Albuquerque Journal

Dear AG: Is ABQ getting turf bang for buck in Rio Rancho?


For the Duke City Gladiators and their playing surface — and the city inspector general and now the state attorney general — it’s not so much whether the team wins or loses, but rather where it plays its home games.

In a rush to procure state funding for a new playing surface for the Indoor Football League team, the city of Albuquerqu­e agreed in the spring of 2021 to be the fiscal agent for a state appropriat­ion in which the city would put up its $74,000 as well as the state’s $160,000, the latter for which it would seek reimbursem­ent.

Problem is, the team had already moved its 2021 home games from Tingley Coliseum to the Rio Rancho Events Center because of COVID-19 restrictio­ns. So, in April 2022, now in possession of a swath of brand spanking new artificial turf big enough to cover a football field, the city decided to install it in Rio Rancho, rather than pay to put it in storage until the Gladiators return to the Duke City for which they’re named. Even though they should have known that broke the rules. A few months later the city sought reimbursem­ent for the state’s chunk of funding, but the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administra­tion denied the request, saying the city violated the terms of the appropriat­ion and, if it used the funds in the proposed manner (complete with the team’s logo emblazoned on the turf), it would also violate the state Constituti­on’s Anti-Donation Clause.

Multiple Albuquerqu­e city councilors have questioned why Albuquerqu­e would pay for equipment installed in another city. On Wednesday, City Councilor Louie Sanchez sent a letter to Attorney General Raúl Torrez, asking for an investigat­ion, saying the turf purchase may have been an illegal contributi­on to campaign donors of Mayor Tim Keller. That’s a serious allegation.

City officials maintain that using the turf right away helped with economic developmen­t in the Metro area and made it available to youth athletes, whereas putting it in a warehouse would have incurred costs and provided no benefits. But the report from city Inspector General Melissa Santisteva­n casts doubt about whether the Gladiators and Global Spectrum — the private company that operates the Rio Rancho Events Center — were meeting the necessary terms. For taxpayers it means:

1. The best years of the turf’s 10- to 15-year lifespan will be in Rio Rancho, where the Gladiators will open their home schedule of their third season in Rio Rancho on April 1. City officials say the turf’s value depreciate­s between $20,000 and $24,000 a year.

2. The 50 free tickets the team gave the city for each of eight home games were handed out to city employees, questionab­le when the public has been led to believe they would go to lower-income youth.

3. The 14 so-called annual youth events on the field are also questionab­le as all but one are listed as “open practice” rather than youth camps with attendance records and Gladiator participat­ion, and there are no specifics if Albuquerqu­e youth practiced there or if the field was used primarily by club ball teams of higher-income youth.

4. The “valuable considerat­ion” of having the OneAlbuque­rque logo on the turf in Rio Rancho is hard to quantify without attendance records or any followup data.

A recent investigat­ion by the IG’s Office found the city’s “rushed” purchase of the $236,622 turf violated the state Constituti­on because it “appears to be a donation/gift” to benefit the privately owned Gladiators. A city spokeswoma­n compares the purchase to other city Memorandum­s of Understand­ing regarding purchases of a track for the Lobos, netting for the Isotopes and turf for the United. But all those facilities are in Albuquerqu­e, and in addition the Lobos are a state school team and the Isotopes have a monetary agreement with the city.

It also stings that the city bought the turf with bond money Albuquerqu­e voters approved for turf playing fields at park and recreation­al facilities in Albuquerqu­e, not a private sports franchise playing in Rio Rancho.

City leaders say they still expect the $160,000 state reimbursem­ent — after the Gladiators return to Albuquerqu­e and likely once they paint over the logo, but there’s no timeline for any of those.

Regardless of whether the AG investigat­es, reimbursem­ent for and return of the turf need to happen sooner rather than later. A new field in Rio Rancho and years-old carpet in Albuquerqu­e was not what voters were sold.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States