Monday, February 27, 2006

Campaign Endorsements

This is endorsement week for the newspapers in the City Elections. It reminds me of how nervous I was the first and second times I ran for Sheriff during this week. The endorsements typically come out the week before the elections. On the one hand they are so late in the game that many people have already made up their minds. In these days of early voting many, many people have already voted. On the other hand (lies a golden band) oops, sorry, my mind started wandering into a country song. Anyway, on the other hand for those undecided's who still remain out there the endorsements could add a few votes. If you are endorsed it can't hurt and if you are not then you remind yourselves that many of those endorsed by the media lose. In fact I will never forget that one of the papers employees congratulated me after an endorsement while I was in their office placing an ad. It went something like this: "Congratulations on the endorsement." to which I replied with a huge smile on my face, " Thanks!" she then finished the sentence with " Its usually the kiss of death." My smile turned into an uncomfortable grin. Apparently the paper usually endorsed long shots who they believed could be a good candidate in order to give them a shot. They usually lost. And yes that was my first shot at Sheriff, and yes I lost.

The ways that the papers choose their candidates is interesting. The Santa Fe Reporter always has interviews and in my case both the candidates were face to face answering questions put up by the editor and one other reporter. This reminds me of a high school debate and you feel like you are not only trying to impress but defend as well. I remember the second time I interviewed with the Reporter I took a copy of the endorsement they gave me four years earlier. The interviewers got a kick out of that and I remember them making a joke about them wondering if I carried that around with me for the last four years. I took it with me because I hoped that by reminding them that they endorsed me in my last race I might psychologically influence them to endorse me again. The Journal and New Mexican don't always do the same thing. It seems as though they only interview the races they are not sure of or the candidates they are unsure of. The first time I ran I wanted to make sure and get interviewed so I called the editors and asked to meet them. I remember distinctly my meeting with Bill Waters at the New Mexican. We walked together to get a cup of coffee from a shop down the street. I can't drink or spell the names of most of the fancy coffee's on the menu and I remember asking for plain coffee. The server looked at me like I should be shot and I am sure he charged me extra for my ignorance. I told my life story to Mr. Waters and walked away feeling good about the meeting. When the time came I got the endorsement. The next time I ran I was summoned to an interview at the New Mexican and I once again garnered their endorsement.

The Journal failed to succumb to my charms and did not endorse me the first time I ran. The next time I must have done better. After the endorsements come out the candidates usually end up at one function or another discussing them. If you got endorsed then the paper is the greatest, If you did not then the candidates either complain about the process or the paper, or both. Many times the supporters are the most upset. Its hard as a candidate to convince the supporters to calm down. You really don't want your supporters putting other candidates or the media down, rather you want them talking you up.

So do media endorsements really matter? I think it all depends on how close the race is and how many undecided's there are. With so many early voters the race could be decided even before endorsements come out. The main thing is to have your race in a good position by the time the endorsements come out. You need to be in a strong position a week before election day that way the endorsements, if you get them are icing on the cake. If you don't get them you can say they don't matter.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Annexation of Airport Rd.

Recently the annexation of Airport Rd. and other areas of Santa Fe County has hit the City Council Agenda. It usually comes up around City Election Time and has become a bi-annual occurrence. Every current City Councilor and any candidate who has run in the last ten to twelve years has had to answer that question in a forum. The newest resolution working its way through the City Public Works Committee and now before the Council was written by Councilor Miguel Chavez. He has been pushing for large scale annexation for some time and he has definitely come closer than any previous councilor to getting annexations done.

I was watching the last City Council meeting where they were discussing the resolution and became so upset over some of the comments made that I actually had to wait a few days to let myself calm down before I wrote about this. During the hearing Councilor Chavez read from an article where State Police were listed as taking part in a sting operation along Airport Road which netted 34 arrests. Councilor Chavez used this article to state that the County was unable to provide police protection and therefore the State Police had to step in. This is completely untrue. The operation was initially a joint operation between multiple agency's including the Santa Fe County Sheriff's office and State Police. Due to our investigators working on two homicide investigations and problems I had with the parameters of the operation we decided to postpone our involvement. The State Police decided to continue on the dates originally planned and our warrants agents assisted the State Police with approximately 30 warrants that were outstanding with people living in the area. 13 of the 34 arrests were made off of those warrants.

The Airport Road area is a high population, High crime area and we do get many complaints in the area. The district is assigned double the number of patrol deputies than that of other districts in Santa Fe County. However, in the annexation issue City Officials have greatly exaggerated the crime stats and how many officers will be needed to patrol the area. The City has stated that the area accounts for anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the total calls for the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office. This is greatly exaggerated. When the City of Santa Fe asked for our statistics approximately two years ago we clearly told them that the district which includes Airport Road and actually extends well beyond the proposed annexation area accounts for 20 to 30% of our total call volume. If narrowed down to just the proposed annexation area another 5 to 7% reduction in those numbers could be expected. The district is covered twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with twelve deputies total. The City is proposing thirty or more officers to cover the area. Don't get me wrong I could use another 30 deputies and maybe if I was in the position the city police are in I would use this as an opportunity to try and gain more officers. I just wish the city would not resort to bashing the county in its deliberations on this matter.

The City Police now serve the entire city with 137 officers they currently have on staff. The City Police is allotted 155 positions total but they currently have 18 vacancies. Therefore they are trying to state that the annexation proposal which is a total of 14,000 acres (much of it outside of the Airport Road area is vacant land) will require a 20% increase in the size of the Police Department in order to police this area. The Sheriff's Office has an authorized strength of 72 with 2 current vacancies with which we cover 2000 square miles. When you base the numbers on population we should have 100 deputies for a population the size of Santa Fe County. I throw all these numbers out only to point out that the city's estimates of Police needed seem highly exaggerated. Normally I would not criticize a fellow police agency trying to add more police on the streets but when they do that while at the same time criticizing our ability to handle the area I find that unnecessary and mean spirited.

The county E.M.S. and Fire are often unfairly criticized as well. City officials and Fire Union officials in the City often state that the city is responding to all the county calls in the Airport Road area without any compensation. The fact of the matter is that There has been a long standing Memorandum of Understanding which states that the closest fire or E.M.S. unit will respond to an emergency regardless of jurisdiction. It also states that both city and county will cover for each other or back each other up when the need arises. The County often responds in the City when there is no city ambulance available or when the situation looks like multiple units need to respond. This occurs every day on both the city and the county side. The county actually agreed to give the city a portion of its impact fees from development in the Airport road area and negotiations for having that come to fruition have been tied up between the city and county for three years or more. A good friend of mine once told me " people don't care whose badge is on the side of the ambulance or police car that responds only that the help comes quickly". I have personally instructed my deputies that any time we are unsure of jurisdiction to work that out later and just immediately respond to the call and stabilize the situation.

Finally amogst all the county bashing that has been going on at the city on this issue is the blame game for how we got into this mess particularly in the Airport Road area. As a resident of Fairway Village which is located between Airport Road and Agua Fria I have often been frustrated with the planning or lack of planning for growth in this area. The city annexes properties that they feel are beneficial tax wise causing the checkerboard of boundaries in this area. They make no attempt to mitigate the problems caused by annexing in this fashion and then blame the county for the problems caused by this lack of planning. How can the county be to blame for the current state of problems with the checkerboard boundaries ? The county does not annex properties the city does. The Airport Road area is a problem and even though some county officials oppose annexation I do not. Consistent policy's and planning need to be set up and the best way to achieve consistency is by having one entity deal with the area. Its not about getting rid of problem areas as some city councilors have stated but rather about doing what's best for citizens in the area. The Sheriff's Office has the resources to deal with the Airport Road area and has been doing so since Airport Rd was a dirt road whose soul purpose was to get people to the Airport which used to be way outside of town. We will continue to provide good service to these residences regardless of whether the annexation goes thorough or not.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Proposed Santa Fe County D.W.I. Forfeiture Law

I knew that the forfeiture ordinance would make Santa Fe Reporters 7 days column I just did not know how bad the context would be. It wasn't too bad and it was actually funny. As many of you may know I have proposed a D.W.I. Forfeiture Ordinance for Santa Fe County. I thought it might be controversial but actually there has been little negative reaction. The most asked question is what about the family who's only mode of transportation is the one family car that the offender is caught driving?

The ordinance has a provision (one we will use often) which allows that an innocent owner may sign an agreement which will allow the vehicle to only be booted for 30 days. The owner pays the cost of the boot and the vehicle will not be forfeited. The agreement states that if the same offender is caught driving the same vehicle while either on a revoked drivers license (revoked for D.W.I.) or while actually Driving while intoxicated, the vehicle will be subject to immediate seizure and will be sold. This ordinance will give family's a tool to use when their family members want to use the car and they have a history of drunk driving. They can refuse to lend or allow use of the car and tell their family members the reason is that they do not want to lose the family car. It puts more pressure on family's to not let their family member drive drunk.

Currently drivers convicted of D.W.I. have no reason to drive on a revoked drivers license. Anyone who has had their license taken away for D.W.I. can get their license back if they install an Interlock Device on their vehicle. With that provision there is no reason that someone should be driving on a revoked license for D.W.I.. Therefore we have given them the means to legally drive and not be subject to having their vehicle taken and if they choose not to follow the law then the consequences are their own fault.

The next question asked often is whether the Sheriff's Office is just trying to make money. The program could go 2-4 years before it is self sufficient. Should any excess monies be generated it could only be used for D.W. I. Prevention and Treatment. This is a way that repeat drunk drivers can help pay for the treatment programs they need. I have been trying to increase drug and alcohol treatment programs in our jail and funding is always a problem. If we could take the time offenders spend in jail and provide meaningful treatment it would be so much better than the large amount of idle time they now spend.

Finally I get asked whether or not this ordinance is legal. The ordinance we drafted mirrors an ordinance which has been challenged and upheld all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court. There have been many ordinances that have been challenged and have not passed legal muster. It is these that cause confusion about the legality of D.W.I. forfeiture as a whole. I would not endorse anything that will cause Santa Fe County undue legal bills or exposure. In fact I have been criticized for not having our proposed ordinance tough enough. However, we do not want to exceed the sanctions which have passed legal muster.

This by and far will not be a cure all for D.W. I. It is just another tool in the box to continue the fight. We do not give criminals their guns or knifes back as they walk out of jail, Lets stop handing repeat drink drivers their keys back as they leave jail. The passage of this ordinance is not a done deal. If you agree with this ordinance email or call your County Commissioners and urge that they pass the D.W.I. Forfeiture ordinance. Thank You.