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COLUMN: An anger-filled mayor

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By David Giuliani

When it comes to this newspaper, Mayor Tony Marquez is mad and has taken his marbles home. The result: He’s keeping much of the public out of the loop when it comes to city business.

Indeed, the mayor hasn’t returned any of my e-mails since 8:33 a.m. March 3, in which he responded to a question about a proposal to narrow Grand Avenue.

A day before that, Marquez sent an e-mail referring to himself in the third person, Bob Dole-style: “Mayor’s bi-weekly address to community has been sent to the Optic twice. Will this not be offered to mayor any longer?”

Well, we did run his bi-weekly column shortly after that, but he hasn’t sent another one, and it’s way past due.

I don’t think we’re going to get another column because Marquez is angry with the paper these days. It’s not unusual for a politician to blame the media for his woes. But Marquez has taken his crusade against this 130-year-old publication to a new level. Having said that, we believe his tactics are far from original.

As we reported last week, the mayor let it be known to those at City Hall that he didn’t want any more city dollars going to advertising in the Optic, including ads announcing meetings and requests for bids.

Shortly after, word got to our office, which likely prompted the mayor to repeal his verbal edict. But it wasn’t in time to stop a display advertisement from appearing in the Albuquerque Journal, announcing his intention to form a water task force.

To be sure, the mayor isn’t the first public official in America who got upset with publicity in a newspaper and decided to withhold advertising dollars from his supposed malefactors. Any number have before, usually with bad results. After all, Americans don’t like it when politicians try to control the media.

It doesn’t really matter anyway because most newspapers, including the Optic, wouldn’t adjust their  stories to get more advertising dollars. And let it be clear: Marquez was sorely mistaken if he believed that we would, in effect, be his PR agency so we could get the city revenue again.

This doesn’t appear to be the mayor’s only action to try to get back at the newspaper. A couple of weeks ago, newspaper folks from around the state were having an e-mail discussion about a bill that mysteriously surfaced in the state Legislature to allow government entities to put their legal ads on the radio and TV, rather than in the newspaper.

It took some digging, but one editor finally found out the origins: Apparently, the mayor of Las Vegas asked House Speaker Ben Lujan to introduce the bill.

I’m sure the city would assert that the mayor was worried that the city wouldn’t get legal ads in time because the Optic now comes out only three days a week. Yes, that may present occasional difficulties, but newspapers in most New Mexico towns come out three days a week or less. In our case, I’m sure Marquez was more driven by anger against our covering the news rather than concern about timely notices to the public.

So why is the mayor so upset? Of course, he won’t answer any of my e-mails, so I can only speculate.

In the early part of this month, we ran two stories that may have irked our city’s leader. One was about the City Council’s practice of exchanging e-mails about city business. The state Open Meetings Act bars a council quorum — at least three of its members — from discussing public business privately. This law is in place to allow citizens to see their government in action.

We reported that the state Foundation for Open Government opposed the practice of a council quorum exchanging e-mails, suggesting it was illegal — not exactly good publicity for our city government.

The other story that surely angered Marquez was about his nemesis, former Utilities Director George DuFour. The mayor convinced a council majority to fire DuFour in February, and then the mayor suggested that DuFour may have been engaged in criminal activity. He accused DuFour of illegally giving utility customers credits on their accounts, and he took the case to the state attorney general.

But when we got the documentation that supposedly backed the mayor’s assertions, we found nothing to suggest criminal activity. All the city presented was a 1992 policy requiring the utilities director to get the city manager’s approval to adjust customers’ accounts. The policy was apparently never even approved by the council. Indeed, then-City Manager Les Montoya, who drafted it, told us recently that he doesn’t believe it has the force of law.

In response to the mayor’s two examples of allegedly illegal adjustments, DuFour has pretty good arguments to justify why he made them.

Sure, the mayor can push for the firing of a director, but it’s an entirely different matter to accuse someone of a criminal violation. You want to make darn sure you’re right.

This is the problem with our mayor. He is consumed by anger against his enemies. At first, his big enemies were council members Morris Madrid and Cruz Roybal, then he focused his sights on local developer Carlos Gallegos. His energies later shifted to DuFour and council members Diane Moore and Andrew Feldman, with the Roybal-Madrid duo then getting a reprieve. Now the mayor has added the newspaper to his enemies list.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the mayor actually focused on city business rather than going after his enemies?

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.