Saturday, August 22, 2009
Aviation Director: Mayor Worked for Tougher Deal
By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Surveillance video that has surfaced in a federal lawsuit paints Mayor Martin Chávez as someone who puts his "personal stamp" on city business and sometimes frustrates subordinates with detailed oversight.
In the videos, city officials tell an airport operator it was Chávez who demanded changes to the operator's lease deal after it had been negotiated by the city Aviation Department.
The recordings are part of a lawsuit filed by John Hall Bode and other plaintiffs who help operate the city's Double Eagle II Airport on the West Side. The lawsuit claims the mayor retaliated against them after they refused to provide him with discounted air service and raised questions about the city's spending of federal grants.
The suit says the city then refused to sign off on updates to Bode's lease agreements at Double Eagle.
City executives deny the allegations and say the plaintiffs are trying to pressure them into a less-favorable lease deal.
Airport spokesman Daniel Jiron said Friday that the surveillance tapes show the mayor wanted to get the best deal possible for taxpayers, not retaliate against anyone.
"It was clear from the conversation on the tapes that the mayor was working on a better contract for the city taxpayers," Jiron said.
In one video, from 2008, Aviation Director Nick Bakas explains to Bode and others in the company that he thought the lease deal to which Bode had agreed was a good one and that the chief administrative officer had no problem with it, either.
Bakas told Bode it was the mayor who wanted changes, including a shorter term and more costly inflation adjustments.
Chávez "brought us in there and ripped us for a half hour or so," Bakas said on the video. Before that, "we were all in agreement. We were caught off guard by our apparent incompetence and buffoonery."
Bode later asked Bakas if the mayor could really be "overseeing and running everything" on such a detailed level. Bakas responded: "It's his show. ... I think he's a real good mayor. A good person is another issue."
Jiron said Bakas' comment merely indicates he was there to negotiate, not comment on the mayor's personality.
Bakas and Jack Scherer, another airport official, defended the mayor.
"He's an attorney, and the guy is as sharp as they come in this stuff," Scherer said. "... He's decided what he thinks is in the best interest of the city."
Bode argued on the video that the city's own independent study found the lease terms favorable to the city.
The Journal obtained the recordings through a records request filed at City Hall. The plaintiffs had sent the videos to the city as part of the federal lawsuit.
The recordings show a series of meetings in 2007 and 2008 between the plaintiffs and city officials in a Bode conference room at Double Eagle. The room had surveillance cameras because it's part of an airport.
Bode said in a deposition that there's a sign notifying people of the surveillance and that the cameras' operation is routine. His attorney said the cameras are visible.
Jiron said the city representatives were "unaware that they were being secretly recorded, and that gives us insight into how the Bodes operate. It appears now that they're using these for political purposes."
The Mayor's Office referred questions to Jiron, who responded on behalf of Bakas, Scherer and the mayor.
From the videos
• In July 2008, Bakas and Scherer told Bode and others they needed to arrange to meet with the mayor in person to explain why they couldn't agree to his changes. They said it wasn't personal and that Chávez wasn't singling them out.
The mayor "has in the last year reviewed more documents more closely than at any time he's ever served," Scherer says. "And he puts his stamp, his personal stamp, on everything that happens. And why? I don't know why. He certainly doesn't, he would tell you right now, he doesn't know the FBO business. He's not trying to know the FBO business. He just simply says it seems to him that that's a fair deal."
Scherer went on to say the lease dispute had nothing to do with any questions raised about city spending of grants.
Bakas said he shared the Bodes' confusion.
"I work for the man," Bakas said. "I don't have a personal relationship. We're not drinking buddies, dinner buddies. I got to produce. I don't produce, I get kicked to the curb."
He added that another department head was "pulling his hair out. No one's got a clue" why the mayor is so detailed in his oversight.
Jiron said Bakas "and every other director knows Mayor Chávez is an extremely demanding boss. He sets goals and he expects results from his directors and every city employee."
In his deposition, Bode said his attorney e-mailed the mayor, but Chávez wouldn't meet with them. "We tried to do everything in our power not to give the city a black eye" before filing suit, Bode contends.