An Albuquerque city councilor wants an investigation into a recently published book about the city’s response to the pandemic and racial unrest of 2020, raising questions about the project’s necessity and adherence to policy.
Councilor Dan Lewis on Wednesday asked the city’s Office of Inspector General to look into whether the city – which paid the author and covered other book-related expenses – followed city purchasing rules and whether the book itself, “City at the Crossroads: The Pandemic, Protests and Public Service in Albuquerque,” served any public purpose.
“I request an evaluation of whether the finished product satisfies any requirements that the use of public funds be limited to public purposes consistent with legitimate needs of the City, as opposed to any other potentially non-City, or personal purposes,” Lewis wrote in his memo to Inspector General Melissa Santistevan, who works independently from the mayor and City Council.
Lewis in an interview said he did not see the public purpose of the book, calling it “weird” and noting that it highlights Mayor Tim Keller’s personal experiences.
Keller wrote the book’s introduction; his wife, Elizabeth Kistin Keller, penned the foreword.
There are 36 photos of the mayor in the book and the second chapter – called “The Metal Mayor” – is about him.
Lewis said he does not think the book adequately reflects the hardships felt across the city during the pandemic, including the plight of small-business owners.
“It’s not objective, it’s not journalism and it’s one-sided,” Lewis said of the book. “It doesn’t give the true picture of what happened to our city during that time.”
The Mayor’s Office, asked about the requested investigation said, “At best, these comments are a disservice to the local leaders, writers, and creators who worked hard to capture these unprecedented and critical times in our city. At worst, it’s another attempt from a former mayoral candidate who has been deeply biased against anything this administration does.”
City Arts and Culture Director Shelle Sanchez in an interview last month said the city paid author Joline Gutierrez Krueger $44,640 for her work on it, and that the city had proactively reached out to Gutierrez Krueger and other potential writers when deciding on an author.
Asked for the other book-related costs, Sanchez previously referenced $6,000 for shipping and printing 500 copies, and $500 for the cover art licensing fee. The nonprofit One Albuquerque Fund paid another $1,500 to design the book, Sanchez told the Journal last month.
But Lewis’ memo to the OIG notes that Gutierrez Krueger’s 2021 contract and supplement agreement with the city allowed expenditures up to $66,000, and another contract with a different vendor – Amanda Sutton – added $50,400.
Lewis alleges that it was a “split purchase” – using two contracts for the same project – writing in his memo that a single professional services contract for over $100,000 would generally require putting a project out for public bid.
Asked Wednesday about the other contract and the city’s total book-related expenditures, a city spokeswoman cited $50,079. That includes Gutierrez Krueger’s pay – which was below the contracted maximum – and such other expenses as printing.
She said Sutton’s aforementioned contract was for multiple projects, and that her developmental and copy editing for “City at the Crossroads” represented only about 40% of her workload. With that addition, the city’s expenditures for the book would total $73,239. Sutton began working for the city after her contract ended.