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Councilor apologizes to volunteer board

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By Albuquerque City Council standards, legislation greenlighting the city’s Poole property purchase enjoyed a smooth passage during last week’s meeting.

Councilors asked a few questions about funding for the new open space acquisition and about other potential open space prospects, but much of the Poole property discussion was akin to a victory lap; councilors and city staffers thanked and congratulated one another for having resolved a long-standing community debate over the West Side parcel’s future. The city’s purchase means the 23 acres overlooking the Rio Grande oxbow will be preserved instead of developed with 69 new homes.

But shortly after the council voted 9-0 to proceed with the $6.7 million deal, Councilor Diane Gibson delivered a frank and critical assessment of the city’s actions up to that moment.

She said that she was glad the city was buying the property but that it “wasn’t a good process.” The city had walked over its own Open Space Advisory Board, the volunteer panel that helps advise officials on land acquisitions, she said.

“I will apologize on my own behalf to the Open Space board members for the city treating them shabbily,” Gibson said.

She said she spoke with multiple members of the board who said that the Poole property proposal was sprung on them at the last minute and that they were “misled” and “manipulated” by city staff along the way.

“We have done a disservice to the people who are serving on the Open Space Advisory Board,” the councilor said.

In a follow-up interview with the Journal, Gibson declined to identify the specific board members she was referencing.

The Open Space Advisory Board’s chair, Twyla McComb, declined a Journal request for comment last week, saying she first needed to discuss the matter with the entire board at its meeting in late March.

Gibson concluded her commentary by saying she needed no response, and nobody in the public meeting offered one.

But Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief operating officer, told the Journal on Friday that the city did things the right way.

“Although we had to move as quickly as possible to get this deal done, we did follow the City’s process for acquisition,” he said in a written response to a Journal inquiry. “The Open Space Advisory Board was notified as soon as we felt a solid deal was on the horizon. At the end of the day, we are grateful we could all come together to preserve this land for generations to come.”

This is not the first time Gibson has apologized to citizens who serve on city boards or commissions.

In 2019, she publicly apologized to volunteer members of the city’s Lodgers Tax Advisory Board who had been blind sided when Mayor Tim Keller announced a proposal to use $28 million in lodgers tax-backed bonds to fund a series of sports facility projects. Some members learned about the proposal for the first time through media reports.

HELP IS HERE: Renters who live in unincorporated Bernalillo County and need help paying rent or utility bills due to COVID-19 can apply for emergency assistance.

Using a $5 million federal grant, the county will help eligible renters cover up to six months of rent and utilities. Qualifications include a household income at or beneath 80% of the area median. That varies by household size but is $44,240 for two people.

Go to bernco.gov/rent for more details and to download an application.

The county will only accept mailed or hand-delivered paper applications to start. They open Monday, March 8. It will begin taking online applications March 22.

The program is limited to Bernalillo County residents who live outside Albuquerque city limits. The city has $24 million from the same federal program available for rent and utility assistance, but it has not released program or application details.


Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

 

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