The Mystery of the Memorandum
10/10/15 Editorial by Renee Wilkins
Are shenanigans afoot at City Hall? In this episode of the rubber-stampers meet the monkey-wrenchers, we investigate the “mystery of the memorandum” following disturbing clues in the rejection and approval of city water and sewer hook-ups outside of city limits. It all began last fall.
The new Chili’s restaurant in Enchanted Hills requested to connect to Rio Rancho water and sewer lines. The Rio Rancho water lines run right across their property, making it the most logical and cost-effective plan. Oddly, this area on the west side of Hwy 528 is technically in Bernalillo town limits. They were denied Rio Rancho water service, and had to trench south to burrow under Hwy 528 to Bernalillo services at great expense. And there were others in similar predicaments. High Knoll Development spoke before the Utilities Commission requesting connection, citing that they had previously been granted city water and had installed water lines, meter boxes and fire hydrants at their 100+ lots along the western edge of city limits. City staff takes the position that if you don’t have city services, you don’t have the right to appeal staff’s decisions to the Governing Body.
In light of this, Councilor Wilkins sponsored a resolution last December which would task city staff with setting parameters for allowing city water and sewer hook-ups outside city limits. City staff was adamantly opposed to it. The Utilities Commission and the Governing Body voted against it. The Public Works Director stated “The Public Works staff’s recommendation is that the extension of water lines not be allowed to any locations outside the city limits that don’t exist today.” Several councilors chimed in during the Governing Body vote. Everett stated, “The Utilities Commission set out a single parameter to not provide water/wastewater outside the city limits and gave clear reasons of why not to do it.” Councilor Smith stated he believes “...it is enough to trust the Utilities Commission as well as staff”. Councilor Clayton concurred.
It was dead and given last rights… or so we thought.
Mysteriously, in June 2015 City Manager Keith Riesberg initiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the town of Bernalillo to allow landowners exclusively along the small Hwy 528/Bernalillo corridor to connect to city of Rio Rancho water and sewer. This is the same location where Chili’s was denied hook up. When details emerged that there are (generously) only a few developers that benefit from this Memorandum, Councilors Wilkins and Scott asked the City Manager to stop the Memorandum and have staff bring it back through proper procedures to the Governing Body to ensure an equitable policy for everyone. After all, the City Manager and his staff do not set policy.
When Riesberg’s authority to enact this Memorandum was challenged, he wrote “The work being assigned to staff is logical in that Rio Rancho‘s and Bernalillo’s municipal boundaries and utilities are intertwined..” That may well be true, and we’re not disputing the logic of allowing hook-ups. The problem is twofold; 1. He is acting in conflict with the decision of the Governing Body, as well as the recommendation of the Utilities Commission and his own staff; 2. The appearance is that a special favor is being done for one land owner, where other landowners have been denied. This Memorandum appears to be in effect while the Governing Body majority turns a blind eye to a blatant disregard of its own decision.
We scratch our heads over who actually works for whom at city hall, but continue to keep a pragmatic attitude, understanding that we can’t solve every problem or reveal all political mischief. Then again, there will be those who say at the end of a long day, “And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling Tea Party people.”