Mayor Barrone’s record: Work Gloves Work

By: Bill Whaley
6 September, 2017

A Brief History of Local Politics 

This column should irritate friends and succor enemies. But we, my readers and I, need to look at the facts. Regardless of a tainted process, the current Mayor can point to his record of accomplishment. A challenger will be hard put to beat the Champ. Whether you disagree or agree with the record, here are the facts, those strange and wonderful artful objects being ignored by our masters in Washington D.C.

Mayor Dan Barrone is a typical small-town mayor who sees his duty, according to the record, as a builder and a booster, a Babbit (made famous by Sinclair Lewis). As County Commissioner he presided over and was seen as an honest man in whom the voters placed confidence. As he often said, the “Complex” or County Administration, Courts, and Detention Center, which he promoted, came in under budget, on time, and nobody went to jail.

So an attractive edifice reflecting the architectural values of northern New Mexico rises up, all 135,000 square feet of it, a building that includes enough square feet for growth well into the 22nd Century. (The Town has more muni buildings or did once of 78,000 sq. feet of structure to serve small-town government. Add to that some 50 or 60 town-owned independent structures and you get an idea of how the political tail wags the taxpayer dog in Taos.)

Along the way to the Complex, Barrone and his fellow commissioners and management kicked out their volunteer supporters, like Butchie Denver and Rich Sanders (RIP) and me. Once we were gone after the bond passed,  commissioners expanded the scope of the facility from the proposed 78,000 sq. foot to 138,000 sq. feet and through a successful-back door deal with a local gravel king, acquired property and buildings on the other side of Albright St. At the county Barrone et al turned a crisis at the previous courthouse and administration building (Freon, poor design, inadequate jail) into an opportunity to satisfy the builder’s ego.

Despite minor design and construction missteps behind the scenes in the judges’s chambers and poorly insulated walls in some offices, the construction, thanks to a mid-level watchdog staff of unsung heroes turned the project into a success. Today’s Commissioners continue to take “responsibility” for a number of important programs the Town of Taos had messed up, like the E911 department and Senior Citizens (formerly Ancianos). Taos Pueblo’s John Suazo’s subtle but powerful outdoor courtyard sculpture is a tribute to Taos culture.

Now the County is at least discussing the issue of a rehab facility for youth. One of the great scandals of this community, despite all the talk and efforts of nonprofits, concerns the negligent treatment of toxic addiction and lack of education for native Taosenos, who turn to crime.  Crime wags the tail of the growing judicial sector.

Meanwhile Barrone’s turn at the County, despite the minor subterfuge, resulted in a county-supported and community-wide smash of the Cordova-Abeyta-Reyes cabal at Town Hall. The attempt to annex the airport and the brief move of E911 to the KCEC Command Center confirmed the reported quid pro quo in contracts and favors that existed between the Town Council, previous mayor, and KCEC. (I once told Mayor Cordova that if he hitched his wagon to KCEC, he would tarnish his political chances.)

Sure enough, Barrone, Hahn, and Cantu, with the support of an active citizenry won in a landslide. Barrone brought Bellis with him from the county, who, according to the highest County sources, would have been fired had he remained. Bellis was incapable of adapting to the northern New Mexico culture and following through on the LUDC but frequently presented in public meetings reports that begged reality. Basically he tried to bullshit folks who knew better. County residents are wily and cunning in terms of local politics, seasoned veterans who know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two. (I love that Farmer’s Insurance Company ad on TV.)

To make a long story short, Bellis undermined the best instincts and so-called principles held by Barrone and Hahn at Town Hall. Prior to that they had focused on local needs and small business while embracing the native and historic culture. Shortly after the election, Hahn and Bellis with Barrone leading the charge “lynched” Judi Cantu in a public meeting with the help, mainly, of Anglo supporters. They administered the coup de grace to what they thought was a Andrew Gonzales-Luis Reyes take-over.

In the process the know-nothing Anglos for the most part revealed how they resented alleged political abuse by hometown Hispanic politicos. It was an ugly display of local bigotry by newcomers, including Barrone, Bellis, and Hahn. In retrospect I’m reminded of Trump voters whose resentment is palpable.

The unfortunate Cantu had none of the political acumen of previous Hispanic Women, like Councilor Erlinda Gonzales, Rebecca “Lifetime” Parraz, “Lovely” Lorraine Ruiz at the County, “Salt of the Earth” Stella Gallegos at the School board or Luisa Mylet at the Coop. Stella, in particular, solely and courageously, stood up to the slings and arrows of an angry mob  at the Sagebrush Convention Center and defended her decisions with character and steadfast courage.

Poor Judi did not have the experience or the borne and bred political acumen of her predecessors. Still, despite the continuing abuse by Hahn, Bellis, and Barrone Judi has stubbornly refused to fold. As she says, “I’m a work in progress.”

Meanwhile, despite a deal with the devil Reyes at the Coop for a solar contract, Barrone and his Gang have managed to complete the airport project, push through a new hotel and the slow, very slow rehabilitation of another inn. Thanks to a deal with Cutler Paving, the streets are getting paved without the Town having to violate the procurement code by giving contracts to locals who have exploited the taxpayers for years.

Barrone’s Pig roasts, Fourth of July Breakfasts, and Christmas Tree lights on the Plaza amount to clever photo ops meant to appeal to voters who know little of the “political doings.” Still the flowers get watered and the concert push contributes to a vital music scene. The food and restaurant business is booming.

Barrone has been lucky, too. His timing is good. The national tourist business has recovered. (At South Lake Tahoe, my home stomping grounds, similarly, tourist traffic has recently multiplied exponentially.) Locally the Taos Ski Valley billionaire has contributed to the mix. Still nobody knows how to re-ignite the “retail” business, which is suffering nationwide.

Neither advertisements in The Taos News nor giving lip service to the arts or “Strong at Heart” p.r. campaign will fool the decreasing numbers of citizens, or valiant few who believe in “transparent democracy” and the importance of the historic culture as a long term asset that continues giving back. Given the Barrone-Bellis “back-door” attempts at deals with Smith’s and Batra, citizens know they must stand against their own government. Batra himself saved the town administration from committing crimes against cultural paradigms by suggesting the hotel compromise, reducing, unilaterally, the height of the proposed development from four to three stories.

The hotel compromise, however does not excuse the inappropriate anger and contempt directed at the hotel opposition by Barrone, Bellis, and Hahn. “Father doesn’t necessarily know best.” Despite the well-received Farmer’s Market, violating a Town Ordinance that forbids the closure of the Plaza except for Fiesta is “inappropriate.” Change the ordinance if you don’t like the prescriptive force of law. Barrone, ironically, still lives at his County residence in the Lower Las Colonias neighborhood. The Town of Taos voters have apparently “out-sourced” the job of Mayor to the man with the “work gloves.”

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