Taos Trial Balloons and Issues

By: Bill Whaley
13 August, 2013

If history is a guide, candidates for the Town of Taos mayoral and council elections will file on Tuesday Jan. 7 and elections will take place on Tuesday, March 3. Candidates are expected to challenge incumbents: Mayor Darren Cordova, Councilors Rudy Abeyta and Michael Silva. At this time, Fritz Hahn is the only committed candidate for town council. But the incumbents are expected to seek re-election. Between now and Election Day, the candidates and the public will confront an extraordinary number of issues at the Town of Taos.

1. Annexation,
2. The Command Center
3. Public Safety & Policing
4. Fire suppression and water pressure
5. Decaying streets, sidewalks, striping
6. Response to advertising/promotional campaigns
7. The Abeyta lawsuit resolution
8. An empty treasury
9. Excessive cronyism

According to street talk, a number of potential candidates have sent up trial balloons and are meeting with supporters to discuss campaign strategies. County Commission Chair, Dan Barrone, is thinking about a mayoral candidacy. Potential candidates for council include Coop and town activist, Jerome Lucero; business woman and former school board member, Wanda Lucero; and former council candidate, Judi Cantu as well as the aforementioned Fritz Hahn. Surely more candidates will appear.

The odd history and enforcement of New Mexico election laws add to the twists and turns of local politics.

First, a candidate must reside in the Town of Taos. But the record of recent school board, town council and mayoral elections suggests this requirement is more observed in the breach than in the practice. A second home or rental unit seems to satisfy the requirement. Still, one might question a candidate who files for election and uses a “non-existent” home as residence, as was the case in a recent school-board election.

Second, in New Mexico, a citizen may register to vote in the community where he or she intends to live at some future date. Out-of-town Taosenos, who are away at college, in the military, or have temporarily relocated frequently maintain residency and use absentee ballots to influence elections. Within the county, Taosenos move from neighborhood to neighborhood but generally maintain their registration in historic hometown precincts. If a county resident wishes to register to vote in town and can find a hospitable physical address, friend, relative, etc., there is no law to prevent the practice. In other words, voter residency has nothing to do with owning land or physical presence but with intention.

Now for the issues.

Annexation. Annexation is seen as a divisive decision by the Town of Taos to grab gross receipts taxes (GRT) from the County. The County agreed to waive its collection of GRT and share expenses at the airport but the Town decided to go it alone. The matter is in court.

Command Center. The arbitrary decision by the Town of Taos to relocate E911—Dispatch services from its perfectly adequate facility on Civic Plaza Drive to the Kit Command Center is seen as extremely expensive, unnecessary, and a product of Town and Coop cronyism. The decision should be delayed until a study of public, professional, and financial considerations can be made. No single government or elected official has made an argument to justify the decision.

Public Safety and Policing. The Town has created a haphazard program of musical chairs when it comes to the police chief and law enforcement or you might say, the absence of law enforcement when it comes to the Mayor’s cronies. The permissive attitude, regarding protesters and commercial sandwich boards, plastic signs and scribbled paper announcements, due to an unenforced sign code has become the occasion for thuggery, theft, and the erection of ugly unappealing signs throughout the community. I’m all for non-violent protest but against lawlessness. The Sunday afternoon circus is getting ridiculous.

Fire Suppression and Water Pressure. Due to the Abeyta lawsuit, some town wells have been shut down. Meanwhile, a lack of maintenance at the remaining town wells has lowered water pressure and decreased delivery of water to both residents and fire hydrants.

Decaying streets, sidewalks, striping, and parking meters. The deplorable state of the historic district speaks to a lack of pride in community and conflicts with promoting Taos as a tourist destination. The beautifully maintained flower pots and their extraordinary colorful blossoms contrast with the cobbled together asphalt, cement, pavement, and blotches that passes for street repairs. If we’re going to offer free parking, let’s get rid of the broken meters.

Tourist Promotion. Taos has been a destination for visitors since before the Spanish and American occupiers arrived. The tradition continues but nobody provides leadership or a complete vision—other than slogans—regarding the Taos Experience. What began well with the appointment of Cathy Connelly’s leadership has degenerated with her absence. The geography, history, and culture of Taos are legend, a resource that is being squandered by elected officials, who would rather fight with each other or steal from Peter to pay Paul than provide moral and visionary leadership. Physically, the Town of Taos appears to the passer-by as if its an uncared for orphan.

The Settlement of the Abeyta Lawsuit. The Town could be celebrating the settlement of the Abeyta lawsuit water rights controversy by recognizing the historic acequia system and its potential for fusing issues of food security, farm and garden, fresh food for home and restaurants by reopening ditch flows. But the town plays the bad Mayordomo, ignores cultural customs, and allows the Spring Ditch to be shut, the Sanchez and Moreno Ditches to die—all due to deals with developers. The acequia system has proven itself historically as a system that nurtures the community.  Yet elected leaders in Town, particularly, seem hostile to the intent of the Abeyta settlement except as potential windfall for land deals. Really, the Abeyta settlement should be about continuing “self-sufficiency.”

Empty Treasury. If you spend the rainy day fund and it rains, what do you do? Wells, streets, parking meters, libraries, the youth and family center, employees, all go without. Where did all the money go?

Excessive Cronyism. According to George I. Sanchez’s book, Forgotten People, partially about Taos, published first in 1940 (UNM Press), the culture of “machine politics” and cronyism delayed the development of historic progress in terms of economics, health, and education issues. While Dr. Sanchez summarizes the challenges of an isolated people, occupied by colonizers—we’ve all been colonized by aberrant capitalism today—he points toward the lack of leadership by elected officials. Locally and nationwide, there’s nothing odd about giving supporters jobs or fixing the roads. At least “roads” are always a concern in the county if not the town.

The culture of the Mayor and Town Council and their allies at the Kit Carson Coop, appears to focus excessively on the “contracts for cuates” program. This phenomenon has resulted in a culturally divisive course of action at odds with custom. You are supposed to leave a little bit of water in the ditch, a little bit of money in the treasury, and share a little bit of the wealth and good will with the next guy or gal and the next generation. Call the new and current culture “sin verguenza” or an attitude of shameless profiteering—picking the public’s pocket book for your own—not the public–benefit.

We need a Mayor who recognizes the need to fix streets, exudes friendliness, and understands how infrastructure affects business, while dutifully improving  community-wide relations and hospitality. In a time of national upheaval and divisiveness, we need men and women at the Town of Taos who are interested in working toward the benefit of the greater public in the Town and the County. It’s time for a change.

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