A Reasonable Request for Making Peace in the Valley

By: Bill Whaley
18 June, 2017

Unreason rules in today’s political environment. Dueling factions remind us of Yeats’s famous lines: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Surely we can do better than gunning down baseball players on the East Coast, UPS workers on the West Coast, family, friends, and random victims here in Rio Arriba and Taos County.

In Taos natives and necomers seek a self-sufficient lifestyle in the midst of the semi-arid high desert and the Sangre de Cristo mountains in a visually stunning and culturally rich enclave remote from mainstream America. There are no Interstates, no railroads, no bus and air service. Yet the museums and galleries are full of art and artifacts created by local artists, the bookstores full of literature by local authors.

The communities, Tribes, neighborhoods, acequias, villages, towns, county, schools, Electric Coop, myriad non-profits, etc. all contribute to the tumult and discussion, stimulated by historic and contemporary subcultures that create the collage that is Taos. The beauty and freedom, the tolerance and eccentricity all add to the conversation.

On June 27, the Town of Taos Council will decide whether to approve a four-story Holiday Inn Express and whether or not the proposed hotel meets the Town’s design standards. See the rendering of the hotel above and the images of “Taos Pueblo Spanish Revival” published as examples in the Town’s code below. Further down a letter from a local citizen addresses the Town’s policy on public speech and the public relations gambit, called “Strong at Heart.”

(How many conclusions from round-table charettes are stacked on shelves or in storage from studies during the last two decades?)

 

No one opposes the renovation of the Don Fernando or the need for an additional 85 modern hotel rooms. But reducing the height from four to three stories while distributing the rooms over the remaining floors would do wonders for civility. Transparency and compromise could cure the controversy stirred up by allegations of “back-room dealing” (see the emails) and political manipulation by good-old-boys, Barrone, Bellis, Batra, and Lukes.

Supporters of the four-story hotel plead economic development, though they offer no “studies” to prove claims. Yet the supporters characterize their opponents as “white-haired newcomers” (or worse?). Opponents claim the “democratic process” has been trespassed (or worse?). Who wants to be remembered as a member of the Gang who robbed the community of its skyline (or worse)?

It’s not about pride and ego but about compromise and peace, reason and unreason. The Valley will survive corporate architecture. But surely town officials should take pride in recognizing that modesty and compromise can reconcile citizens and their elected representatives to civility and a fresh start. The strong-hearted love their neighbors.

Letter to the Mayor:

June 15, 2017

Dear Mayor Barrone and Council Members

On consecutive days two remarkable public meetings were held in Taos. They could not have been more different. The first meeting, held on June 12, was the kickoff for Strong At Heart. A packed house of several hundred people were urged to voice their opinions on a wide range of topics, and they did so.

One of the clear messages from the meeting was that there is a high level of distrust about how town business is being conducted. People do not feel like they are being listened to by this administration. Contrary to the derogatory allegations that it is the same 20 to 30 white-haired anglos that are obstructing progress in town, 200 to 300 people present at the meeting seemed to share the sentiments of the 20 to 30 that are more outspoken.

This widespread distrust creates a huge challenge for the very well-meaning Strong At Heart effort. Whether that gap can be bridged remains to be seen.

A day later the Taos Town Council held a meeting. One of the agenda items was a proposed amendment to Council rules about how meetings are conducted. The rule reduced the amount of time an individual could address the Council under Citizens Forum from five minutes to three minutes. The ostensible reason for reducing the amount of time citizens could speak was that Council meetings go on for too long.

The Citizens Forum portion of the agenda lasted fifteen minutes out of a nearly three hour meeting. Five people spoke under Citizens Forum. It is an insult to suggest that giving each of those five people an additional two minutes would have had more than a minimal impact on the length of the meeting. The unspoken message was clear as the rules change was adopted: this administration considers listening to the public a burden to be minimized. They have to tolerate a certain amount of it, but it will be strictly curtailed if they do not like what they are hearing.

Ironically, the new three minute limit on Citizens Forum had already been imposed at this Council meeting and the previous Council meeting in clear disregard of Council rules. Five minutes was the rule in effect until the rules change was adopted later in the meeting. Evidently, Council rules are to be followed only when it suits the administration.   It was no surprise that the rules change passed.

Astoundingly, the rules change was posted on the agenda as a consent item. No public discussion was envisioned. While Councilman Fernandez pulled the item from the consent agenda for Council discussion, there was no opportunity whatsoever for the public to comment on the proposal at that point. Councilman Fernandez’s objections were ignored. The administration clearly did not want to hear what the public thought of this wrong-headed idea.

In contrast, a public hearing at the same meeting went on for nearly two hours on a proposed annexation of about four acres. The annexation was requested by the property owner. Annexations are judged by six criteria set out by state law. Virtually none of the public comment addressed any of the criteria. Instead, the discussion revolved around fire hydrants and whether the owner would make a profit if the property were annexed. Such issues were not remotely related to the criteria for annexation.

If the Mayor is truly concerned about the length of Council meetings, he can tactfully suggest people stick to the issue that is on the table rather than allowing extended diversions into irrelevant topics.

Meetings go on for so long because Taos citizenry are informed and engaged. They take exception to how the town is being run. We are not going away. We are not going to shut up. That is democracy.

The insistence of the administration that Citizens Forum comments be curtailed flies in the face of the entire Strong At Heart concept: listen to the people. After the Council action I find it difficult to justify spending more time participating in the Strong At Heart effort.  This administration is not particularly interested in listening to the people. Their actions speak far louder than their words. The LOR Foundation may want to rethink whether the $170,000 they are spending on this effort is money well spent.

Respectfully,

Ken Manning

kmanning@austin.rr.com

 

cc:            Rick Bellis

`                 Taos News

James Pollard

 

 

 

 

 

 

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