Saturday, April 4, 2009

Governor Vetoes Criminal Records Bill.

Last week we blogged about the ABQ Chamber of Commerce's push to urge Governor Bill Richardson to veto a bill that would have allowed certain people convicted of a crime to ask the courts to erase that conviction from the public record.

Today he did.

"While legislators deserve credit for attempting to appease critics of the bill, I'm still not comfortable with the final result," said Governor Richardson after vetoing Senate Bill 649.

"I was especially troubled with the fact that many employers would have no way of knowing the full scope of the criminal background of potential employees," Governor Richardson said. "A company, for example, could unknowingly hire a driver with a history of DWI charges, but no convictions because of plea bargains or dismissals.

"We have made great strides in protecting public safety by increasing penalties for DWI and domestic violence. This bill would be a step backward for those efforts."

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Red Light Camera Laws Now Standardized Statewide.

SANTA FE – On Saturday, Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill that standardizes the use of red-light cameras throughout the state.

Under the bill, which becomes law with Governor Richardson's signature, fines will be capped at $100. Of that, half will go to the state for DWI drug court and other judicial costs; the other half goes to cities for traffic safety programs and to pay the costs of operating the cameras.

"While I continue to be personally opposed to the big-brother aspect of the red-light cameras, I am signing this bill to ensure that all communities are treated fairly and we aren't hitting drivers with excessive fines," said Richardson.

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Sweeping Good Government Reform Bill Awaits Governor's Signature.

I recently had a huge medical benefit claim denied by my insurance company. Now I'm stuck with a quarter million, yep $250-Thousand (or more) bill.

As you may understand, I have a vested interest in Health Care Reform in this country.

A public option is the only way to guarantee health care for all Americans. Any legislation without the choice of a public option is only insurance reform and not the health care reform we need NOW.

For true health care reform to be implemented in the state, and across the country, political contributions must be limited (and big money taken out of politics). Fortunately, the Governor has signed legislation to do just that.

We must also have more ethics reform, including open meetings, accountability, and transparent government.

Both the NM House and Senate passed Senate Bill 531. Now it needs the governor's signature.

This bill is critical to helping our government function more effectively, with more accountability and less bureaucracy.

Freshman Senator Tim Keller (D-ABQ) said:
Passage of this measure will enable a more open government and improve accountability for our State’s biggest programs including education, Medicaid, health care and retirement plans. Without this bill major reform will continue to stall because of intra-governmental jurisdiction issues.

Senator Keller tells the Word:
This bill was very under the radar this session but got a lot of momentum at the end. It has significant repercussions for health care and education reform, ethics and pay to play.
Senate Bill 531 establishes a “cross confidentiality” agreement between branches of government so that information can be shared within the bounds of state government and still remain confidential with respect to individual privacy. The bill also establishes a framework for program evaluation that alleviates the current subpoena requirement. The current subpoena process is long, costly, arduous and often not warranted for many inquiries. The bill would save the executive, legislative and the tax payer’s time and money.

Speaking at the opening of the UNM Southeast Heights Albuquerque Health Clinic, Senator Keller reminded the crowd that New Mexico is one of the few states that does not have an intra-governmental cross confidentiality statute and that requires subpoenas for branches to share information with one another.
For true health care reform – or any major government accountability, regardless of which solutions we choose, we need transparency into the current system for real program evaluation. To make sound decisions, policy makers need to know the fundamentals like cost, benefit, elasticity, supply, demand and return on investment. We have to be able to analytically understand effectiveness before we can address the root causes behind our biggest challenges.
I also recommend, if you support healthcare reform for your friends, family and yourself, that you sign Democracy for America's petition to get this ball rolling. Dr. Howard Dean has rejoined the group. Details and petition are available for your review here.

President Barack Obama campaigned on a health care plan that included a public option, but for-profit insurance companies and HMO's are already working hard to strip it from any upcoming health care bill. They don't want Americans to have a choice and they'll stop at nothing to kill real reform. We must appeal now to congress. We need to draw a line in the sand. Sign the petition today.

For a personal appeal from Dean watch this new video:

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

UPDATED: Slaves in Our Own Neighborhoods

The Faces Of Human Trafficking!

A Bi-national conference will tackle human trafficking in Albuquerque today.

Attorney General Gary King says even though slavery was abolished in the United States more than 140 years ago, it still exists today and it is happening in New Mexico.

Updated at 5:15 with Video from the Attorney General's office:

"Victims may be found working as domestics or in the service industries; maybe even being forced to be sex slaves," says Attorney General Gary King. "We've only had a law against human trafficking for less than a year in New Mexico so we are in the early stages of being able to identify and help victims."

The Attorney General is scheduled to speak today during a human trafficking conference at the Sheraton Uptown Hotel in Albuquerque.

The conference, entitled Modern Day Slavery in the Americas: A Regional Approach to a Global Epidemic, brings together law enforcement, policy makers, service providers and researchers from Mexico and the U.S.AG

King says hard statistics on how widespread the problem is in New Mexico are hard to come by due to a number of factors such as fear and language barriers, but the anecdotal evidence is strong and as more people learn about human trafficking, more cases will become apparent.

The Polaris Project tracks human trafficking crimes. Read more here.

A 2005 estimate suggested that annually between 17,500 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Maria Sanchez-Gagne who heads the AG's Border Violence Division will also address the conference. She says, "Many victims do not speak English so its hard for them to communicate with service providers. Most have been threatened by the traffickers and are afraid to talk to law enforcement."

King's office has worked hard to get the human trafficking law passed in New Mexico. "We are working just as hard to educate law enforcement, the judiciary and others about how to enforce it and get help for the victims, " King says.

In Arizona, Mexican drug cartels grossed an estimated $2 billion last year on smuggling illegal immigrants according to state officials.

Meanwhile, in California, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) says greed and opportunity has prompted the cartels to move into illegal immigrant smuggling. AG King believes that immigrant smuggling often leads to human trafficking, which is very different and requires its own separate handling in New Mexico.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

UNM Press Employees Stunned By Outsourcing and Layoffs.

ALBUQUERQUE—Despite months of budget-cutting and assurances from upper management that jobs were not in jeopardy, employees of UNM Press were left stunned yesterday by announcements of layoffs and possible outsourcing of their jobs.

In an email on Thursday, business manager Richard Schuetz announced that proposals to outsource the Press’s order fulfillment operations, including warehousing, shipping, receiving, and all customer service functions, had been solicited to outside companies.

Martin Salazaar with the ABQJOURNAL reported UNM Press will end the fiscal year with a $690,000 operating deficit. Prior year deficits have already left it with a $1.6 million debt.

Affected departments oversee the fulfillment of all UNM Press publications, as well as books for more than thirty client publishers, including the Museum of New Mexico Press, New Mexico Magazine, West End Press, La Alameda Press, Fresco Fine Art Publications, and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

The outsourcing “initiative” could affect nine full-time and part-time employees and three student employees if deemed a more cost effective means than the current distribution set-up.

Though no time line was offered for how long the possibly affected twelve customer service and shipping employees would retain jobs, Schuetz said the proposal process is expected to take two to four months.

Two employees, Glenda Madden, marketing and sales manager for the press for seven years and a thirty-three-year university press publishing veteran, and Lisa Pacheco, a junior acquisitions editor, were told April 30 would be their last day at the press. The press’s publicity department was also told to cut one job from its two-person staff, the result of which is pending.

“If it’s decided that outsourcing is financially and operationally advantageous, the transition would probably take another 1-2 months,” Schuetz wrote in the email. “And if it’s decided to outsource, every effort will be made to absorb employees whose jobs are being outsourced into other university vacancies.”

Though the possibility of the press maintaining customer-service and warehousing operations seems slim, employees were told in Schuetz’s email that “no decision to outsource has been made and no decision to lay off Customer Service and Warehouse employees has been made.”

Press publicist Amanda Sutton, an eight-year publishing professional who has been with the press for five years, was called by Richard Schuetz to a meeting with Luther Wilson, press director, mid-morning on Monday.

Mr. Wilson, after citing the recession and the press’s operating deficit, asked Ms. Sutton to decide whether she would remain on staff or whether her assistant of three years, Katherine MacGilvray, would be let go.

“I have a difficult time determining the fate of a fellow colleague, to whom I owe much loyalty and respect. Sacrificing up a colleague is not part of my job description,” says Ms. Sutton.

Following the meeting with Ms. Sutton, Schuetz called in Glenda Madden and Lisa Pacheco, alerting them to their terminations as of April 30. Schuetz and Wilson then called a press-wide staff meeting at 11:30A.M.

A quiet room of press employees listened as Mr. Wilson, who invoked similar lay-offs six years ago that left six press employees jobless, talked about publishing’s move into an electronic world and the need to “trim” staff.

The atmosphere became heated when Wilson announced that there were no plans to move an existing employee into the marketing manager position, nor plans to hire a replacement in the foreseeable future.

When asked how the lack of a supervisory position in marketing would affect clients and overall press distribution and sales, Wilson quickly dismissed any notion of a negative impact.

“We will have four employees in marketing who will be able to handle themselves with little oversight,” Wilson said.

Marketing employees whose jobs remain are now feeling the blow. “What the entire staff finds most frustrating is that Vice Provost Wynn Goering was made aware of staff concerns last year,” notes Christina Frain, Advertising and Exhibits Manager and Fundraising Coordinator.

“On December 10, 2008, a group representing the staff met with Mr. Goering, and expressed concerns about management decisions and the short and long term affects of those decisions on the Press. That team provided a comprehensive list of possible solutions along with a binder full of documentation.

The layoffs and the possibility of outsourcing came out of the blue. Even though the UNM Press staff is one of the most experienced in the book publishing business, they were never consulted by the Provost or Mr. Wilson regarding the development of long term solutions for the viability and success of the Press. We were only asked how to cut expenses.”

“The loss of the Marketing and Sales Manager and a Publicist will have a devastating impact on our sales,” Ms. Frain asserts, “We are already hamstrung by cuts in advertising, direct mail, travel for direct sales, and exhibits.

Both members of the publicity team are extremely well connected in the media world and have been landing key coverage about UNM Press books in spite of budget cut-backs.

The books, their authors, and our client publishers, will only see negative results if these layoffs go through.”

Late Monday afternoon, Schuetz, a former Air Force colonel, sent a follow-up email to employees. “I cannot be here tomorrow because of prior commitments but I would like to meet on Wednesday if possible to begin talking about how we will operate under the new organizational arrangement,” Schuetz wrote. “I know this will not be easy for a lot of reasons and will involve a number of changes but I think we can make it work. We don't have any other choice.”

Luther Wilson left the office early Monday afternoon. Neither Wilson nor Schuetz, whose combined salaries total approximately $250,000 has offered to take a pay-cut. Employees note Mr. Wilson’s fiscally damaging acquisitions and misuse of press funds as one source of the press’s financial problems. Mr. Wilson has spent thousands of dollars so far in this fiscal year on author lunches and just issued a $6,000 advance to a longtime friend for a children’s book proposal. Press advances, which at most university presses are rare, seldom exceed $1,500.

“Everyone thinks outsourcing is the solution to publishing’s current woes,” explains Clark Whitehorn, UNM Press Editor-in-Chief, “but we don’t yet have the numbers to confirm that assessment.”

When press staff asked Wilson and Schuetz in the staff meeting for the cost of in-house fulfillment vís-a-vís possible savings on outsourcing, Wilson and Schuetz said they couldn’t provide those numbers.

“I went through a customer service and warehousing/distribution outsourcing in 1984 at another university press,” says Ms. Madden. “It was a nightmare. We had no immediate access to our inventory count, our authors and customers had to wait weeks for books they earlier received in a matter of days, and sometimes hours if they picked them up.

The outsourcing lasted 4 years before the press absorbed the cost of shipping the entire inventory to a new warehouse. We lost many customers who couldn't get our books in that 4-year span.”

“In addition to laying off at least nine dedicated employees, outsourcing is a slap in the face to the community, state, and region that UNM Press has served so well for eighty years,” Madden concludes.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

This Week: Lt. Governor Diane Denish Hits the Road; APD Chief Ray Schultz Says West Side Gravesite Dig Nearly Complete & We Have More Surgery.

It's been a little while since we posted bonus audio on the blog.

We've always wanted this to be a forum to run extended audio clips from our one-on-one talks with local and regional news makers.

During the week, the radio reports we file, at 770KKOB, are limited to less than a minute and usually only have time for one or two :08 to :12 second soundbites. We know you want to hear it all in context.

Today, we're posting two extended audio clips for you to hear. The first is with Lt. Governor Diane Denish. She outlines her rural economic recovery initiative rolling out this week.

The second audio clip, you must listen to if you've been following the tragedy of all the missing women found on the West Side.

Albuquerque Police Ray Schultz told us he expects investigators will complete their digging on the Westside graveyard sometime this week.

We're putting up two because we'll be back in the hospital on Monday for another ERCP, and then off the beat for a day or two. Hopefully, we'll be back to 100% after Monday's expensive trip to Lovelace.

Help Coming To Rural Areas to Access Federal Grant Monies.

Photo: MG Bralley
Lieutenant Governor Denish is launching a rural economic recovery initiative today. Denish, a product of a small southeastern town, Hobbs, New Mexico, wants to make sure rural New Mexico Communities get their fair share of a $74 Billion Economic Recovery Initiative.

“We are all facing difficult economic times. Families in every corner of New Mexico are hurting. Often it is the smaller communities that are hit the hardest,” said Denish. “Creating Jobs and brining economic development to every corner of the state is my top priority."

Listen Here

Note: Denish says $74-million dollars on the tape, but corrected herself after the news conference. It is Billions.

The Federal money contains three sources of aid to communities. Once source will be available through community grants. Denish says the money can be used to improve the plight of small towns during this economic turndown and wants to make sure government leaders, tribal governments, universities, and non-profit organization know how to apply for community grants.

On Monday, Denish will visit Cuba and Aztec. Tuesday, she’ll visit Farmington and Gallup. On Wednesday she’ll visit tribal leaders in Grants.

Last week, on Friday, Denish hosted a community meeting with advocacy groups, the media and law enforcement to determine how the groups can work together to help identify and find missing adults. Denish is proposing an adult style Amber-Alert System.

Photo: MG Bralley
After the meeting, we stuck behind, and talked with Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz. He told us, he expects investigators to complete their field work at the West Side grave site, where 14 bodies, including a fetus, have been unearthed since February. Schultz says he agrees in issuing AMP Alerts in some cases, if it's determined a missing adult is truly endangered. He even referenced how a similar system was successful in helping to locate the Runaway Bride, Jennifer Carol Wilbanks, in Albuquerque almost four years ago, in April 2005.

Listen Here

Schultz told us he expects that the case will be solved, but that it could take time. Schultz says when he started the task force for the mesa murder mystery case he deliberately picked some of his youngest and brightest detectives to work on the case alongside experienced investigators.

Surprisingly, the top law enforcement officer in Bernalillo County, Republican Sheriff Darren White was not invited to the meeting hosted by Democrat Diane Denish.

KOB TV's Investigative Reporter Jeremey Jojola has been chronicling the mesa murder mystery here. Also check out his personal website here.

Photos: MG Bralley

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