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Ethics Reform Fails on First Try

By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
    City Councilor Brad Winter vowed Monday night to get ethics reform on the next election ballot after he failed to win enough votes to change the City Charter immediately.
    His proposed rewrite of the city ethics code— cracking down on gifts to city officials, travel expenses and other items— won support from six councilors Monday night, falling short of the seven votes required to change the charter without a public vote.
    Opposed were Ken Sanchez, Sally Mayer and Craig Loy. They criticized several aspects of the proposal and ultimately voted against it when the council did not support their ideas for modification.
    Supporting the measure were Winter, Debbie O'Malley, Martin Heinrich, Isaac Benton, Don Harris and Michael Cadigan.
    Winter said he will immediately reintroduce the ethics rewrite as a ballot proposal. He's confident he has the five council votes needed to get it on the ballot. The next regularly scheduled city election is October 2007.
    The loss Monday, he said, will make ethics the dominating issue of the next municipal election.
    "I am appalled. ... I am in shock that this failed, and the people of Albuquerque ought to be very disappointed. I guess that's ethics and politics," Winter said.
    Sanchez said Albuquerque officials already have high ethical standards. He said the need for improvement is at a state government level.
    Mayer raised several questions about Winter's proposal, but she was especially critical of provisions that would prevent the mayor and councilors from trying to steer city contracts to their campaign contributors when an independent review committee recommended a different bidder. She said there could be good reasons for favoring a campaign contributor and councilors should not be blocked from voting to do so.
    Loy also said he was troubled by the proposed restriction. He said elected officials should make decisions about contracts and should not be required to defer to a review committee.
    "We can't tie the hands of elected officials," he said.
    Winter said the provision about contracts was an important part of his proposal. Dropping the restriction "would go against the heart of what ethics reform is about— eliminating the perception that you pay to play," he said.
    Loy also tried unsuccessfully to add a provision that would have blocked a councilor from voting on legislation that would regulate the councilor's employer. Loy was joined by Mayer and Sanchez in voting for the amendment.
    Other provisions in Winter's legislation would have clarified a ban on gifts. The City Charter already says officials can't accept "any valuable gift" from people with an interest in city affairs, but questions have been raised about who has such an interest and precisely what gifts are banned.
    Winter's legislation would have explained whose gifts must be rejected. It said city officials should not take gifts from city employees, contractors and certain other people who have dealings with city government.
    The legislation defined the gifts that should be rejected, offering a list that ranged from real estate to restaurant meals, discounts, the use of property, tickets to events and nearly everything else with identifiable value.
    There would have been an exception for non-monetary gifts that don't exceed a total annual value of $100 from a particular gift-giver. Winter said that in the past few days the mayoral administration had asked for a higher cap on gifts.
    Other provisions of the legislation would have established a system for disclosure of travel when the expense is paid by the city. There would have been protection of city employees from political pressure, through rules such as a ban on campaign solicitations on the job.