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Editorial: Did ABQ let city taxpayers pay for an imaginary fence?

If someone billed you $2,400 for a fence, and that fence was never installed, would you keep doing business with them?

What if someone else was picking up the $2,400 tab?

Like taxpayers?

A report from the Albuquerque Office of the Inspector General said a real estate services company billed the city $300 a month for eight months for a fence at an unsafe southeast property, but no fence ever was erected beyond what the owner already had.

The company also charged $21,600 for 96 hours’ worth of trash, weed and debris removal at another site, though the contract stipulated the work should be done within 48 hours. The company later offered a $4,725 “discount.”

In another instance, the company charged more than 10 times what a different vendor charged for similar work, according to the report.

The December report said the OIG was unable to “substantiate or unsubstantiate” collusion allegations between the company and an unnamed city code enforcement supervisor.

But it found that the employee and company were not fully compliant with the contract and code enforcement procedures, that the company had substantially higher fees than another contractor and that the city worker violated record-keeping rules.

The unnamed city employee, who had been seen with T-shirts bearing the company’s name – has reportedly faced “appropriate discipline.”

Junior Baca, the owner of Native Sons Real Estate Services, disputed the OIG report’s findings and told the Journal his company performed the work requested and charged what his contract allowed. He also told the Journal’s Jessica Dyer for a Jan. 8 story he was still getting city work.

The city told Dyer on Wednesday that the contract with Native Sons has been terminated.

The report raises troubling questions for taxpayers about whether the city is paying for nonexistent items and overpaying for others.

A Planning Department spokeswoman said the city is now requiring photographic evidence of work – what a concept, though it can be gamed – among other internal changes.

Based on the OIG report, that’s one step in “substantiating” public confidence in City Hall that’s long overdue.

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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