Taos Social and Cultural Issues

By: Bill Whaley
20 October, 2011

A number of issues confront Taos County residents. The Friction is not taking sides or making allegations, merely suggesting we take notice. Elections are coming up. Keep your hand on your wallet. Please feel forward to email me any ideas or questions for posting here:bwhaley@newmex.com.

Concerned citizens are asking that a grand jury be impaneled to clarify the relationship between the Town of Taos and Kit Electric Cooperative, Inc. Apparently, the costs and supporting documentation for the Towns decision to occupy the Command Center are unclear. Citizens would like to know if there is a conflict of interest or quid pro quo that undermines good government and/or breaks laws.

Issues at the town for the muni election this winter include perceived cronyism: favors for water users, the use of public assets to benefit special interests, and wild rewards for bureaucrats. And what about the vision thing? 2020 or otherwise?

In the county, apparently the Family Dollar Store is preparing to open a store near El Prado, adjacent to the Overland Sheepskin Co. The Neighbors and commuters question the wisdom of locating the store in this pristine area. The previous approval of a storage unit complex in the area despoiled the highway meadows and created financial hardship for the owner.

County Commission races will focus, partially, on the candidates’ willingness to embrace small business and subdivisions—despite the cultural origins of their owners. Given the decline in gross receipts and rise in property tax rates, citizens will be questioning candidates closely. (The town is at least business friendly to some.)

The KCEC poses the most difficult question. As everyone knows from the PRC hearings, the CEO with permission from the Trustees, embarked on a borrow and spend vision for the last decade, resulting in multimillion dollar losses for its divisions in Propane, Internet, the Command Center, and, now, the $20 million expansion of Broadband. The sums involved are extraordinary. Now the Coop has hired a professional damage control artist.

Due to gerrymandered bylaws and a sweetheart at district court, the Coop members have little option other than the ballot box.

The lack of growth in the general area means current policies, alluded to above, are parasitic on the taxpayers or rate payers. Recent decisions by the town and Coop re: the Command Center robs from Peter to pay Paul with no visible benefit—as do most of the Coop diversification policies mentioned. The County bought property for which they can give no public justification. El Prado Water and Sewer adjusts its budget by using Wite-out.

Like the military, the local politicians fight current battles based on defunct strategies that applied to the past. The circumstances and conditions have changed. Witness the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations against crony capitalism. Here in Taos, unlike the Wall St. dominance of Washington D.C., local government dominates the private economy—driving out its enemies and helping out its friends. But the taxpayers and ratepayers pay the freight for this sleight-of-hand.

We do have our cadre of protesters.

But the cunning cross-cultural Taoseno quietly ignores the government and embraces self-sufficiency. He or she tends to his own garden. Here are some examples.

While the public schools (hopelessly) continue to reward failure and their “clients” continue to abandon the system, parents and students are building an alternative method of education. Charters and private schools, tutors and GED programs, home-schooling and courses at UNM in both lower and upper divisions offer new ways of satisfying the need. Relocation itself is the final solution (unfortunately).

Last winter due to NM Gas outages, and thanks to recent outages at KCEC, we have learned our lessons about the energy mix. More wood heat, pellet stoves, small-scale solar, mixed use of gas and electric, more insulation and more blankets, better light bulbs are just some of the ways to combat corporate incompetence and costs.

More folks are growing their own food, buying chickens, and (alas) shoplifting. Farmers markets at Arroyo Hondo and Taos Pueblo have augmented the downtown Saturday market. Notice how many new green houses one sees. Hunting and fishing, both in and out of season, are as important as ever. We expect the Fish and Game department to be busier.

Traditional galleries may be in decline but artist owned studio-galleries are opening up. The museums are cutting back but keeping the doors open and the programs vigorous, thanks to volunteers. A younger avant-garde may be coming to life: Witness the interest in Pecha Kucha, lectures on art, small-scale live theatre, and imaginative new ways of thinking about earth art. Our West Mesa neighbors are spirited examples of self-sufficient living. You buy the car, I’ll hold out my thumb. Sometimes civil society must take a second seat to survival.

Meanwhile, your tax bills are coming. Keep your head down and your powder dry. Pray to St. Jude for a few enlightened candidates in 2012.

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