Morrison Memorial Tower

By: Bill Whaley
5 January, 2013

Each day I stare up at the “Morrison Memorial Tower,” planted at the old armory and “wonder, wonder, who wrote the book of love…” Now, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, under the new commission, Commissioner Gabriel “The Good” Romero has placed the item on the commission agenda.

In a prior life as county attorney, current Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn said he investigated the issue of the tower and its fallow presence. According to my conversation with then attorney Blankenhorn, more or less remembered, he said he was told that the tower controversy made it all the way to the desk of FCC Chair Michael Powell, the son of one Colin Powell, former chair of the joint chiefs.

Apparently the tower was erected without FCC permission and was also considered a threat to the sacred view of Taos Pueblo. The controversy, considered too complex for resolution, was swept away into file 13. Yet there it rises. Since we have learned to live with it, perhaps, only perhaps, it should be powered up to improve cell phone service, if not painted and used as a hospitality sign for visitors who sneak into town from the north.

Here’s an excerpt from Horse Fly, April 15, 2001.

MORRISON’S SECRET: “A MEMORIAL TOWER”

The Ides of March

“The Gang of Four”

The Tower

The Fox in the Coop

In a testimonial written for the Taos News, published on March 15, County Attorney Mary Lane Leslie wrote this about Robert Dale Morrison: “He will continue to work hard and honestly to see that Taos County runs in a professional and businesslike manner.” 

The outraged phone calls down poured like spring rain into KTAO and Horse Fly. Have you seen that ugly tower at the old Armory out by the Blinking Light? What the hell is going on? Indeed. Fabi “The Radio” Romero, KRZA’s Friday morning 8:15 am reporter, and, sometime Horse Fly contributor, was the first to break the story.

Who was the culprit responsible for destroying one more piece of the sacred blue skyline? It was Albuquerque resident, aka County Manager, Robert Dale “Still Here” Morrison. Who else?

On November 28, 2000, Lt. Colonel Thomas C. Gurule wrote to Morrison on behalf of the Department of Military Affairs, State of New Mexico: We quote the documents.

“Dear Mr. Morrison:

The New Mexico National Guard requests approval by Taos County of a lese which the Guard intents to enter into with Sky High Communications. LLC, for the construction and operation of telecommunications facilities on Guard property. The lease is proposed for a term of 25 years with three five-year option periods and to be leased at the properties appraised value. The property is located at the Guard Armory at 489 Blueberry Hill Road, El Prado, New Mexico.

The lease entered into between the New Mexico National Guard and Sky High Communications will be transferred along with the property to Taos County at the point the Guard vacates the armory in El Prado.”

Though Morrison [uncharacteristically] responded promptly on December 1, 2000 to the Guard, the manager is well known for procrastination and ignoring phone calls, letters, and requests from county residents, including local business and government leaders. He has been criticized for his tardiness directly by Commissioner [Virgil] Martinez among others. But, here, he’s as quick as a fox in a chicken coop.

“Dear Lt. Colonel Gurule:

Thank you for your letter of November 28, 2000. Taos County will accept the transfer of the property located at 489 Blueberry Hill Road subject to a lease for the operation of telecommunication facilities. The lease should be limited to the specific area to be covered by the telecommunication facility and a survey description should be used. The County will want the lease to be at fair market value. We will also want the lease to permit Taos County to use any tower associated with the telecommunications facilities. We well be happy to work with you in completing the transfer of the property to Taos County.”

The lease and building permit, issued by Constructions Industries Division of New Mexico has been assigned to Vertical Real Estate LLC of Santa Fe. Copies of Morrison’s letter were sent on December first to Commissioners Rebecca Parraz, Virgil Martinez, Manuel P. Trujillo, commissioner-elect Gabriel Romero, assistant manager Julia Valerio, and county attorney Mary Lane Leslie. 

On March 19, Attorney Leslie wrote a letter to Vertical Real Estate’s lawyer suggesting the tower would fall under Taos County Land Use Regulations and require a special use permit, once the county took possession of the land.

Vertical Real Estate attorney, Nancy Long, however, reminded Leslie on March 27 that the leasee’s “use was lawful…pursuant to New Mexico law regarding the supremacy of the state’s permitting of land uses when the property is owned by the state.” Long also states, “Taos County knew in advance of the state’s intention to enter a lease…and consented to that action on behalf of the county” (editor’s bold).

In addition to its usage today as a potential cell phone site, insiders at the County say it may be used by the TCSO as central communications equipment for its promised fleet of Homeland Security surveillance drones. The drones are a way of cutting back on personnel expenses at the budget-challenged local law enforcement agency. Commissioners are expected to assign one of the new drones to surveillance of  Arroyo Hondo, where land grant outliers and the Hondo-Seco fire department, led by the Jaramillo Bros., are forming a new group whose sole purpose aims at seceding from Taos County.

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