Report: Albuquerque pandemic book wasted taxpayer money
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new report from the Albuquerque Office of the Inspector General determined the city “wasted or misused taxpayer monies” producing a book on the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other major events in 2020.
According to the report, the city spent $97,000 developing the book which has only sold 91 copies since it was published. While the report suggests it may be impossible to determine the value of documenting a historical event like the COVID-19 pandemic, it argues using taxpayer dollars to promote “administrative achievements” was a waste.
The book titled “City at the Crossroads” was written by Joline Guttierez Krueger and published in 2022. It chronicles how Albuquerque city leaders and everyday citizens responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the “Black Lives Matter” protests and outrage over Juan de Oñate throughout 2020. The book also includes essays from Mayor Tim Keller, his wife Dr. Elizabeth Keller, and other high-ranking city officials.
The OIG report relies on an interview with someone who worked closely on the project. They reportedly told inspectors, “The Mayor wanted to document the unprecedented time as City leaders were scrambling to adapt to the pandemic. The idea was to chronicle this event in case another pandemic happens again. People can go back and look at it as a resource, what was useful, and what wasn’t.”
The report did not find enough evidence supporting claims the city violated its purchasing ordinance or the state’s anti-donation clause producing the book; however, the report suggests there is evidence of possible favoritism and conflict of interest.
The City’s Department of Arts & Culture oversaw the book’s development and provided a scathing response to the Inspector General’s findings in the report.
Current department director Shelle Sanchez sent KOB 4 this statement about the report:
“The Department of Arts & Culture stands behind and supports this book project, the author, and the exceptional effort that went into the book’s creation. Books like this one are important and lasting resources. Arts & Culture regularly publishes or co-publishes books centered on arts, culture, and exceptional times in our city’s history, and we will continue to do so. We strongly object to the Office of Inspector General equating “misuse or waste” with “profit,” as it is inaccurate and misleading. The OIG does not provide clear or objective evidence to substantiate the allegation of misuse or waste of public funds.
The OIG has demonstrated biased behavior, overreach of authority, and failure to adhere to established auditing protocols, raising serious concerns about their impartiality. A recent change to the OIG ordinance has created a structural lack of independence, violates national standards, and has further politicized the office.“
Albuquerque City Council Dan Lewis was one of the first city leaders to raise concerns about the book’s development in 2022. He sent KOB 4 this statement regarding the report’s findings:
“The Office of the Inspector General substantiated serious allegations that the Mayor misused and wasted public funds. Among other findings of misuse and waste, the report specifies the City spent more than $97,000 to create a book and sold only 91 copies to the public. The administration does not appear to take the findings seriously when they dismiss this damaging report as “sharing their short book report.” Unfortunately, the Mayor ignored and ridiculed the investigation. The Inspector General should forward findings to the appropriate law enforcement partner such as the FBI and U.S. Attorneys office.”