Town of Taos: “Big Lie”

By: Bill Whaley
11 January, 2021

Dear Friends:

Attached I include a letter or screed of some 1800 words, more indicative of the town manager, Rick Bellis’s confusion and contradictions than a reasonable presentation of public policy. Call the Bellis “excuses” re: the calls of nature, “the big lie.”

Full disclosure: I have friends and family members involved in businesses per the Plaza and Historic District. Meanwhile, although the current Barrone administration may not be aware of it, historically, both Taos residents and tourists frequently visit say, Taos Ski Valley and Taos Plaza. While you may find the issue trivial, the Town’s failure to provide public facilities, even a “porta-potty” serves as a symbolic failure of the Barrone administration. (After all the town is dependent from time to time on El Prado Water and Sanitation District for its water as we have learned.)

After a more or less twenty-five-year hiatus I resumed skiing in 2018, thanks to the inspiration of my granddaughter. This year I have enjoyed the sun and snow as well as diminished crowds at TSV. Just as Mr. Bacon has improved the facilities and developed the potential of the mountain, customer service has dramatically improved since the Blake era.

Contrary to the Town of Taos, Mr. Bacon’s facility in the base lodge offers abundant modern fixtures to aid and abet the calls of nature in a pristine environment maintained by friendly staff members in person (aka “ski bums”). Similarly, a second contingent of pissoirs et al reside in the area of the Phoenix chair near the Bavarian. In effect TSV recognizes the necessities associated with providing the services and amenities necessary to serve both locals and tourists despite and because of Covid protocols. (Drinking fountains are closed.)

The retrograde mentality prevailing among elected and appointed officials at the Town is deplorable as it is among their apologists and supporters. Mr. Bellis frequently brags about marketing events, invests public money at the airport, and promotes numerous schemes to increase tourism. Yet, he will not provide the basic amenities required by all human beings.

No doubt porous borders and inconsistent policies have led to a spike in the New Mexico Covid rates. Friends and family members who touch down at the airport in Albuquerque say no one’s counting at the airport re: alleged quarantines. About fifty percent of TSV’s parking lots display vehicles with out of state license plates. The Real Estate boom indicates urban refugee are fleeing to rural communities like Taos all across the country.

Tourists, visitors, and locals all share the common facts and reality of alimentary effects. Let us not pretend that tourists and locals are not carrying on, walking the streets, visiting shops and cafes despite the Covid. Perhaps, just as the Trump people missed out on American government history and science, similarly the Barrone people missed out on that part of their education: governing, civil responsibility and general science.

Bellis’s response to local merchants and the press, see attached, is not unlike the “big lie” affecting Trumpian politics at the House and Senate re: contesting the election, which led to violence at the Capitol. In Taos the “big lie” leads to public anger, and violent urination and defecation in public places.

(Don’t Read Bellis attached unless you’re a political junkie.)

From: Richard Bellis <RBellis@taosgov.com>

Date: December 29, 2020 at 4:26:26 PM MST

To: Ranee Malanga <jewelry@taosnet.com>, Mitch Miller <RMiller@taosgov.com>, John Wentz <jwentz@taosgov.com>, “Darien D. Fernandez” <DFernandez@taosgov.com>, Staci Matlock <editor@taosnews.com>, Nathaniel Evans <nevans@taosgov.com>, Fritz Hahn <fhahn@taosgov.com>, Pascualito Maestas <pmaestas@mail.usf.edu>, Barker Larry <larry.barker@krqe.com>, Bill Whaley <bwhaley@newnex.com>

Subject: RE: [External Email] Taos Public Bathrooms -Dunn Parking Lot- Taos, New Mexico

Ms. Malanga,

As you indicated below in your email, this is a discussion that we have had repeatedly since the Governor’s Public Health Orders went into effect. Your personal and political disagreement with the Public Health Orders of the Governor and Health Secretary notwithstanding, Taos County, as is the case with all of the state as of tonight, remains in the dangerous “Red Zone” regarding the public health gating criteria. As such, all Taos and New Mexico residents here remain under a legally mandated “stay-at-home order”, with residents only allowed to leave their homes for essential medical, food, work or other trips permitted under the state guidelines. Those visiting the state from other states or re-entering the state are required by law to quarantine for 14 days before they are allowed to go out, ski or shop.

Given the above, our encouraging causal shopping trips for jewelry, candles, art and other non-necessities for the day by out-of-state tourists from highly impacted areas with little or no restrictions is not either legally permissible nor a priority for the Town of Taos, Taos County, nor the State of New Mexico at this time.

As you are all too aware, your store and numerous others already have bathroom facilities that they could make available to customers but apparently do not want to do so. They have told me that, due to COVID and where the customers are from, they do not feel comfortable sharing their bathrooms with the very tourists you want us to encourage to come here. Nor do they or their staff want to clean those bathrooms at any time, but especially during a pandemic. I do not blame them. However, you instead want the Town to provide to do that for you and to have Town staff assigned to monitor and maintain these alternate bathrooms full-time for tourists, cleaning them after each use (as would be required to assure that they were safe).

To be clear, given the legally mandated 14 day quarantine requirement by the state, there should be no out-of-state tourists here skiing and shopping for the day or weekend.

Secondly, the Town, due to COVID the Town has had to cut $2,000,000 (or 20%) from its budget, laying off staff and closing all but essential services (which was also a state directive to local governments), and has spent an additional $1,5,000 in unplanned COVID-related expenses on PPE for the businesses, expanding hospital bed space and testing capacity, organizing a NM Safe education campaign for businesses and their customers, providing perimeter barricades and other materials as well as fast-tracking approvals for businesses to expand outdoors, develop drive-through and pick-up options, rapid processing locally (which no one else in NM has been given the freedom by the state to do) for expanding alcohol and food serving licenses, as well as giving out nearly $500,000 in direct cash grants to the same local businesses (of which you received one of the larger grants), we do not have the budget or personnel to provide, man and sterilize after each use bathrooms for tourists who shouldn’t be here.

As you are aware, we tried already to hire a company to provide porta-potties that were changed out each day. There were insufficient people using them to justify the cost, they were graffitied, feces and urine were spread all over them, the supplies were stolen out of them as soon as they were stocked, they were occupied by homeless and attracted drug-related activity that Plaza area businesses vociferously complained about, and were totally demolished in the first 3 days. Both to satisfy business complaints about their condition and the people they were attracting that were impacting business and safety, and because the company providing them was subsequently unwilling to continue to provide the units or do the sanitizing, the experiment was discontinued.

The Town of Taos and the County for much of this pandemic were one of the safest and most successful in the state and country (the second safest county in the second safest state in the country for months) in combating the virus and we applaud the Governor for recently giving the responsibility for solving the problem of what can open and when to the local governments and each community by instituting the Red-Yellow-Green gating criteria system, which we strongly advocated for based on our early success in Taos and the belief that we can reach those levels again as a community. We are absolutely determined to meet the yellow and then green criteria so that we can once again safely and successfully reopen our businesses and we have therefore prioritized doing so as quickly and effectively as possible for businesses, locals and tourists alike. However, this cannot happen with the full cooperation of every business.

I would remind you that in order to remain open you and your staff are supposed to be masked at all times in the workplace and following all state “NM Safe” protocols, which based on my last visit to your store as a customer is not happening. You made it perfectly clear that you wish to flaunt your defiance of the mask and distancing rules as a political statement of your national allegiance, which I would argue has absolutely nothing to do with our local efforts to keep our businesses, employees and customers safe.

To be clear, our immediate priority right now is reach full reopening by helping businesses to meet the scheduled testing/screening for their employees that is required for them to stay open, to get necessary PPE to businesses and their employees and customers to maintain a safe workplace, to help businesses make physical changes to their workplace in order to make their businesses safer for visitors and employees, to our businesses adapt their marketing and to develop on-line and drive-through capacity, to expand employer/employee as well as pubic testing and shrink response times for results so that we can get below the gating criteria and the business don’t have to stay closed any employees don’t have to stay home if there is a secondary exposure in the business, and to inevitably implement a widespread and effective vaccination program for all essential workers and their businesses as soon as possible.

We have very, very limited staff and funding to do all of this at once, as well as to keep emergency services, utilities, and other essential public services operating and are receiving almost no help from any of our fellow governments in the region, though we are taking a leadership role in trying to get them all to work together.

As for staffing and maintaining public bathrooms for the Plaza, the Town Facilities Department is engaged full-time through January in expanding the safety and physical capacity of Holy Cross Hospital, our only hospital for the region, as their staff are maxed out with testing and immunization. This is the 3rd building we have remodeled and provided for the Hospital and the community, which is a phenomenal story for a small in-house crew of Town employees. This is in addition to tents, generators, heaters, lighting and other material support to expand testing, triage/screening and additional bed space that we have provided from our Events Department.

I realize that this is a political issue for you and an issue of personal private sector profits vs. public health policy concerns and that you see a clear demarcation that government is wrong and should not be involved in restricting the private sector with health rules, but then you also want us to assist a handful of businesses by using tax dollars to operate bathrooms for your benefit. Nor have you turned down the publicly provided cash business assistance from us or the federal government. I do not point out this contradiction to be cruel, as I know that all of our local businesses in our community are struggling and we need to do all we can to help them get through this once in a lifetime crises. But our sole and very narrowly defined mission as a municipal government under the state constitution is literally ” … to promote and preserve the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the local jurisdiction”. That does not include how to make tourists from Texas violating our public health orders and placing us all in danger feel more welcome and at home at this time.

No administration has spent more on and been more effective at marketing and increasing tourism as much or established air service to as many tourist-related destinations as this administration. We consistently win top marketing campaign awards, have created unprecedented and nationally recognized A-list concerts and festivals for a town of any size, top almost every national survey in every magazine or travel-related web site, and are at the top in the state year after year for annual increases in tourism. And we will continue to do so. But this is not the time for that nor our most pressing priority at this point in our long history.

If the “voice of the people” is the measure of good public policy, as you have continued to remind me, it is clear from what we are hearing that the taxpayers of Taos are unwilling to close or jeopardize any additional public services in order to instead channel those resources to make a handful of out-of-state tourists that refuse to obey our public health orders feel more comfortable. As is demonstrated by the graffiti you and Polly keep pointing out, there is instead a growing resentment of their attitudes towards locals, local businesses and our efforts to keep them and us safe.

The Town has offered repeatedly to give the key to the bathrooms, control of them and their ownership to MainStreet, the Chamber, the Dunn Shops, or the Plaza businesses as we do not have the staff or budget at this time, and we have never received a response from either you or any of those that feel this is a pressing need.

Per the direction of the Mayor and Council by issuance of a public health emergency, the Town will re-examine the issue when the state established gating criteria allow for the lifting of the public health restrictions and the legal and safe reopening of business and tourism in the downtown. Until then, we are following the law and what is best for the health and safety of the entire community (which has lost 39 full-time residents), not the convenience of violators.

If you see an act of public urination or defecation, as you have regularly done with any other violation that you have alleged (and I and Mitch are appreciative of that because we can’t be everywhere at once), please report this immediately to our police department or myself and it will be responded to and investigated immediately and, if found credible, will be enforced. However, the Town has previously looked into this rumor and finds no evidence at this time to support your allegation.

Rick Bellis

Town Manager

—–Original Message—–

From: Ranee Malanga <jewelry@taosnet.com>

Sent: Monday, December 28, 2020 6:57 PM

To: Richard Bellis <RBellis@taosgov.com>; Mitch Miller <RMiller@taosgov.com>; John Wentz <JWentz@taosgov.com>; Darien D. Fernandez <DFernandez@taosgov.com>; Staci Matlock <editor@taosnews.com>; Nathaniel Evans <NEvans@taosgov.com>; Fritz Hahn <FHahn@taosgov.com>; Pascualito Maestas <pmaestas@mail.usf.edu>; Barker Larry <larry.barker@krqe.com>; Ranee Malanga <jewelry@taosnet.com>; Bill Whaley <bwhaley@newnex.com>

Subject: [External Email] Taos Public Bathrooms -Dunn Parking Lot- Taos, New Mexico

Taos Government,

During this Holiday Season the public bathrooms have not been open.

I am sure the excuse is the Governor’s orders as always.

Can we please have some portable single toilet  units installed near public restrooms.

The hospitality business is important to our community.

The public is not at fault. Males are urinating in the public corridors.

Please help the remaining duration of our holiday season by implementing public single stall portable toilets.

Thank you,

Ms. Ranee Malanga

Artwares Jewelry

Taos Plaza Merchant

Sent from my iPhone

Town of Taos

Under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), all messages sent by or to me on this Town-owned email account may be subject to public disclosure.

taosgov.com <http://www.taosgov.com>




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