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. “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. The newspaper also emailed Berry's spokeswoman, Rhiannon Schroeder, to ask if Berry thought Green had a conflict of interest because of his firm's work for WALH. Schroeder did not immediately respond. 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.” Dennis Domrzalski is news editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Councilors See Open Space Conflict of Interest is courtesy of FreeABQ