On Thursday, Nov. 15, Mayor Richard Berry held private one-on-one meetings with Albuquerque residents at the Don Newton Community Center in Taylor Ranch. Berry wants to give residents the opportunity to personally express their concerns about issues they face as community members and employees of the City of Albuquerque. Approximately 30 people lined up to speak with the mayor.
"The voters are my boss, and I want to be a public servant," Berry said. Compared to 2010, new Albuquerque Journal polls show a 68 percent approval rating since Berry took office in 2009, only 15 percent disapproved. The Journal reported this is due to Berry's "business like approach and non-confrontational style."
"It is flattering and humbling," Berry said about the new approval rating. "This is a tribute to the 6,000 employees who work for the city. I enjoy my work, but it can be difficult sometimes."
The mayor touched on some of the main issues concerning the residents, in particular regarding the recent passage of minimum wage, homelessness and his rocky relationship with the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).
Berry has concerns about raising minimum wage and its possible effects on small business owners. The mayor however, holds to his statement about the voters being his boss, so he will support it.
"I will not overturn the will of the voters," Berry said.
As an entrepreneur and small-business owner himself, Berry's concerns lie with small businesses that might have to cut back on employee's hours or fire some employees all together. This, in turn, is bad for the employee. It is also potentially bad for consumers, as well. Prices will be driven up due to higher minimum wage costs. The mayor uses the example of senior citizens who need caregivers.
"Senior health costs could increase due to having to pay the caregivers more money," Berry said.
Resident of Albuquerque, 56-year-old Peggy Cunningham, who refers to herself as progressive, disagrees.
"The reality is you can't ask people who live in abject poverty, young people and poor people who need to get a chance — if that means I need to pay 50 cents more for my huevos, fine. If that means as a consumer I am going to have to help share that burden, fine. But, I am tired of looking at filthy rich men complaining about their employees. They're in it for themselves, and as a consumer, I am making a choice not to visit some of those places anymore," Cunningham said.
With regards to the homelessness issue Albuquerque continues to face, Berry points to his Heading Home program, which houses 151 at-risk homeless people and helps to keep medical costs down. There is more work to be done, however. According to the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, each year approximately 17,000 New Mexicans are homeless.
Results of a recent survey reflect low morale within the police department and a poor relationship with the mayor.
Brandon Cloud, currently an APD trainee, waits for his turn with the Mayor.
"I'm aware of all the problems happening in APD. A lot of people who are in the department right now are against it. But there are also a lot of good people in the department that mean well, but don't meet all of their requirements right now. If the city is willing to meet people halfway and give them a chance to prove themselves, I think that you can get a lot of good people within the department, making it a better police department — one the community will actually trust," Cloud said.
Berry has not seen the survey and has serious questions regarding the accuracy of its results because only half the officers responded to it.
"I have great respect for the officers. They do a great job. There are lots of reasons for poor morale. The recent shootings and issues with social media. Funds are very tight right now, and I had to cut $140 million from the budget, leaving no money for raises. I would like to increase pay, but I can't right now," Berry said. "A poor economy means no raises. I plan to ensure the officers are safe, they are well trained and there is strong accountability. Ultimately, I hope the economy will improve, and we can pay them more money, " Berry said.
Mayor Berry holds these one-on-one meetings once every quarter.