Many citizens came to speak their mind to the city council this past Wednesday evening about Councilor Clayton's resolution to censure the Mayor, but it was the council who laid out the case against Swisstack. Mayor Swisstack, who admitted to acting outside the City Charter - the law that governs the city government - gave an apology at least for the way he filled out the capital outlay request form. The Mayor was anything but apologetic for putting funding for water, police, and fire at risk stating that he had a moral responsibility to think of the children.
Public comment on the resolution lasted just over an hour, with supporters of the resolution speaking to the violation of the Mayor's oath of office in spite of his noble intents. Those who opposed censuring the Mayor made repeated comments about how the city will "always have needs," and that they should just take out more bonds to pay for the city's infrastructure.
The council on the other hand, felt the need to bring the discussion back to the focal point of the problem - not the A Park Above, but that the Mayor used his office to fraudulently apply for funds that compete with a duly adopted resolution from the governing body. Here were the facts that the council laid out.
When filling out the Capital Outlay Request Form:
- The Mayor put the "City of Rio Rancho" as the requesting entity. Jennie Baca, President of the A Park Above Foundation, insisted during public comment that the Mayor was just turning in the form on her behalf, but it is curious why the request form didn't say that it was the A Park Above Foundation requesting the funds.
- The Mayor checked the box indicating that the request was on the ICIP - the official document that resulted from the adoption of Resolution 70 back in Sep. This is another curious anomaly - if the form was intended to be submitted by the A Park Above people, why did the Mayor mark it as being on the ICIP since non-ICIP requests can be made?
- The City Charter forbids any one member from independently amending a duly ratified city ordinance. By indicating that the park request was on the ICIP, the impression given to state legislators is that the ICIP was at some point amended to include the park. It was not.
- Feb. 11 was the deadline for submitting capital outlay requests and this was the same day that the Mayor submitted the paperwork.
On Sep 26th, 2012 the Mayor led discussion on the priority list, the Park Above was first suggested by Mr. Babin, acting City Manager, but was immediately dropped by the council. Neither the Mayor nor Councilor Gutierrez suggested reconsidering it for the priority list, and there were no public supporters of the park asking for it be included. Councilor Thomas had left the meeting prior to the discussion on capital outlay and so did not contribute her thoughts to the discussion.
In spite of the Mayor's insistence that the park would not compete with the city's priority list, Councilor Wilkins noted that it appears as though the city will receive some funding. Here's how they expect it to break down:
- $400,000 for Fire Station 1 ($1 million was requested),
- $1 million for water infrastructure ($7.3 million was requested),
- $0 for police ($2 million was requested)
- $951,703 for A Park Above ($951,703 was requested by the Mayor's unauthorized submission).
Councilor Crum urged the Mayor to correct his actions and report back to the governing body. There was no indication from the Mayor that he would do so, apparently ignoring the fact that his request did indeed jeopardize funding for at least the police department. In an article written in the Rio Rancho Observer on Feb.13, police chief Boone noted that calls into dispatch were going to have to be prioritized in order to compensate for the lack of funding to the department. This daunting announcement comes on the heels of an FBI crime statistics report showing a 15% increase in crime in Rio Rancho.
Councilor Clayton explained that the model for the A Park Above in Orlando, FL was in an area that attracted over 60 million people a year - ten times the entire state of New Mexico - and that Rio Rancho's lack of several huge theme parks makes it unrealistic to think that the A Park Above will bring a similar mass of people to the park proposed for Rio Rancho. Clayton also criticized Sen. Sapien for his comments in the ABQ Journal as not being logical.
Councilor Gutierrez thanked her fellow councilors for their comments, but felt that Mayor Swisstack, who has 26 years of experience holding various elected position from Mayor, to County Commissioner, to state Legislator, simply made a mistake and certainly didn't commit fraud because his intentions were good. Councilor Thomas didn't add anything to the discussion except to say that she agreed with Councilor Gutierrez.
Councilor Scott (whose comments can bee seen in the video above) invited anyone wishing to discuss the A Park Above to attend First Fridays with Mark, which was held today at 1pm, but no one supporting the park took him up on his offer.
The final vote in favor of the resolution to censure the Mayor was 4-2, with Gutierrez and Thomas being the dissenting votes.
The City Council is not done fighting to get increased funding for the police department. At the council meeting on Mar. 13, discussion will take place on the possibility of splitting the education tax in half in order to divert the other half to fund the police department.
What are your thoughts? Do you think the Mayor was justified in violating the City Charter? Do you believe the Mayor should formally withdrawal his request for funding for A Park Above? 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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