Wienergate Closed… Hopefully

Tuesday, a sad chapter in the history of the Bernalillo County Commission hopefully came to a close. The Commission voted to “censure” Commissioner Wiener in a cobbled together proceeding with no facts, no findings, and no value – unless of course you consider the value of earned media for political gain.

The whole thing has been distasteful and uncomfortable from the ill-advised Philippine photos to the hastily arranged show trial. The Commission and the media was more concerned about what went on in Angeles City than it was about a plan to release accused sex offenders back into the community while awaiting trial. One received special meetings and pius pronouncements while the other received little attention (read it here).

I called for Commissioner Wiener’s resignation expressly to avoid this kind of distraction and stupidity. Sure the whole thing was a kind of sick entertainment and strangely fascinating from a political science perspective, but it was also a waste of time and money that turned into a showcase of political opportunism.

Worse… by dragging the County’s top policy body into the political gutter, the Commission has encouraged anyone with an axe to grind to come out of the woodwork and it’s happening. An organization will take on the attributes of its leaders and in the case of Bernalillo County those leaders are the five individuals that make up the County Commission. When we act silly and petty, so too will the members of the organization we lead.

I apologize for the events of the past two weeks – to public and to the 2400 employees that we lead. We all need to set a better example both on and off the dais.

Censure – What It Is and What It Is Not

We’ve heard a lot about “censure” lately. Last week, two members of the Bernalillo Board of County Commissioners decided to hold a special meeting of the board with the censure of Commissioner Michael Wiener as the sole agenda item. Failing to achieve a quorum, Commissioners Lujan-Grisham and Hart-Stebbins requested that the item be added to the next regular meeting of the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC).

(Sidebar)
Commission rules allow any Bernalillo County elected official to add items to the BCC agenda. However, those items must be submitted no later than 8 days prior to the meeting in which the item will be heard. Additional items may be submitted within the 8 day window providing that the BCC votes at the meeting in question to hear the item and that we comply with the provisions of the Open Meetings Act.
(End Sidebar)

Since the censure motion was added to the May 8th BCC agenda past the 8 day deadline, the Commission must vote to take up the censure motion.

So what is censure? According to the keeper of sometimes accurate and sometimes not-so-accurate information – Wikipedia – censure is:

“the public reprimanding of a public official for inappropriate behavior. When the president is censured, it serves merely as a condemnation and has no direct effect on the validity of presidency, nor are there any other particular legal consequences. Unlike impeachment, censure has no basis in the Constitution or in the rules of the Senate and House of Representatives. It derives from the formal condemnation of either congressional body of their own members.”
(Wikipedia)

 Like Congressional censure, an action of censure taken by the Commission would have no direct effect on the validity of the member in question nor would there any other particular legal consequences.

Commissioner Stebbins argues that censure is the only way for the Commission to express its displeasure with a member. Commissioner Grisham would rather refer to the motion of censure as a vote of “no confidence.” The former doesn’t exist and the latter is best judged by voters of his district.

A censure motion and/or proceeding may be appropriate for a body as large as the United States Congress with its 435 members, but is it really necessary for a 5 member board all of whom have made their views regarding Commissioner Wiener’s pattern of conduct quite clear? I would argue that a censure “proceeding” at the County Commission level is not only unnecessary, but potentially misleading.

What censure is not is a well established well defined disciplinary proceeding. The truth is that the New Mexico State Constitution does not provide the Board of Commissioners with a mechanism to discipline one of its members. In fact, the State Constitution doesn’t seem to even provide for an impeachment process. That is probably because county commissioners are subject to recall but only if the District Court finds probable cause that the commissioner in question is guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance. That’s actually a pretty high standard that makes recall nearly impossible.

On Tuesday, I will vote to accept the “censure” agenda item proposed by Commissioners Stebbins and Grisham. Unlike last Thursday, there will be a quorum present. (Perhaps handling this at a regularly scheduled meeting and avoiding the additional cost of court reporters and govtv videographers would have been a better idea… just sayin).

In any case, there will probably be a considerable amount of public comment. There will be a considerable amount of discussion about the actions past and present of Commissioner Wiener. There will probably be some sort of vote expressing something that is undefined and as a matter of law meaningless.

Sure this will generate a lot more ink and probably be carried by the local newscasts but the message will be identical to the original message that the public has already received and received and received. The only benefit from the continued pursuit of repeated condemnation goes to those who would benefit politically. (Say it isn’t so!)

We’re in a unique position. The voters of District 4 have the immediate opportunity to weigh-in on whether they would like Commissioner Wiener to continue as their county representative. Ironically, early voting starts May 8th, the very day that the BCC will take up the motion of censure. Ultimately, they will decide and there’s not a thing that any other Bernalillo County Commissioner – including myself – can do about it.

Deputy Commissioner

Commissioner Hart-Stebbins apparently has a problem… She doesn’t think that it’s a good idea for a Commissioner to include their full-time Deputy Commissioner in important meetings with elected officials particularly when those officials are in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t see how my assistant’s travel benefits the taxpayer,” said Stebbins.  (KRQE)

Perhaps it’s true that taking an Assistant on a trip to meet with important government officials does not benefit the taxpayer, but taking a Deputy Commissioner on that same trip most certainly does.

It all comes down to the role played by the person involved and whether or not a Commissioner empowers that person or uses them do research and write scripts for meetings. My Deputy Commissioner is an integral part of my office. I give her the authority to act on my behalf to solve constituent problems and to work with staff. We work together to craft everything from legislation to editorials. We truly work as a team and she’s on the front line. It’s critical that she know and understand the positions of our office and be a part of almost every meeting of importance.

Those of you who have worked with my office know what an outstanding job Karen does every day. I am fortunate to have someone of such tremendous energy and talent. And quite frankly, if I was planning to return to Washington D.C. for a set of important meetings she would be a part of those meetings.

His colleagues said expensing an assistant’s travel is uncommon. Commissioner Michael Wiener said the move was “surprising” and “unprecedented.” (KRQE)

My decision to take my Deputy shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone because I took my previous Deputy last year. His role was to introduce me – “the new guy” – to our Washington delegation, their staffs and the County lobbyist. The reason he knew Washington was he had accompanied his previous boss – Commissioner Brasher – to Washington.

Understand, the decision to take my Deputy to D.C. was mine. Yes, the County Manager signs off on all travel but in reality it’s highly unlikely that he wouldn’t give his approval. After all, the Manager works at the pleasure of the Commission. It’s probably not the best of ideas to withhold approval.

 So what’s the difference between last year and this year? There are really only two differences – timing and the fact that my new Deputy is not a man.

One of my colleagues decided that this was a good time to try to get to me and didn’t think twice about dragging my Deputy Commissioner through the mud to do it. Dropping this story into the swirling cauldron of innuendo created by the Michael Wiener photos was intended to paint me with the same brush. It didn’t matter to them that their shot at me was also aimed at my Deputy Commissioner.

While matters of how I spend my taxpayer funded budget are certainly matters for legitimate discussion, attempting to create a false impression through innuendo is not. I am fortunate that KRQE’s Katie Kim did her job and did it well. Otherwise a story that is about my travel budget could have been very damaging to someone who should be off limits. My Deputy Commissioner isn’t a public official, she’s a public employee. I’m fair game, but as long as she does her job and follows County policy she should not be.

How Commissioners use their office budget including travel and how they use their assistant is up them. If they want an Assistant, they can use their almost $52,000 a year to hire an Assistant. I want a Deputy Commissioner and I’ve hired an exceptional one.