Taos County: A Steady Hand on the Tiller

By: Bill Whaley
9 September, 2015

A Dirty Little Secret: Practical Politics

Here’s a dirty little secret about Taos County I just learned: the County has 5/12ths of its total budget sequestered in the reserves: two million more than it needs, I’m told. Huh? Huh? I remember when the reserves fifteen years ago were more like zero and it took several years to find a “trial balance.” In those days DFA (Department of Finance, Local Government Division) used to check daily and appear regularly to lecture the Commissioners about a return to fiscal sanity. The initial calls to DFA were made by the feisty Director of the County’s Finance Department, “Lovely” Lorraine Coca-Ruiz. Then everyone had a nickname, including the legendary Becky “Lifetime” Parraz.

Though Becky was passed over for County Manager, she would have served the media better as a “quotable” official. But the County’s choice of current Finance Department Director Leandro Cordova seems like a solid vote for stability. I’m sure that Edgy Becky will continue as a knowledgeable employee at Planning. (She has a biting sense of humor, the first quality of a true Taosena.)

Deputy County Manager Brent Jaramillo was passed over but he’s well thought of by Commissioners, hence the five-hour struggle to reach a unanimous verdict. Among other tasks Brent has administered the formerly muddled courthouse operation for bookings and tenants, efficiently and fairly, with no hint of the cost and confusion of a prior county employee.

To me, who has watched County “doings” for fifteen years, the appointment of Mr. Cordova, who has done much to implement the current and retiring County Manager Steve Archuleta’s responsible fiscal policies, the choice reflects a commitment to continuity and fiscal responsibility.

Some readers will remember when Taos County officials (outlaws) sold off the road equipment, pilfered gasoline from the County yard, sequestered property tax checks for years in a cardboard box at finance, and spent more time traveling than at monthly meetings. The “political culture” at the Complex has changed dramatically for the better during the last decade. Despite how hard the “Bobbsy Twins” from Hondo and Llano tried to upset the apple cart when they fired Young Jake Caldwell, the other County Commissioners held on to the reins and the current commissioners have voted unanimously for progressive government in their selection of Leandro Cordova as manager.

Between Attorney Bob Malone and Finance Director Leandro Cordova we understand how the “procurement code” has become scripture and some department heads find the “minutiae frustrating.” But that’s why the County has five million bucks in the bank and is able to swallow whole failing town and state programs, while successfully incorporating them into the budget: see E911 and the Senior Center. My praise for the County is no more exaggerated than its unexpected rise to the top of the heap among public entities. I remember when the rest of our elected officials looked down their noses at the County. Now, even the frat rats and sorority sisters at Holy Cross Hospital have come looking for a handout. Formerly the THS/Quorum bunch used to freeze out the County when they made inquiries about how public funds were spent.

The Town didn’t make it onto the County’s agenda this week with a request for help from the County’s Planning Department for building inspectors. Regardless of who manages the County, the Town needs to cross its T’s and dot the I’s before trying to “BS” its way round. Today’s Town government is better known for public blather and private peccadilloes than efficiency and honesty. But, surely, if their primos and vecinos at the “Complex” can turn round the ship, the Town, too, can transform the culture and raise the morale for its relatively small boatload of employees. Surely Mayor Barrone will not allow the Town to follow El Prado Water and Sewer District along with Kit Carson Electric Coop down the river of debt and denial. Barrone needs to find those worn work gloves he used as a Commissioner if he wants to take hold of the helm and steer clear of the rapids.

Bon Voyage, Leandro.

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