BREAKING NEWS: Today, Feb. 22, the Rio Rancho city website published a resolution condemning Mayor Tom Swisstack for subverting the city council by submitting a request for capital outlay that was not included in the council's priority list. What was Mayor Swisstack's request for? $951,703 to fund A Park Above. If approved, this would be the second year in a row that capital outlay has been used to fund the Mayor's pet project. Last year the project received over $1.2 million in reauthorized state funding.
The request for A Park Above might prevent Rio Rancho from receiving funding for police, fire and water.
The capital outlay requests were predetermined at a city council meeting last September, where the list was voted on and made official. On Sept. 26, 2012 the city voted unanimously on this priority list, and the mayor advised the council to choose their top three to submit to the state, warning further:
You're not going to get all of this money .... this [wish list] looks good politically, but it doesn't mean they're getting their money. They [the Legislature] are going to ask us what our couple top, two or three priorities are .... we need to set realistic expectations." (emphasis added)
Councilor Chuck Wilkins proposed making the top priorities water, police, and fire, pushing other projects, like A Park Above off the list. Rejecting the funding request for A Park Above, may have been done in part as a response to police and fire union workers, who lodged a letter of complaint a year ago with the previous governing body (under the management of James Jimenez) for their failure to provide adequate funding for the fundamental needs of the city. Police and fire union workers specifically denounced the park project as diverting funds from contract obligations that the governing body had been neglecting for several years.
The Mayor's request comes as a surprise since Swisstack presented the council's list of priorities to the public in a column he wrote to the Rio Rancho Observer on January 30th of this year, and especially since Swisstack excused himself from an awards ceremony that Chief Boone was putting on for the police department stating, "Chief, I'll be in Santa Fe lobbying for our bills, so you're there, I'm thinking of you." (see video below) The request for A Park Above was made two days prior to that city council meeting, so was Swisstack's well-wishing to the Chief just mere lip service?
According to this Capital Outlay Request Form, Swisstack applied for the funds on Monday, Feb. 11, against the direction of the entire city council and at the potential detriment of police and fire workers whose funding requests are now in direct competition to the Mayor's park request. The resolution is sponsored by Councilor Clayton and states in part,
"Mayor Swisstack’s Capital Outlay Request Form states that the entity requesting funding for this project is the City of Rio Rancho; and no duly adopted legislative act of the City’s Governing Body authorized the Mayor to transmit any such capital outlay request or to seek sponsorship of the same; and the Mayor has no authority to present such an independent capital outlay request; and in presenting his unauthorized [and fraudulent] capital outlay request, the Mayor misrepresented his authority to state legislators and violated the foregoing provisions of the City Charter and ordinances"
While the Mayor was correct to advise the council that there is no guarantee that these funds will be approved, there are some questions that need answered.
Why would the Mayor request funds for a project that the council unanimously rejected?
Why would the Mayor put funding requests for water, police, and fire at risk by introducing a competing request?
The funds requested for A Park Above are nearly that of the funds requested for Fire Station 1. What happens if A Park Above receives the funding instead of the fire department? What good is a park if our fire department doesn't have what it needs to put out a potential brush fire at the park?
Or is the Mayor making this request simply because, "it looks good politically?" Did the Mayor just put his campaign for re-election as a higher priority than the city's safety? Is his re-election campaign more important than easing the strain of increasing water rates on citizens, which could potentially be partially offset if the request for water infrastructure funding is approved?
By Mayor Swisstack's own admission to the ABQ Journal, the estimated annual cost to the city for A Park Above is $23,000, and in spite of the poor economy and neglecting the city's fundamental needs, Swisstack seems dead set on leaving his mayoral legacy in the creation of A Park Above. It almost sounds like he's following the footsteps of former Governor Bill Richardson who's "legacy" was left behind in the Rail Runner at the expense of tax payers.
This resolution will be discussed at the next city council meeting. If you want to have your voice heard on this, then you will have a chance to speak to the Mayor and the council on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The council meeting begins at 6:30pm, but those who wish to speak need to arrive early to sign up.
What do you think? Will the Mayor's action compromise the safety of Rio Rancho? Is the A Park Above project worth the sacrifice of police, fire and water? Is the Mayor truly protecting the interests of the city by making a park his top priority? Is it the mark of an upstanding Mayor to subvert legislative acts of the council? Is Mayor Swisstack jeopardizing his re-election with this action? Comment below and share this article.
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Kerry works to provide a refreshing alternative to the mainstream news sources in Rio Rancho and beyond. Don’t miss future news and editorials by subscribing to Kerry’s articles. As the Albuquerque Government Examiner, Kerry reports on all levels of government that affect Rio Rancho and New Mexico.
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