Taos: Ready for the 22nd Century

By: Bill Whaley
17 October, 2012

NMPRC Rescues KCEC from RUS

Confirms Support for Broadband

Although the NMPRC (Public Relation Commission) says, in its Oct. 16, 2012, order that “The failure of Kit Carson to promptly inform the RUS of the Commission’s Final Order, particularly the conditions imposed by [RUS] is more than an oversight by management; rather, it demonstrates an abandonment of a fiduciary responsibility to one of its major lenders”(my bold), the Commission has vacated its prior order of Sept. 20, 2011 requiring the Coop to spin off the Broadband entity into a subsidiary.

In the prior order the commission said it would “require Kit Carson to file in this docket and serve the parties to this case, within 9 months from the date this Final Order is issued, a Report (the “Report’) which states whether Kit Carson has spun-off its Internet and broadband services into a separate entity, and if so, the type of entity to which those businesses were transferred, and whether Kit Carson [Electric Coop members] remains, or may remain, obligated to pay any liabilities of those new entities.”

Now, the Coop is free, as far as the state of New Mexico is concerned, to pursue its reported $64 million dollar ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) grant and loan project aimed at installing fiber optic Broadband infrastructure, per the RUS (Rural Utility Services) release of funds. Reportedly, the Coop has already spent $12 million on the project. Local contractors and their employees can go back to work and the trustees can claim victory over SAFE (Sane Activists for Fiscal Equity).

SAFE says they will continue to monitor the Coop and the PRC has ordered the Coop to copy reports made to RUS also to the PRC, regarding the protection and safe use of KCEC members’ assets. Due to its history and lack of oversight, SAFE regards the Coop trustees and their CEO with some suspicion when it comes to best management practices (see PRC comment above).

As readers of the Friction know, the Coop has lost millions of dollars in non-electric divisions—Propane, Internet operations, and Command Center infrastructure. The Town of Taos has been potentially convinced by the Coop to subsidize the $3 million Command Center by moving the operations of the E911 service out of its current location in the historic center of town, next to Century Link’s headquarters, to a newly constructed building across from St. James Episcopal Church behind the Don Fernando Inn on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. SAFE says the change will cost town taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in moving and operating costs.

So much for fiscal sanity.

Dependence on the federal government for support is a custom that began in earnest during the Roosevelt New Deal for Hispanics. According Suzanne Forest in The Preservation of the Village, “Seventeen agencies formed the charter membership of the Taos County Project when it opened in June 1940. Eventually thirty-six agencies and twenty-two communities in Taos County participated in the project.” Land use programs, school hot lunches, libraries, roads, water facilities, and health associations were just some of the projects that came under the guise of federal and state support for communities in Taos County. But the Roosevelt era dollars seem like chicken feed compared to Obama’s pot of gold delivered to KCEC.

Thanks to visionary CEO Luis Reyes and the eleven-member board of KCEC, a $64 million project focused on the Internet highway will reach Taosenos and some of their neighbors in Rio Arriba and Colfax counties. We’re not sure how Broadband information and entertainment will pay for itself or create long-term jobs. But the decline of the construction industry, due to the housing bubble burst, will be partially off-set by jobs for the next two years—if you are well connected.

During the decades of the Hispanic New Deal mentioned above, federal funds flowed through local politicos who handed out jobs to locals, which opportunity gave rise to the patron system. The system survives, as most folks know, at the County, Town, Coop, and Taos Municipal Schools in practice. Historical family relationships are more important than issues of merit.

Now Reyes and the Coop will be able to solidify political power in the local communities, specifically the Town of Taos but also in the outlying villages. The Coop’s financial institution of choice, Centinel Bank, will increase its influence within the community. Financier and octogenarian Eliu Romero, the legendary founder of Centinel Bank, maintains his grip on power, where the KCEC CEO’s brother is president. Meanwhile, longtime Romero and Centinel Bank factotum, Bobby Ortega, brother of Questa Mayor Esther Garcia, is president of the Coop. As everyone knows, Mayor Darren Cordova of Taos and town councilor Michael Silva profit from their relationship with the Coop, the former as the broadcaster of choice and the latter as a dirt contractor.

When the puppet masters pull the strings, the politicos, the contractors, their employees and family members dance. And why not? (If you’re not from here or you aren’t connected, you don’t have any skin in the game). There is something to be said for strong leadership being necessary in a community that enjoys political in fighting. (Despite your contributions to the community as a politico, you might end your career with your name merely mentioned on a plaque or a restroom stall.) Looking back on the way the Town of Taos was managed rather efficiently under the auspices of 19-year manager Gus Cordova, one understands the need for a strong hand.

CEO Reyes once said to me after his proposed Command Center project was rudely ignored at meeting with the Town years ago that Gus was nothing but a “dictator.” Luis has learned his lessons well. But as former Mayor Bobby Duran has reminded me about brief periods of cooperation among council members at the town, “just wait, soon they will begin fighting with each other.”

In Taos we have a partially occupied and sprawling town hall/ convention center and a (giant) County Complex, both entities fit for the 22nd Century in terms of “potential” growth. Given the on-going recession and the pot of $64 million for Broadband one can only say, “Que Milagro, Luis.”

As former county commissioner Virgil Martinez frequently says, “I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong” to ask how users, members, and taxpayers will pay for all this investment in community and government? But, I will say, unlike Mitt Romney and the Republicans, Taosenos do not ship jobs overseas. They mine the feds, the residents, and tourists for dollars, while investing in themselves, and the Taos Mountain Casino. (But that’s another story).

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