BY: ABQ RAW staff
POSTED: 02/07/2024 @ 1:30PM
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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and the City Council have been in a back and forth battle with the City of Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Board. The Air Quality Control Board is an independent appointed, volunteer citizen led agency created to carry out duties to prevent or abate air pollution under the New Mexico Air Quality Control Act and the federal Clean Air Act. The Air Board serves as a joint local authority acting on behalf of both the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
On February 5th, 2024, the Albuquerque City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting, during which an issue unrelated to the air quality board ignited controversy directed towards Mayor Keller's Chief Administrative Officer, Dr. Samantha Sengel. This issue stemmed from her use of an all-access key card to enter the City Council's office, located two floors below the Mayor's office. The access in question occurred on the 9th floor, where city council services are housed, on a Friday night after the City Council offices had closed for the day.
SEE THE VIDEO HERE AND THE CITY COUNCIL GRILLING DR. SENGEL:
A security video obtained by ABQ RAW shows Dr. Sengel and the Mayor's government affairs administrator, Mandi Hinojos, entering the City Council office foyer with a card reader. Hinojos and Dr. Sengel are then seen entering the foyer area, and Hinojos is observed sliding paperwork under a partition. It should be noted that the office was, in fact, electronically locked prior to the card key being used.
District 4 Councilor Brook Bassan opened her time to speak with comments directed to Dr. Sengel, grilling her about the after hours Friday night paperwork drop off.
"I do have a significant problem with this, and I recognize now that there are no policies in place that dictate otherwise. So, I'm working on that to make sure that we correct it as soon as possible so that we can be very clear on how the council should be treated as an equal branch of government, not as an employee or a department of the mayor's office," said Councilor Bassan.
Dr. Sengel then responded to the questioning by inferring there was no ill will about her after hours entry.
"It was not there was no malfeasance intended whatsoever. Just to clarify, there was no master key. I'm not you know, (sic) there's no key. It's my it was my electronic badge. So there is a time stamp for my access to that room," said Dr. Sengel
Mid-statement Councilor Bassan abruptly stopped Dr. Sengel saying:
"Madam, CAO., I'm sorry to interrupt. Mr. President, is there a time stamp of the master key for the card keys, or what happened at Council services office on that Friday?"
A staffer from the City Council responded during the meeting, stating that a person can enter the building in two ways: with a city-issued key card or a master key. There was no key card access log indicating that Dr. Sengel accessed the building during that time frame. The last recorded use of the card key database was around 11 a.m. on the same day. It is unknown why the card key system logs went offline at 11 a.m. and then started working again after the weekend.
Five of the nine City Council members chimed in about their feeling of trust had been violated by the Keller administration because of Dr. Sengel's unannounced and inappropriate after hours secret visit. Council President Dan Lewis also expressed his frustration.
"So, let me just say unequivocally that that's just absolutely unacceptable and certainly not going to allow that. Unless, the ninth floor is burning or someone's dying on the ninth floor and you need access in an emergency situation," said Council President Lewis.
In City Council's recent memory a CAO has never used their authority like this to gain access to a separate legislative branch's areas without permission.
"We've actually talked to our staff. Our staff has never had an issue like this ever. And I don't know how many years that this city council has been in and out of all this staffer has been working," said Councilor Louie Sanchez.
The City of Albuquerque's Dr. Sengel again cited that there was no ill intent in her actions but would stop short of actually saying sorry for her actions or offering any kind of remorse.
Councilor Bassan had the best solution until the key card rules are established.
"Mr. President. If I may weigh in to you then, I would hope that you, as our leader, would make sure that until drafted legislation is complete, that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. And either we can all enter each other's offices, or we can neither enter each other's offices," said Councilor Bassan.
We reached out to both Council President Lewis and Counselor Bassan and they both stated they would be making no more statements on the matter, and that their comments during the meeting spoke for themselves.
We reached out to Mayor Keller's office for comment regarding Dr. Sengel's possible discipline and card access. However, as per Mayor Keller's administration's internal policy, they DO NOT respond to ABQ RAW for anything via email or phone communications.