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UPDATED: Councilors See Open Space Conflict of Interest   

UPDATED: Councilors See Open Space Conflict of Interest   

Why did the City Council appoint a developer with a clear-cut conflict of interest to the Open Space Advisory Board?

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

According to two city councilors, Chris J. Green has a big conflict of interest in that he’s a principal of a company that has financial ties to a firm that’s been lobbying the city to buy big chunks of its land for open space. But their concerns didn’t stop the City Council on Monday from naming Green to the city’s Open Space Advisory Board (OSAB), the body that makes recommendations to the Council and the city on what properties to buy for open space.

Green is a principal in Consensus Planning, Inc., the consulting firm that is working with Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC on the 14,000-acre Santolina development that WALH owns the far West Side. Since 2011, WALH has been lobbying the city’s Open Space Division and the OSAB to spend millions of dollars to buy thousands of acres of its land.

Green, who has worked at CPS since 1992, was nominated to the OSAB on March 21 by Mayor Richard Berry. During the April 4 council meeting to discuss Green’s appointment, Councilors Diane Gibson and Patrick Davis objected to the nomination, saying that Green had a big conflict of interest because of his firm’s ties to WALH.   

Green’s appointment passed on a 6-2 vote, with Gibson and Davis voting against him.

Gibson suggested that any requests by WALH to the OSAB would put Green in a “precarious” position because he could potentially be influenced because of the work his firm does for WALH. CPI prepared WALH’s Level A master plan application for Santolina, and its officials testified before the Bernalillo County Commission during hearings on the application. Gibson also said that CPI’s principal, Jim Strozier, has testified several times before Council committees on WALH’s behalf.  

“There is a very clear conflict of interest here in potential impropriety,” Gibson said.

Davis said the city already has a public trust problem and that Green’s appointment wouldn’t look good. “We have to recognize that in some places right now the city of Albuquerque has a public trust problem,” Davis said, “and I don’t think it helps us to put people who will be perceived for a potential conflict of interest in a position to help make some of these big decisions.”

Councilor Isaac Benton asked Green during the meeting what he would do if the OSAB had to vote on whether to put a WALH property on its recommended acquisition list.

Chris Green

Chris Green

“I would evaluate it like any other board member,” Green replied, adding that he would base his decision on how much money the city had to spend and on getting the best value for the city.

Benton suggested later that Green should have replied that in potential conflict-of-interest cases he would recuse himself. “That was not the answer that Mr. Green gave,” Benton said.

Green’s appointment passed on a 6-2 vote, with Gibson and Davis voting against him.

Exactly how big of a potential conflict of interest Green might have and how much money his firm has billed WALH isn’t known. ABQ Free Press left voice messages for Green and Strozier asking how much money CPI has billed WAHL in the past two years. The two did not immediately respond to the messages.

City Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Taylor said Green would recuse himself from any votes where there is a conflict of interest. And, because of two pieces of legislation approved by the Council on Monday, the OSAB has less of a say in what land the city eventually buys, Taylor said.

That legislation requires the City Council to be involved in the acquisition process earlier now, and it allows the city to seek bids from people and companies that want to sell land to the city. “With the passage [of the legislation], authority over the purchase of land and the establishment of priority properties will reside with the City Council, not the Open Space Advisory Board,” Taylor said. “Additionally, the City Council will be involved much earlier and more frequently than before.”

Taylor also said that Green will be one of seven Open Space board members, “meaning he will never have the unilateral ability to decide what to recommend.”

In a telephone interview, Gibson told ABQ Free Press that CPI’s Strozier recently lobbied the Council’s Land Use, Planning & Zoning Committee to approve the purchase of 640 acres of WALH property, known as the Northern Sand Dunes, on the far West Mesa. Critics of the deal said it wasn’t good for the city because the dunes were far beyond the city limits.

In its attempts to get the city to buy its land, WALH, which is owned by Barclay’s Capital Real Estate, has even suggested tax increases and public relations campaigns to push its agenda. In December 2014, WAHL sent city officials a spread sheet suggesting the city spend $33.1 million through 2033 to buy 13,644 acres of its land, most of it near the Rio Puerco, far beyond the city’s borders and much of it undevelopable.

Gibson said Green’s appointment to the OSAB was wrong.

“It doesn’t look good,” Gibson said. “I don’t see how anybody could look at this and not see a conflict of interest.”

Read ABQ Free Press coverage of WAHL’s initial push to sell the city its Santolina acres

UPDATED: 12:35 p.m., April 8

Dennis Domrzalski is news editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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  • Ike Eastvold
    April 7, 2016, 9:32 pm

    This open space board has been struggling to come together and free itself of these types of manipulation by the Open Space Superintendent, Matt Schmader. Requests for documents revealed that Mr. Schmader was involved with WALH in lining up their Rio Puerco properties for City acquisition. As a result of his actions, Mr. Schmader has been relieved of any role in future open space purchases. He is also relieved of his role as staff to the open space board. In nominating Mr. Green, the Berry administration has dealt yet another setback to the efforts of well-intentioned volunteers to serve on a board with a reputation for integrity and independence. Mr. Green told the Council that he was invited to apply by the current open space board chairman, Griff Lechner, whose term the Mayor may renew. Last August, Mr. Lechner precipitated an Open Meetings Act notice of violation by abruptly forcing through a vote to recommend that the City spend its last $1.5 million in acquisition money to buy WALH’s Sand Dunes in the Rio Puerto. Will the City Council vote to renew the term of yet another advocate for WALH properties? The Mayor and the Council need to hear from the people who value open space, and pay the taxes to support good government to acquire it for them.

    REPLY
  • Ann Foley
    April 10, 2016, 8:58 am

    While it’s good to see Parks and Recreation Director Barbara Taylor finally trying to exercise some control over her rogue Open Space Division, her assurance on Mr. Green’s behalf, that he would recuse himself doesn’t mean that he will. Who’s going to be at the Open Space Advisory Board meetings to make him? He’s on WAHL’s salary, not hers. Green has an insurmountable conflict of interest. The City Council made a huge mistake in appointing him in the first place. That appointment should be reversed immediately.

    As far as the Advisory Board’s recommendations being of slight importance, if the recommendations are influenced by WALH and Consensus Planning, that just gives the City Council another excuse to serve those special interests. With Green’s appointment, it seems the councilors are pretty brazen about it anyway.

    Open Space is a big reason I live in Albuquerque. Development for development’s sake is not. The article states only two councilors voted against this recommendation. That helps me know how to vote next election if Green’s appointment is not taken back. We didn’t elect WALH and Consensus Planning, or Councilors that do their bidding. I hope other readers are paying attention.

    REPLY
  • Artemis Chakerian
    April 10, 2016, 7:14 pm

    "I was disturbed and dismayed by the vote of the City Council to place Chris Green on the Open Space Advisory Board. I especially could not understand my Councilor, Ike Benton, joining in the vote to support. He was a champion for the North Campus Golf Course to remain undeveloped, and that meant a lot to people in his district. In light of the appalling conflict of interest Mr. Green has, Councilor Benton’s vote is shockingly inconsistent with his previous record.

    The Council decision has blinders for not seeing the elephant in the room, and is near-sighted for not realizing the damaging long-range consequences. Or maybe Council members were blinded by special interest influences?

    I agree with Ann Foley that the decision taken by the City Council be reversed."

    REPLY
    • Esther Rivera@Artemis Chakerian
      April 11, 2016, 5:17 pm

      This appointment is indicative of the crony capitalism that taints our political process in this state and has become more of the norm in Albuquerque based on the voting record of our city council representatives. This decision is very similar to their vote in favor of the ART debacle in spite of the public’s vocal opposition to this project. The voice of the average citizen is drowned out and the ability to ensure our representatives can be relied upon to make independent solutions and be responsible stewards of our tax dollars is hampered when conflicts of interest are allowed and money drives board appointments and project authorization/contracts.

      REPLY
    • Esther Rivera@Artemis Chakerian
      April 11, 2016, 5:17 pm

      This appointment is indicative of the crony capitalism that taints our political process in this state and has become more of the norm in Albuquerque based on the voting record of our city council representatives. This decision is very similar to their vote in favor of the ART debacle in spite of the public’s vocal opposition to this project. The voice of the average citizen is drowned out and the ability to ensure our representatives can be relied upon to make independent solutions and be responsible stewards of our tax dollars is hampered when conflicts of interest are allowed and money drives board appointments and project authorization/contracts.

      REPLY
    • Isaac Benton@Artemis Chakerian
      April 20, 2016, 1:34 pm

      I would support our legal staff investigating this, and if a clear conflict exists on an ongoing basis vis-a-vis the duties of this advisory board, I would happily move that the Council reconsider its approval of the Mayor’s appointment. I will ask for the staff to be done. The Ethics code requires full disclosure and recusal in matters of conflict of interest. It recognizes that appointed and elected officials are members of a relatively small community, have day jobs or businesses outside government, and thus at times must sit out a debate and vote on issues in which they have a monetary interest.

      Having said that, and as I also stated prior to my vote accepting the appointment, I believe that with the open space acquisition reforms now in place (which the Free Press neglected to point out have been solelymy initiatives) he is in a position where his client’s interests would be nullified.

      The Free Press often seems to cherry-pick or omit the details within this type of story, with an apparent ongoing intent of making City government carte-blanche appear to be made up of crooks and incompetents.

      REPLY
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Bradley T. Schuman is a pop culture geek and music nerd with far too many records and opinions. Reach him at music@freeabq.com.