Taos Municipal Elections: Elephants, Social Engineering, and Customs

By: Bill Whaley
7 February, 2018

Last night’s forum, sponsored by “Taos United” succeeded in presenting a more interesting and fair conversation among candidates about issues than the previous forum. However, the lack of follow up, detail, and in-depth discussion created a kind of virtual reality, wherein ignorance triumphed over the community we know and see. One of the Anglo organizers said that we don’t know what’s going on because there’s never anything in the news. The broken chain between generations, young and old, Hispanic and Anglo, speaks to alienation. When you become a stranger in your historic home of 400 years, affection turns to ashes.

Below I list a variety of  issues. Call them elephants in the room. My comments are based on twenty years of field work and scrutinizing the community as well as more than fifty years of sentimental living.

1. Alienation and Family

The current board, Taos Health Systems, CEO and management, as I have alluded to in the past, have driven out much of the local labor force in an attempt “to clean house” at Holy Cross Hospital. Apparently, a qualified local, who should have been appointed Director of Nursing as successor to Anna Abeyta, was not promoted. In turn she left for Presbyterian in Espanola and several qualified local nurses followed in her wake. Now local patients are abandoning Holy Cross Hospital. I’m told the CEO withdrew his request to the County yesterday, a request to use infrastructure income for hospital operations. Call the crisis “bigotry.”

Mayoral Candidate Darien Fernandez mentioned the loss of the “legacy” or native Hispanic population last night. Similarly Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca cited the loss of the native population in New Mexico at a Saturday night meet and greet. When job opportunities are lacking, young people move away, and their folks follow when grandchildren are born. And of course we have seen the opposite in terms of “chain” emigration when local Anglos bear children and Grandpa and Grandma move from elsewhere to Taos.

In my own way, I came of age among the people, landlords, merchants, and working Taosenos on a hospitable and friendly Plaza. This is a Plaza long-neglected by local government, a government, which is now threatening the last vestiges of local culture, a rural and tourist culture somehow attached to vehicles. Still as empty storefronts appear, so younger people from the private sector are opening new businesses: Jen Hart at the “Market,” Maya Torres in her family’s building, R.C. Gorman’s nephew below the Gorge. I also hear but haven’t confirmed that the Hotel La Fonda might be for sale. Due to architectural fallacies the Plaza Theatre Building remains moribund.

If the County ever gets off their inert asses, they could help the Plaza by turning the Old County Courthouse into a Historic Museum but quien sabe? Manager Rick Bellis “poisoned” this issue in terms of collaboration when he was still with County, due to his high-handed tactics and fantastical claims.

2. Plaza Controversy

Calls to “rejuvenate” the Plaza are not a plan. The current administration has engaged in “social engineering” in order to force out brick and mortar merchants and remake the Plaza in a “gentrified vision,” a project promoted by the current manager. Candidates frequently mention “merchants” but never the Native Taosenos who own the buildings and should be consulted.

Much of the Community enjoys the Farmer’s Market and the merchants do not dispute the right of everyone to gather on the Plaza for special events. All they ask is that the north and west sides remain open during the Saturday market. Further they ask that the Town keep the Plaza open during the day when an event is scheduled for the evening. It’s a question of courtesy and common sense.

Cries of “public safety” are a canard. Historically the Plaza in the sixties and seventies was far more crowded, open to traffic and nobody got injured, no kids got run over. During the Barrone administration, their meter minder got run over while supervising a car, backing out from a parking spot. Go figure.

Here’s what the Town ordinance says:

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 (my bold).

Residency

So just as the Council, Mayor, and Manager happily ignore their own ordinance, so the Mayor, following custom, happily ignores the following statutes:

16.20.030
New Mexico Statutes Chapter 3. Municipalities § 3-8-3. Residency
For the purpose of determining the residence of a person desiring to be a candidate for a municipal elected office, or the residence of a person who has signed a petition to cause a special or regular municipal election, or for determining residency for any other purpose pursuant to the Municipal Election Code, the following rules shall govern:
A. residence shall be presumed to be at the address or location shown on the original affidavit of voter registration on file with the county clerk;  and
B. the presumption established in Subsection A of this section may be overcome if residence is shown to be elsewhere pursuant to the rules set forth in Section 1-1-7 NMSA 1978 .

Universal Citation: NM Stat § 1-1-7.1 (2015)
1-1-7.1. Residence for purpose of candidacy and signing of petitions; rule for determining.

For the purpose of determining the residence of a person desiring to be a candidate for the nomination or election to an office under the provisions of the Election Code [Chapter 1 NMSA 1978] or for the purpose of determining the residence of any signer of a petition required by the Election Code, permanent residence shall be resolved in favor of that place shown on the person’s certificate of registration as his permanent residence, provided the person resides on the premises.

Land Use Code and Abeyta

I like Dan Barrone (just as I like, horrors, Luis Reyes) and think he’s a pretty good mayor. I don’t care where he lives but I do care about ordinances governing the Plaza or when he backs his manager in failed coup d’états against the municipal codes, especially in the alleged 120,000 sq. foot Smith’s debacle, a project for whom the manager acted as an unethical “agent.” When Councilor Hahn was asked last night about the Smith’s/Couse Pasture debacle, he equivocated and couldn’t remember the code, 16.20.020.1: GENERAL PROVISIONS, that limit big boxes to 80,000 square feet, the upper limit modeled on the existing Walmart, a code born of three resistance movements to Big Boxes. Read the Code, Fritz.

Perhaps Hahn, Barrone’s hatchet man, suffers from senility as he covers up for Bellis’s peccadilloes. Hahn also misrepresented last night the status and process of the Abeyta-Taos Pueblo Water Settlement, saying all the meetings were public except for legal matters. He, like the Mayor and Council, ignore their responsibilities to the community and the parciantes, EPWSD, the MDWCAs, and Taos Pueblo. As noted here, per John Painter, the EPWSD signatory, attorneys have hijacked the Abeyta Settlement and “implementation” hearings are being held behind closed doors in Santa Fe, further alienating not only town parciantes but the entire Taos Valley.

If the Mayor and Councilor Hahn will lie or misrepresent the big things, like closing the Plaza, contrary to ordinance, Big Box development (Smith’s and Couse Pasture) that defies performance standards, or back the destruction of the cultural view shed (Holiday Inn) see email scandal, and ignore the opaque Abeyta hearings, then they will lie about the little things.

Meanwhile Batra at the Don Fernando renovation project has stiffed a couple friends of mine, vendors, at the project. What is the Town doing about that, given the “$500,000 in state grants, paid for by taxpayers?

Local Culture and Transparency

The issue of “transparency” has led to the loss of prior Barrone and Hahn supporters, due to the above back-door attempts. Pascualito Maestas has come out foursquare for “trust, truth, and transparency.” When asked about getting the information out to the local community, Judi talked about conversations in the grocery stores, El Mitote on the stump, the traditional way Taosenos get their news. Despite her scatter-brained approach, Judi’s heart counts. Listen between the lines.

Judi and Andrew Gonzales represent the “old ways.” Given his background and support, I hazard a guess that Andrew is an election favorite for the council. His relationship with KCEC is an unfortunate reality. Darien will have a tough time matching Dan’s persona, despite the latter’s support for Bellis. Bellis does the thinking. Hahn may slide in on the Mayor’s coat tails.

Judi, like Andrew and Pasualito, speaks to my heart. I’m a sentimentalist and one who has benefitted from cultural “confianza” or “form of mutual reciprocity” that “indicates a mutual duty to honor relationships.” When I should have been thrown in jail or run out of town, Taosenos treated me with merciful tolerance and allowed me to grow old, according to my own temperament. Confianza, regardless of los politicos, speaks to the ordinary pleasures of living in the Taos Culture, the daily interaction that enriches ordinary life. Once you’ve lived her long enough, you “begin” to understand this place. (Even my friends Jerome Lucero and Gene Sanchez are beginning to learn about the community.)

Further I personally like newcomers, the energy of the millennials and the contributions of second homers, the so-called “purple hairs” disparaged by Bellis. Newcomers arrive in Taos with the best of intentions and come here for the same old reasons that Mabel, Dennis, even Louis Bacon came here. Call the attraction an “aura” or “magic” or the sublime force of the Sacred Mountain. Sometimes clichés hold.

I’ve been skiing with my granddaughter the last two weeks and I’m damn glad we’ve got a Billionaire at Taos Ski Valley. The skiing is remarkable. As Andrew once said, we should be happy for the trickle down. You can shovel acequias all day long but if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and if the attorneys hijack the water, Dry Gulch will be our name.

P.S. Nobody mentioned last night, the “art” community, the vital music scene, the traditional visualists, the highlights of the performing and literary lights. At an early forum the Mayor mentioned how he shopped for two weddings at the Dollar Store. He and Fritz claim it’s all about “economics.” I think Taos is much more than that. The Town has got several million dollars in the bank but the homeless, the mentally ill, and the opioid-heroin crisis is eating up individuals and families. Taos belies appearances. It takes years to see below the surface.

Of course I am speaking above about “good” newcomers, not Batra or Patten or the myriad developers who would despoil the community or the vendidos and thugs and Dollar Store purveyors of products with questionable origins. I even met Sam when he opened the Walmart. But this is a different and more predatory generation of Waltons.

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