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The city of Albuquerque has paid $360,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former traffic engineer who alleged he was fired after voicing concerns about Albuquerque Rapid Transit and other projects.
John Kolessar, who used to lead the city’s traffic division, filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2019 against the city and two of his former supervisors. He alleged that he was wrongfully terminated in 2017 “for repeatedly complaining about the city’s failure to adhere to traffic safety rules and ordinances.” His concerns included the configuration of the ART line along Central Avenue, concerns that his lawsuit identified as:
• “Dangerous and inconvenient” U-turns
• Removal of “safe and adequate” parking
• Improper placement of high-intensity activated crosswalk signals
• “Detrimental effects” on local businesses due to ART-related traffic congestion
Kolessar’s suit alleged he raised non-ART concerns, too, including that the city failed to heed the national standards for traffic signals and signs. He pushed back when supervisors directed him to disregard the standards, which his suit says earned him a “problem employee” label. He was ultimately fired, it says, for driving a work vehicle on personal errands and “other minor personnel infractions.”
According to the settlement agreement, Kolessar “denies the existence of just cause to support his termination and the city denies any and all allegations of unlawful or retaliatory conduct,” but the parties agreed it was in their mutual interest to avoid future legal proceedings.
The city settled the case in late 2021, but the legal department reported it to the City Council just this month as part of a quarterly litigation report. The Kolessar settlement is among 15 the city paid out over the first three months of 2022, according to the report. The settlements total $862,000 and cover a range of cases, including lawsuits alleging damages tied to a slip-and-fall at a city park to one claiming age- and disability-based discrimination.
Kolessar’s attorney did not respond to a Journal message Friday afternoon.
The city, meanwhile, said settling his whistleblower case was the best course of action.
“Ultimately, it made sense to settle the matter rather than continue legal proceedings and incur further costs,” city spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in a written statement.