Town Administers “Coup de Grace” to Merchants

By: Bill Whaley
13 April, 2016

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Judi in Wonderland

The Bad

On Tuesday, April 12, 2016 the Town Council, not the mayor, not the manager, but Councilors Hahn, Evans, and Fernandez delivered the Coup de Grace (death blow) to the Plaza Merchants. In view of the Council, it’s time for the Plaza Merchants to enter the realm of rigor mortis. They need a billionaire who can afford the upgrades.

According to anecdotal estimates and testimony about 70% of merchants oppose not the Farmer’s Market but the closure of streets to traffic, which, according to observers and the evidence, reduces revenue. While approving a three-year contract with the Farmer’s Market group, the Council affirmed the Mayor and Manager’s “arbitrary and capricious” authority to implement a patchwork vision based on cultural evens like Xmas tree lights and pig sticking.

The Manager asked Interim Chief Maggio to testify that the Plaza should be closed to traffic so that the children and the elderly would be safe from the perils of dangerous traffic. But the health and safety issues cut both ways. Merchants with disabilities who operate shops can’t get to work when the Plaza is closed to vehicles. If somebody got a heart attack or if, heaven forbid, a fire broke out at say, Hotel La Fonda and vendors blocked the street, what would happen? Eh? Except for Officer Molina, who got hit by a car backing out of a parking place, nobody’s gotten injured on the Plaza in the four or five decades of recent memory.

(And hey, Maggio, what about our elderly friends, Taos Treasures, who are getting mugged in Kit Carson Park? Like two of my “very good friends” Eh?)

The Three-year contract with the Farmers Market group closes the Plaza to the tourist trade 28 days a year for three hours per day on Saturdays. This means, conservatively, that tourist traffic is reduced for 84 hours, a loss of two weeks annually. Add up the other planned Plaza closures and you can triple the number of hours merchants lose to street closures. These events benefit some but short-change other brick and mortar tenants, who pay rent year round and contribute gross receipts to town coffers.

By specifically ignoring the ordinance that forbids street closure, the Council delegated authority and responsibility for the future of the Plaza to the Town’s executive department. Councilor Cantu voted “no” against the power grab, and in defense of the Plaza Merchants while she  drew attention to the ordinance, posted here:

“5.08.070: AUTHORITY TO USE PUBLIC STREETS OR PUBLIC PARKS: A. The town council has authorized the use of town plaza and its surrounding public streets only for the annual Taos Fiestas (including the parade). However, the town plaza park may be authorized for certain other public events and activities by the town manager, or his designee, provided the surrounding public streets are not closed.”

Certainly a few Plaza Merchants spoke in favor of the Market, as did one landlord. But most merchants and 99% of the landlords were absent. Apathy rules. Merchant Ranee Malanga testified to the existence of  the “ordinance” as did Cantu. But Bellis, backed up by attorney Lopez, claimed it was a “resolution” and didn’t apply. Attorney Floyd Lopez, aka “Gomer Pyle, ” said, according to reports, three times that it was a “resolution.”

(Your Taos Friction editor watched the live stream of the meeting and simultaneously read the town code, which documents the ordinance, Bellis and Lopez denied existed.” I was right there with Alice in Wonderland.)

During Council discussion, Councilor Fernandez referred to what appeared to be a printed copy of the “ordinance.” The Town Clerk confirmed his claim. He handed it to Manager Bellis and Attorney Lopez, who buried their noses in the document. Councilor Hahn immediately called for a break. He hustled Young Fernandez off for what appeared to be a private chat in an anteroom.

After the break, Lopez sheepishly admitted that the “resolution” was an “ordinance.” An ordinance typically has the force of law though not in Taos. Bellis generalized that the town customarily violated this “ordinance” all the time, implying that it was toothless. So the Council voted to ignore the law in the interests of political expediency.

Cheech and Chong (Fernandez and Evans) joined “Nervous Jervis” (Hahn) in the majority. As one of the “intervenors” in the PRC hearings regarding Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative request for rate increase, I was reminded of the gang on Cruz Alta Street.

The Good

The Mayor, Manager, and Council approved the plans of concert meister Mitch Miller, who has, according to reports, paved the way for the Town of Taos to become a co-sponsor of music events that boost GRT, the town says. The council awarded $15,000 to a Mr. Munoz of Texas, who purchased DMC Broadcasting for the annual Mother’s Day event. If you’ve got musicians for hire, the Town can’t wait to throw money your way. Report to Mitch.

Councilors Evans and Fernandez expressed their opposition to Councilor Hahn’s singular concern for the area affected by the failure of the Smith’s project to jump-start what amounts to “urban renewal.” The two newbies lobbied the council to broaden Hahn’s narrow concept and suggested master planning the whole town or at least a re-vision of the moribund “20-20 Vision” and call it “20-40.” But  none of the councilors could manage to phrase a motion that any two could agree upon. Now the Council will join the planning department in a “strategic” planning session. Bellis also  raised a number of objections  to the concept of a master plan and seemed to control the council.

To show off their sense of humor, later in the agenda, the Council, adopted a code of ethics! Councilor Fernandez suggested consulting an expert on teamwork to show the Council how to work together and avoid personal attacks i.e. sing “kumbaya.”

It’s no wonder Judi feels like Alice, who fell into the rabbit hole. Between Cheech and Chong and “Nervous Jervis,” she knows “the fix is in.” Rattled, she slightly misspoke, saying, “I’m a progress in work.”

The Ugly

A spokesman for the Rio Fernando neighborhood association, which beat back the attempted Smith’s coup, attorney Ann Kauffman, asked for time to address concerns about the troubled area adjacent to the Couse Pasture. Prior to her remarks, Ann was roundly criticized and patronized, abused verbally by Mayor Barrone.

Barrone has similarly attacked Councilor Cantu on more than one occasion. When he chaired the County Commission, Barrone went after County Attorney Barbara Martinez similarly. He turns red-faced and angry during these outbursts. Apparently he doesn’t like uppity females.

Nor does Barrone like living in the house in Town on Zuni St., which he bragged about buying  when he ran for Mayor. We hear one of his kids lives or lived there. Town staff during a meeting alluded to his home “up on the hill” in Las Colonias, next to Olguin’s sawmill, the home where he entertains guests and church members. Manager Bellis rents a home in the family compound.

As my old buddy Saki at Hotel La Fonda used to say, per Walter Scott, “what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”

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