Taos County Realpolitick: Corruption or Incompetence?

By: Bill Whaley
7 December, 2012

“I’m incompetent, but I’m not a crook,” a tearful [Judge Fran] Gallegos proclaimed to a throng of supporters after the  hearing.

A story about The Taos County Commissioners in yesterday’s excellent local weekly focused on alleged “corruption.” Apparently, a majority of commissioners decided to carry out the final purge of five employees, named last summer during an executive session prior to the firing of Manager Jake Caldwell. At that time, a commissioner leaked the list of names to a family members and by the time the executive session concluded, employees knew who made the black list: Mgr. Jake Caldwell, jail director Willie Cordova, and his assistant, Mary Mylet, Emergency Management director, Eleutha Trujillo, and assistant manager, interim planning director, PIO, and TCHA emergency housing director, Rick Bellis. (The county’s supervisor of buildings and maintenance might have been named but seems to have evaded the axe so far–but the year ain’t over).

Commissioner Dan Barrone, who opposed all this nonsense, says about the recent firing or so-called budget-cutting job elimination reason given for Belllis’s demise , according to The Taos News, that the act “was retaliation…for uncovering `wrongdoing’ in several county departments and cooperating with federal authorities as part of an investigation into alleged embezzlement at the county housing authority.” Barrone also predicted indictments in the housing matter.

Bellis himself told news reporter J.R. Logan “In an interview with The Taos News Wednesday (Dec. 5)” that federal auditors alluded to “circumstances in some county departments [that] were often described with phrases like “culture of corruption” and “attitude of acceptance.”

Neither Bellis nor the staff at The Taos News, federal auditors or Barrone himself have lived in Taos long enough to understand the differences between local customs and mainstream ethics. (Bellis rents from Barrone; Barrone’s wife served on a board overseeing the restoration of TCHA, and, allegedly, Mr. Paul Bunyan sold a few vigas to the Complex). For ethics in local government has been imposed by mainstream society and a malleable rule of law, rarely enforced, which runs against the more powerful traditions of custom and political patronage as well as the passive-aggressive process of the cover up and its demon dark side: envidia.

Though you are not supposed to vote on contracts or make decisions, which affect either you or friends and family, it is done all the time. See Mayor Cordova and Councilor Silva’s vote for the transfer of town wealth to KCEC via the Command Center follies while they both receive benefits—contracts–from the Coop. The relationship between the Town of Taos and Kit Carson Electric Coop is a good example of how the “quid pro quo” works but blatantly and in complete disregard for “ethics in government.” The Coop and Town, as well as their influential minders, are deeply involved in “advertising contracts” with local media.

Certainly, the County is retaliating against its political enemies and commissioners generally respond to the customary trade in jobs for votes or contracts for supporters. Commissioners are expected to implement policies on behalf of family members, just as elected officials at the town, schools, and Coop do so in the community at large. But due to self-interest and the customary notion of the “cover-up,” the media today, radio and newspaper, selectively report on the nefarious doings.

The County makes the best copy because it is outrageously Jacksonian and transparent, while posing little threat as an advertiser. And Nick serves easily as a well-drawn caricature and deserving scapegoat. The Mayor, KCEC CEO and Coop Chairman, not to mention Superintendent of TMS should all send Nick (and Andrew) roses and thank you notes for diverting attention from the real skullduggery in the community, where millions, literally, are disappearing, into private pockets or bank accounts of a local casino, and the bank of choice. As “Deep Throat” said to Woodward and Bernstein, “Follow the money.”

For instance, when was the last time the public saw an audit of TMS? the 2007—2008 report?  Why haven’t the 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010—2011, 2011—2012 audits of TMS been made public and disseminated? Is Superintendent Weston (along with a compliant board and passive local media) covering up the peccadilloes of the finance and personnel departments at TMS? We’re only asking.

The real sin of the county commissioners is not corruption—the scandals at TCHA appear with regularity just as employees frequently get fired because they are members of the wrong family, political party, refuse to break the law or because of envidia. All incoming politicos push out employees they don’t like—the town has quietly severed relationships with several department heads during the last election cycle at the fire department, public works sewer and water, convention center, Taos local TV, the executive suite, and even a few (honest?) cops have left.

The Coop recently announced that an elected official was leaving early (shoved out?) in favor of giving an appointed trustee a leg up over potential candidates in the spring election with grass roots support. TMS has been quietly importing out of town friends of Superintendent Weston and giving them  jobs–contrary to the custom of hiring locals. Why does the board allow this outrage?

As one former county commissioner told me, the commissioners screwed up by discharging employees not at the beginning but at the end of their terms. In other words, political corruption, so to speak, is a matter of custom but the majority of the commissioners are basically incompetent  (like Judge  Gallegos)Another former elected official said about these commissioners, “they are bad politicians.”

Envidia, the basis for retaliation, has got Nick, Andrew, Pipi, and Joe Mike by los cojones and they are screaming in pain, figuratively speaking, striking out not blindly or too well. Envidia just means you’d rather see your enemies suffer even if it means you will self-destruct. Regardless of what the county attorney or the new manager says, the appointed officials can’t untangle the crazy tapestry woven into the fabric of personality now corrupted by power and custom.

As the man with no eyes said to Cool Hand Luke, “you’re gonna get your mind right.” Still he ate fifty eggs and got away. (No Manuel, the Coop is no better than the county!) Soon, Gabriel “the Good” Romero and Tom “the Reasonable” Blankenhorn will sit with Mr. Work Gloves, Commissioner Barrone, and try to change the direction of the ship at the Complex.

Or maybe not…As a recorder and spectator, you’ve got to love the county for making public what the other politicians do but deny. God Bless the Commissioners everyone.

P.S. (Breaking News) Insiders at District Court say Judge Andria Cooper has flown the coop. Apparently dockets are in disarray, once again, in Taos County. The disappointed office seeker and Martinez appointee will be little missed or long remembered in the judicial canons of Taos County but more on that later, much later, maybe next year.

PPS. (Thugs dressed in suits?) See town officials below gathered in Super Save Parking Lot, discussing sign man Jeff Northrup’s continuing protest movement. Who are these guys?

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