Monday, March 30, 2009

More Reactions to My Post on the Media

Mark Bralley and his blog "What's Wrong With This Picture?" has joined the blogosphere in reacting to my post "Has the legislature become beholden to the media?". As all the reactionary posts have been, Mark's was a thoughtful and interesting post which included some great photo's. The reflection photo of David Alire Garcia was worthy of a gallery showing. Mark must have a great cataloging system to keep track of photo's and find them even when they are 3o or more years old.

In his post interestingly titled "No Shootout With The Sheriff", Mark takes from my blog post that the premise was....

Solano’s premise is, that the media has its own agenda and it was displayed this legislative session by wielding "undue influence" on legislators.
The real interesting part of the reactionary posts is looking at how each blogger viewed my post and what they took away from it. Each had their own slant on how they viewed the post, what my basic premise was in writing it and what their reaction to what I said was.

In law enforcement we have an exercise in the police academy where someone walks into a room full of cadets, commits a fake robbery or other crime and leaves quickly. It is timed to equal the average time it takes to rob a convenience store etc. Usually a minute or less. Using only their memory (no time to take notes when you are being robbed) the 30 - 40 cadets are then asked to describe the robber. You will get 30-40 different descriptions and no one will get it exactly right.

The exercise is designed to teach the cadets what victims go through and teach them to be more observant. Each persons view of the suspect is based on many factors, one of which being the individuality of the person themselves. As I read each of the reactions to my post I see the individuality of the writer. Each of them read the exact same blog post and so far all of the posts have been from those connected with the news media. While there is some similarities in the reactions the differences far out weigh the similarities.

Mark and I are probably the most alike among New Mexico bloggers in that we both have a law enforcement background, and a union background. His posts often contain historical perspectives and this one was a very educational historical look at the news media. He also gives some personal insight on the legislative session. He writes...

This session happened to align itself through a series of events, some caused by the ham fisted and overbearing manner of the legislative leadership in trying to shut down their self mandated openness. Some because of the lack of money shifted the focus to other items. Some of it was because of the emphasis placed on the number of ethics bills and the importance that the media decided those bills should have. Some in the media argue that people are frustrated by the corruption cases of recent years and are demanding something be done. The legislators must have been hearing the same thing based upon the number of bills submitted covering a wide range of ethics topics.
I agree, the stars aligned such this year that bills that never seemed to have a chance received more than their fair share of discussion and actually made it through to the governors desk. Now I am not saying the media deserves all the credit for this occurring. My blog post was only meant to discuss what I feel was a larger than normal pulpit the media had during this session. I could do a whole series of posts on each of the other factors that took place to help the stars align just so during this session. The Governors lack of interest, the Governors need to shore up his legacy, the new younger generation of law makers, the lack of bills which would raise the rancor of the big lobby interests like the liquor lobby, health care and others, the lack of lobby dollars, parties, luncheons etc, the economy, the economy, and the economy. Did I mention the economy?

Mark throws out one last comment I want to address:

Just one last thought, Solano thinks the media should be required to register as lobbyists. However, I wouldn't be required under the current law because I'm not paid. I believe in a free press and what I've done with the legislature this year, I have done for free.

I really don't believe reporters should register as lobbyists. I did throw that out there to compare and contrast what lobbyists do to what I feel the news media sometimes does in certain pieces that are slanted towards getting a reaction from lawmakers. We all know it happens and I have to admit I would probably do it also.

Any way this has been a lively discussion and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It will be interesting to continue to read comments, blog posts and reactions if they continue. If not then it has been fun and educational.


Media Blog Post Sparks Reactions.

I listen to talk radio, read newspapers, read blogs, listen to podcasts and take in information where ever I can, for two reasons. Entertainment and information. Now I try to not be one sided about it, I don't hardly ever agree with Rush Limbaugh but I listen to him at least once a week just to see what the other side is saying. So when I blog I try to write about things in a manner which provokes thoughts and opinions and maybe even some self introspection. When people write about me, whether it is comments in the New Mexican web site, a news story, a blog, or an opinion piece. I try to see things from the writers perspective.

I was happy to see that my last post "Has the legislature become beholden to the media" was read by someone and it provoked a reaction. I enjoyed comments from the two blogs who have responded to the blog post so far. The first to respond was David Alire Garcia in the New Mexico Independent Blog. He threw in some great compliments, (thanks David) along with some thoughtful analysis of my blog post. What I took as the main point from David's piece was that he felt I painted the media with a broad brush. Which I have to admit I did.

Now the media is not used to being criticized. Who does a Larry Barker type story on a media outlet? When the media goes to far or is not fair and balanced who can do anything about it? I feel that Fox News is the most biased news organization in the history of modern media. And most polls say a large segment of the public agrees. However, as long as they have marketing people who can sell advertisements they will broadcast what they want in the manner they want and the public be damned.

My whole point in using the broad brush was to get people thinking about when the same brush is used to paint lobbyists. I know people who lobby for no money what so ever. They do it because they care (it is why I sometimes lobby). I also know people who get paid to lobby. And they are not all the big bad people which politicians and the media portray them as. In fact maybe what lobbyists need is a good lobbyist. Some are honest hard working people who are just doing their jobs and advocating for their cause whatever that cause may be. I also think that when the media advocates a position or chooses to run certain story's during a legislative session with an underlying slant, they are making a conscious choice to lobby.

The next reacting blogger was another Dave, Dave Maass of the Santa Fe Reporter, In his Blog Post titled "Sheriff Cuffs SFR and the NM press". Wow, the first thing that caught my eye from the title and in the blog post was that Dave seemed to take my blog post as a personal affront to the Santa Fe Reporter and maybe even himself. This was never meant to be the case. In fact I think because the Santa Fe Reporter is an alternative news paper is supposed to be about more than just the facts and has the ability to be more opinionated than a daily traditional paper. Its why I read it. Heck, let me see the Albuquerque Journal run the Dan Savage column on a daily or weekly basis.

Now Dave, before I get into an analysis of your blog post I have to ask for a correction. I did attend several committee hearings during the last session of the legislature but I never attended nor did I advocate against or for the act barring officers convicted of domestic violence. It just did not happen. The first time I ever discussed the issue was during the live blogging session I popped in on during the waning days of the session. I testified in support of a Sheriff's PERA bill, against the profiling bill (I opposed a small part of the bill and stated I could support it if that section were removed). I testified against sections of the Juvenile code rewrite and I opposed the bill specifying how police lineups and photo arrays should be handled. I also wrote letters to all Senators prior to their vote on the Double Dipping bill.

Dave writes in his blog post....

Editorialization isn’t the same as lobbying. Money isn’t donated. We don’t hold closed door negotiations. Journalists don’t hand pre-written legislation to lawmakers (except for laughs). We don’t testify in committee.
The clearly editorial newsprint or TV story is not what I am talking about in my blog post. What I am talking about is when a news media outlet (note Dave, I said media outlet I am purposely trying to be inclusive of all news media), clearly runs what appears to be a news story that has an underlying tone of trying to put pressure on the legislature to act in a certain manner. Hmm, when you put it that way it kind of seems like lobbying. Now I am not picking on any news outlet for a reason. I can name one topic or story that has been run by any local news outlet including TV, newsprint, and Internet news, which in my opinion was written in such a manner as to get a lawmaker to write legislation or vote in a certain way on legislation moving through the house or senate.

This once again in my humble opinion is lobbying disguised as news. Now, I really don't expect to have reporters register as lobbyists, what I did want was to exercise my free speech and throw out there my thoughts on the first session of the 2009 49th legislature. What I really think happened here is lobbyist is such a dirty word in our society that when I even made the suggestion a reporter, editor or news organization could be called one I hurt someones feelings. It kind of reminds me of the first time someone called me a politician. I was just a former cop who wanted to serve our community as Sheriff. Somewhere along the way I became a politician. Actually let me rephrase that, "the day I made it public I was running for an elected office I became a politician".

Politician, it is also one of those words that has a bad taste in many peoples mouths. However, not all politicians are bad and not all lobbyists are bad. Heck not all reporters are bad either. ;-)


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Has the legislature become beholden to the media?

As I look back on the 49th Legislature, first session of 2009, the real story is how much of the session was spent dealing with items near and dear to the heart of the media. With the economy being what it is there was no money this year for the state to spread around. This led to less lobbyists doing less lobbying and those who were there lobbying seemed to be less effective than in the past. Just look at the TIDDs legislation. Tons of money was spent lobbying for the TIDDS legislation and it failed not just once but twice!

So who was successful in getting legislation passed this year? The only lobbyist that don't even have to register as lobbyists in New Mexico, The News Media. In news papers, TV, blogs, and live blogging the press pushed for Live web cams in the legislature, open conference committee meetings, double dipping legislation, and ethics reform. Now don't get me wrong, I sure other people cared about these issues as well, but the news media hounded law makers on these issues relentlessly. Even the death penalty legislation was not hurt by the media stories on the issue.

Now its often been said don't mess with the person who buys their ink by the barrel but this year more than any the media was relentless and had no problem taking sides on the issues and pushing their agenda using all forms of traditional and non traditional media outlets. Politicians have to pay attention to the media at least some of the time, especially during elections when if the news media gets the scent of blood they can devour a candidate. However, during this legislative session the press seems to have wielded a exceptional amount of influence. You can read the blogs and news stories after the previously mentioned bills were passed and you will see a more than sufficient amount of celebrating.

So, we force anyone who actively lobbies our politicians to register as lobbyists. Should the media once they switch gears from just reporting the news to pushing an agenda be forced to register as lobbyists? Or is the media out of line? Now individual reporters have every right to be for or against an issue and to individually speak their mind. But, when they do it as part of their job what does that do to the our system of politics and the media and the fact that they consider themselves the watchdog of our government. Can you be a watchdog and take sides on issues at the same time?

Some of these issues really should matter to the public and the public probably should be clamoring for more open government and ethics reform and yes maybe even web cams in the roundhouse. But are they? And when the legislature listens to the media, when they are lobbying on these issues, are they now beholden to the media? Often times legislators are accused of being beholden to lobbyists when they listen to them or vote in their favor. So what about now that the media has won so many fights in one session. Would anyone in the media dare to write an editorial exclaiming that the media has had undue influence and the legislature has become beholden to the media lobby? I will not hold my breath.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Governor, Sign Red Light Camera Legislation.

The legislature has passed Senate Bill 519 which forces local cities which use Red Light Camera's to turn over most of the revenue to the state. I applaud this bill and urge the Governor to Sign it into law. My biggest problem with red light camera's is that cities tend to use them not as deterrents to red light running but as revenue generation tools. This bill removes most of that incentive and forces mayors and city councilors to judge the use of red light camera's on their effectiveness and not their ability to generate revenue. The final change needed in a future piece of legislation would be to force cities who have red light cameras to have protests to violations heard by a real judge, whether it be a municipal or magistrate judge. If this final change was made I could then support red light camera's.

For those who are not aware.
Cameras have been in use in Albuquerque for several years, and in Las Cruces for about a month. The City of Santa Fe is placing cameras at four Cerrillos Road intersections within months also. State Law requires citations to be given by a uniformed certified officer who must witness the infraction. The only exception is in the case of an accident when the officer can rely on evidence at the scene and witness statements to issue the citations. So how do New Mexico cities use red light camera's to issue citations? They do this through a civil action.

The citations issued are civil summons issued by the city. The only cause of action if you do not pay the citation is for the city to take civil action and boot your vehicle under civil forfeiture ordinances until you pay. If you do pay the citation then the only penalty is the cash you send to the city. No matter how many citations you get for running red lights by the cameras you will not receive points on your M.V.D. records. Your insurance companies will not know you even received a citation. The penalty is cash and or impoundments. The city saves on storage fees by impounding your car in your own driveway by booting the vehicle.

Because it is a civil action your only recourse if you want to dispute a ticket is to appeal the ticket to a hearing officer hired by the city to hear the appeals. The hearing officer only judges whether or not you ran the light not extenuating circumstances like a judge would. So lets say a car is skidding into your rear end at a light you have already stopped at or are slowing to a stop. Your only choice is to step on the gas and continue through the intersection or get rear ended. You step on the gas and avoid the accident but the camera snaps your picture and you get a ticket. The hearing officer will not take the circumstances into account only whether or not the photo adequately shows evidence that you did or did not run the light.

A judge can take all factors into consideration and make a ruling. Now cities do not want these tickets going to a judge because judges tend to take plea agreements and dismiss tickets more often than a hearing officer would. Thereby reducing dramatically the revenue from red light tickets. And of course because of state law which says that an officer must witness the infraction any judge who gets a red light camera case would be obligated to throw the case out. This brings us back to the State Legislature. What is needed now is a state statute either legitimizing red light cameras so the cases can be heard in a real court, or a statute eliminating them all together.

Finally the ball is still up in the air on whether or not Red Light Camera's prevent accidents or cause them. I was hoping Albuquerque would do an honest study on this factor but I have not seen it yet. You can find studies that show both results so the whole thing appears inconclusive.

Here are three studies which shows that accidents increase at intersections with red light camera's due to motorists making abrupt stops in order to avoid the citation.

Maryland county's red light cameras net $2.85 million, increase accidents

Georgia: Accidents Increased with Red Light Cameras

Washington study

Now I really believe the Red Light camera's will prove to be a bad fit for Santa Fe and locals will pressure city officials to do away with them in the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see.


Monday, March 16, 2009

A New Sheriff in Washington Takes on Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Readers of this blog know I have talked about Sheriff Joe Arpaio many times over the last few years. At least once every few months some one sends me an email which has been forwarded more times around this country than William Hung singing "She Bangs" on American Idol. The email is always a variation of this:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (in Arizona) is doing it RIGHT!! He has jail meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails. Took away their weights. Cut off all but "G" movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn't get sued for discrimination.

He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked up the cable TV again but only let in the Disney channel and the weather channel. When asked why the weather channel he replied, so they will know how hot it's gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs.
He cut off coffee since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained, he told them.....this is a good one......"This isn't the Ritz/Carlton. If you don't like it, don't come back."

He bought Newt Gingrich's lecture series on videotape that he pipes into the jails. When asked by a reporter if he had any lecture series by a Democrat, he replied that a democratic lecture series might explain why a lot of the inmates were in his jails in the first place. You have to love this guy!!

More on the AZ Sheriff:
With temperatures being even hotter than usual in Phoenix (116 degrees just set a new record), the Associated Press reports:
About 2,000 inmates living in a barbed-wire-surrounded tent encampment at the Maricopa County Jail have been given permission to strip down to their government-issued pink boxer shorts. On Wednesday, hundreds of men wearing boxers were either curled up on their bunk beds or chatted in the tents, which reached 138 degrees inside the week before. Many were also swathed in wet, pink towels as sweat collected on their chests and dripped down to their pink socks. "It feels like we are in a furnace," said James Zanzot, an inmate who has lived in the tents for 1 1/2 years. "It's inhumane." Joe Arpaio, the tough-guy sheriff who created the tent city and long ago started making his prisoners wear pink, and eat bologna sandwiches, is not one bit sympathetic He said Wednesday that he told all of the inmates: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and they have to wear full battle gear, but they didn't commit any crimes... so shut your damned mouths."
Now I have been called " a media hog" by some detractors especially since I did all my own Public Information Officer work for the last 6 years. I always felt it was important for me as an elected official to be available and to personally be the spokesperson for the office the voters entrusted me to hold. However, Sheriff Joe Arpaio makes me look shy with his vote getting, media attracting stunts. Most of Sheriff Arpaio's stunts were legal yet degrading stunts designed to show how tough he was on crime and taking advantage of the fact that most people had a view of jail life that included criminals watching cable t.v. and working out all day while being served 3 decent meals a day. Sheriff Arpaio seized the opportunity presented itself by that impression and set out to show that his jail, one made of tents in the Arizona desert, took away that easy life. He instituted chain gangs and professed to feed his inmates leftovers from local grocers and restaurants. What he liked to call "Green Bologna". He also went so far as to purchase old military food packs called MRE's "meal ready to eat" at very cheap prices and feed them to the inmates.

All of these stunts allowed him to portray himself as "the toughest Sheriff in America". As I said earlier these stunts were just that, publicity stunts that were legal. In the last year Sheriff Arpaio had his deputies trained under federal government program called a 287G agreement. This is up for considerable debate but the truth is immigration law is a federal civil law not a national criminal law. This means that only federal officers (ICE Officers) can arrest someone solely on the basis that they are illegally in this country. A comparison to this is the IRS, a local police officer can not arrest you for income tax crimes. Only a federal officer can.

However local agencies can enter into an agreement with immigration in which the federal government will train and deputize local deputies to enforce immigration law. In other words give local authorities the ability to arrest illegal immigrants when that is their only crime. As usual Sheriff Arpaio decided to apply his brand of law enforcement to an agreement with ICE and having his deputies deputized to enforce immigration law. Sheriff Arpaio had his deputies perform sweeps of predominately Hispanic neighborhoods. Allegedly during these sweeps innocent people were stopped questioned and arrested if they lacked proper documentation.

In his usual circus atmosphere fashion Sheriff Arpaio arrested thousands of illegal immigrants and then paraded them in shackles in front of the media. He opened up his own segregated tent city jail just for immigrants and while moving the immigrants from one tent city to the other he led them in large chain gangs in front of TV and newspaper camera's in one big Mexican parade. The only thing missing was the mariachi's. Eventually human rights and immigrant rights groups began protesting, the Governor and the Mayor of Phoenix began to join in the protests and the State cut off funding for some of Sheriff Arpaio's programs.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon wrote a letter to the Department of Justice whom had investigated Sheriff Arpaio's office at least twice before during the Bush Administration. Those inquirys remain sealed to this day prompting the Sheriff to point to them and say "see they didn't find anything!". Now there is a new Sheriff in Town. President Obama has been elected and the new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is taking up the complaints with a new vigor. The U.S. Justice Department launched a new civil rights investigation of Sheriff Arpaio's administration. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan and chairman of the House judiciary committee has also announced plans to hold congressional hearings on local immigration enforcement and call Arpaio as a witness in the coming months. Sheriff Arpaio has laid down the gauntlet saying he would not travel to Washington and testify.

You can tell the pressure is on as Sheriff Arpaio has taken to going on National Radio and News TV shows to scream foul. He claims he is unfairly being targeted as a Republican advocate for Immigration reform. The Sheriff has latched onto the immigration reform issue and placed himself squarely in the middle of the debate between those who feel we are not doing enough and those who feel we should not persecute those who come here looking for a better life. Now obviously the locals in Maricopa County are OK with Sheriff Arpaio's antics. He is re-elected time after time. During each election I think this must be his last but like many who want to see him go we are disappointed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Double Dipping, The Good The Bad And The Necessary

So called Double Dipping is very much in the news at this time as the push for changes works its way through the legislature. As most issues are, this one is not a black and white issue. The problem with programs like this is not the entire program, but rather the fact that abuses can and will take place. This causes people to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Law Enforcement is one area where hiring retired officers makes dollars and sense, and serves the taxpayer. Law Enforcement and Fire Fighters have a 20 year retirement. This was incorporated years ago (1970's ?) across New Mexico as a way to add incentive for men and women to go into the profession. When I started in 1988 I took a cut in pay from my job as a service advisor at a local car dealership to be an police officer. I was making about $8 an hour with commissions and I went to work with the Santa Fe Police Department as an officer for $6.00 an hour. Why would I take a cut in pay? I was newly married and had a child on the way. I needed health insurance and retirement benefits. While the pay was not as good as the private sector the stability and benefits made the job switch worthwhile.

I started my career in law enforcement at age 24 and many started at age 18- 21. That means that the officers I started with were eligible to retire at ages 38-42. Imagine that! Retiring at age 38. Now the truth of the matter is that they would not truly retire. Who can just go fishing at age 38? So these men and women are going to take 20 years of law enforcement experience and go work where? Security at malls, casino's, for private investigations firms and for lawyers. The public loses all that experience and knowledge to these other jobs. By hiring retired officers we are bringing that experience back to the streets. Now I have never hired anyone who is retired from our agency or else where without following the letter of the law. People who retire must leave their jobs for 90 days before being eligible for rehire. Those in city, state and other government agencies who have skirted this law have created a feeding ground for those who would like to end the rehiring practice all together.

I have touched on why law enforcement needs to be able to keep and rehire experienced officers but what about non law enforcement? The thing I find funny is that the politicians who are now speaking out about the practice have themselves or through their directors hired hundreds of retired government employees who are past retirees. In the last year at least 1/3 of the officers I have hired are retirees. The Governor is speaking out on the practice yet he alone could have easily set policies which could have restricted the practice in state government. Many times in city, county and state government the work is plenty and the employees are few. People become specialized in their fields and because everyone has their jobs to do, others do not get the training and experience needed to take their place when they retire. It is in these specialized positions that the public will suffer when the experience is lost.

In the private sector the incentive to stay on is done through stock options, bonuses, and retention incentives. None of these are available in government so rehire of experienced personnel is one of the few options. We need to reign in abuses and make governments stick to the rules, but to eliminate the rehire option is a detriment to government. At the very least we need to keep an exemption for hard to fill positions such as teachers, nurses, fire fighters, and law enforcement. I only wish other politicians who know and understand why rehire is a necessary option would take their finger out of the wind and explain to the public the benefits and reign in the negatives.