome so long as they maintain compliance with the law.”

The group says sex offender registration laws don’t actually prohibit sex offenses and claims abuse comes not from strangers, but primarily from victims’ relatives and neighbors.

Three schools — Tomasita Elementary, Kennedy Middle and Manzano High — are near the hotel.

Mayor Richard Berry said in a phone interview before the meeting that the city recognizes the organization’s right to free speech, but it’s his job to protect public safety.

“The group has their First Amendment rights, and I have my responsibilities as a mayor,” Berry said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he does not plan to attend the conference.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal