Taos: Town Stonewalls Community

By: Bill Whaley
10 March, 2016

Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose!

(The More things change, the more they remain the same.)

The Town of Taos administration is stonewalling neighborhood activists on Montoya, Burch, and Los Pandos streets, the area immediately adjacent to the proposed Smith’s Big Box development. Now, a new swath of residents knows what the Chicano Chamber of Commerce and the Plaza Merchants have been protesting against. Bellis, Barrone, Hahn, and Lopez portray a policy that can be characterized as “my way or the highway.”


The current town council rubber stamped the mayor’s nominees, manager, attorney, department of finance director, etc. despite a desultory record of allegedly deceptive practices and/or manipulating the “procurement code” to serve special interests. Now the Council seems poised to quail under pressure and approve rezoning for an outside developer. Historically during times fraught with “zoning” and “development” issues, the council frequently represented the residents who opposed the mayor and manager’s plans.


When the Mayor Peralta and Manager Cordova met with Tribal government to secretly plan and approve the $37 million dollar Kachina Casino, the council stepped in and stopped the process back in 1999. Similarly, in 1999, the council forced the mayor and manager to adhere to “Vision 2020” and stopped the first attempt to railroad Super Walmart through the community.


Again in 2003, the council convinced the mayor and manager to conduct a community survey about the second proposed Super Walmart. The community voted against it and Mayor Duran himself voted to break the tie and stop the project.


In one of the lesser-known success stories, Peralta and Cordova tried to close and move the post-office from its current location. Once again, thanks to the activists, known as “Little Old Ladies” (in their late 80s and early 90s), the council stopped the empire builders, Fast Fred and Slick Gus.

In other memorable instances, the council stood up to the mayor and manager and stopped Fred and Gus from annexing all the area north and west of downtown, including Blueberry Hill, El Prado, etc. The Council also voted down Fred’s proposed transformation of the Old Safeway/Yellowfront behind the Plaza into a multi-story garage, another foolhardy project.


Unfortunately, the Council approved the Peralta-Cordova youth and family center/swimming pool boondoggle as “no-bid” projects, which violated the procurement code. Now the County and Town are seeking state and federal money to fix the shoddy design and construction. The Chamisa Verde low-income housing project, a similarly twisted project, was the target of corrupt practices by more than one mayor, council, and town administration. Ignore the procurement code and it costs taxpayers millions.


During Planning and Zoning controversies back then the citizenry and their attorneys frequently quoted from “Vision 2020” a marvelous document (still in effect)  that focuses on progressive and historically sensitive development. While the document refers to the community’s intentions and carries, according to attorneys, some relevance to the law, due to the community’s vested interest, the current town government has sequestered the document. No administration has followed through on developing a master plan in accord with Vision 2020.


In what appears to be an unprecedented and unethical movida, Town executives are acting as “agents” of the developer of the Smith’s project. The opposition to the unplanned ad hoc development has a legitimate claim in terms of  charging the town with “conflict of interest,” a little known “rule of ethics” in northern New Mexico, more pronounced in the breach than followed in the practice.


The only light that burned however briefly in the town’s firmament on Tuesday March 8 was when newly elected councilor, Darien Fernandez mentioned that the Town ought to slow down and consider the ramifications of rezoning. (I’m not sure if Evans spoke or if he is following in the footsteps of the Quiet Man, Meliton Struck.) Regardless, Evans, Cantu, and Fernandez should seek independent council from the municipal league before listening to Lopez, who is as confused about the law as he is about who owns the southern end of the Couse pasture and what he wrote in his own emails, not to mention his convoluted family history.


The town is trying to rush through an impromptu, unplanned re-zoning proposal to benefit what appears to be the Barrone-Bellis-Hahn vision. The Council needs to assert itself on behalf of the community members who elected them. This is a test for Mr. Evans, Ms. Cantu, and Mr. Fernandez.


Given Hahn’s prior opposition to Walmart Superstore No. 2 and his repeated references during that controversy to the “rights” of the “people” and the “citizens,” we former Hahn supporters find his pro-Barrone-Bellis stance mystifying. Bellis has earned a reputation that can be characterized kindly as “neurotic” both in his prior employment at the county, according to management, employees, and even commissioners, as well as in public meetings. He apparently ignores phone calls and emails from colleagues while “allegedly” (?) prevaricating in public and emails, as reported by J.R. Logan at The Taos News. Animal and planning and zoning activists have similar impressions of Mr. Smoke and Mirrors.


When Attorney Lopez mentioned in the Town meeting on Tuesday March 8 how the Town must follow the “procurement code” I laughed at the irony.  He, Bellis, Barrone, and Hahn have covered up the sins of the “code breakers” when they aren’t paying off the whistle blowers. The number of code violations may have fallen under the current administration but both historic and current documents obtained by Taos Friction detail the manipulation and deceptive approach to the code by town officials. What’s wrong with honest government you might ask? Quien sabe?


A lawsuit by a second town whistle blower is now winding its way through depositions. More violations have allegedly come to light. The Mayor and his attorney can reinterpret the code, their intentions, even the audit findings to assuage the public in town lectures. But a violation is a violation is a violation, not a rose.


One wonders why the current administration insists on fighting with its constituents? An open discussion about a relatively mundane project like Smith’s would benefit from “sunshine.” (And Nobody wants the procurement code violators to go to jail.)   But nobody knows how many square feet the building, the parking lot, what style or how much landscaping will be required of the new Smith’s Box? What about traffic counts? Where’s engineer Alex Abeyta when we need him?  What about the gas station and realignment of the highway intersection?

And what about all the empty commercial buildings in town and the vast inventory of impractical town-owned buildings?  What about a master plan? What about getting a little work done at Town Hall? There’s more to life than hanging out at concerts and pig roasts under the lights.

Everyone must ask what Barrone, Bellis, Lopez, and Hahn are trying to hide? And are Cantu, Fernandez, and Evans going to represent Town Government or the voters who elected them as stewards of the community?

Perhaps the Town of Taos takes its cue from Kit Carson Electric Coop and their “hole in the wall” gang leader Luis Reyes. Luis, like the Trustees, is a master of the merger between fact and fiction, which is why we call this poster child for Taos, Taos Friction. Magic realism as a genre should be restricted to literature and not used to mislead the public.

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