The Top Five

by Debora Nicoll | September 17, 2021
6 min read
The commissioners unanimously ranked upgrades to the Sierra County Fairgrounds this year's No. 1 capital improvement project. Source: Facebook

At Tuesday’s Sierra County Commission meeting, commissioners finalized more than a month’s worth of work to identify and rank the county’s most-needed infrastructure capital improvements. Working from a list of 20 projects estimated to cost $6.4 million that had been suggested by the public and by county departments, the commissioners selected five they considered to be most likely to be funded by the legislature and have the most impact on the county.

The five projects in order of priority and the amounts to be requested are the Sierra County Fairgrounds ($1.2 million), road equipment ($400,000), the roof on the complex housing the county sheriff’s and road departments ($400,000), the Arrey baseball complex ($100,000) and the Hillsboro Community Center’s heating and cooling system ($150,000).

Determining ICIP (Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan) requests to be submitted to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for the state legislature to consider for funding is an annual exercise for the commission. An initial list must be submitted to the DFA this week, with the finalized list due at the end of the year. Usually the three highest-rated projects will be funded. However, depending on the depth of the state’s pockets and the whims of legislators, any project included on the list might be funded.

This year, the commission hosted informal, open meetings in August in Arrey, Hillsboro, Winston and Truth or Consequences to solicit ICIP recommendations from the public. At a 45-minute workshop this Monday, the commission heard presentations by county department heads. They each had the opportunity to tell the commission about the infrastructure improvements or equipment most needed by their departments. In turn, the commissioners had the opportunity to quiz the department heads about the urgency of their requests and whether they could be deferred for another year.

With less than a day allotted for their individual evaluations of the merits of the suggested projects, the commissioners discussed and rated the projects at the monthly county meeting on Tuesday.

During Monday’s workshop, County Manager Charlene Webb reviewed items on last year’s ICIP and pointed out which of them had been funded. Webb also informed the commission about which of the unfunded projects, as well as other projects discussed during the workshop, might possibly be funded through sources other than the state legislature.  

In 2020, funding was received for the commission’s Top 3 projects: a summer shuttle bus program serving Elephant Butte and T or C, the pavement of the parking lot at the new Sierra County administrative headquarters on North Date Street in T or C and Monticello bridge renovation. Last year’s last-ranked project—the purchase of an ambulance for Sierra Vista Hospital—was also funded. 

Seven of the projects on this year’s ICIP were for county facilities and totaled $2.4 million. Another six projects involved roads, bridges and drainage projects with an estimated $2 million price tag. Three were safety-related projects totaling $700,000.  Vehicles needed by the road and other departments have an estimated cost of $600,000, and improvements to Monticello’s water system are estimated at $800,000.

The commissioners unanimously agreed that the county’s top priority should be renovation of the Sierra County Fairgrounds. Commissioner Travis Day stated that the fairgrounds are a core county facility, but have been neglected for a long time. Because of their rundown condition, the county has missed out on a number of hosting opportunities that would boost the local economy. Commissioner Hank Hopkins agreed, saying that some of the “stuff here in place now are the ones that I showed in years ago.” Commissioner Jim Paxon rounded out the general agreement with a comparison between the Sierra County fairgrounds and those in Socorro County, which he said had benefitted from several million dollars in upgrades and is “busy all the time.”

Likewise, purchase of equipment for the road department met with unanimous support. With around 500 miles of roads to maintain in the county, replacing the road department’s aging machinery and  acquiring additional vehicles and equipment would be a “benefit for all of the county,” Hopkins said.

Determining the next three top-priority projects required a bit more discussion. Day favored including the purchase of vehicles for other departments. He wanted to compensate for the fact that “the commissioners have been brutal” in setting departmental budgets over the last year or so in order to maintain a balanced budget while purchasing and renovating the county’s new administrative headquarters. 

Paxon favored repairs to the roof of the county’s South Broadway Street building, which was built in the 1980s and has numerous leaks that require frequent maintenance. He also suggested including upgrades to the Hillsboro Community Center’s HVAC system, which is extremely inefficient. 

Hopkins pushed for including improvements to the Winston Community Center, which he called the “hub of that community.” He also favored upgrading the community’s playground area, noting that it serves “a lot of kids.”

Webb explained that, because the WCC is not owned by the county, it “ties their hands” in regard to seeking public funding. However, she added, her office should be able to help WCC and other not-for-profit organizations in the county identify possible sources of grants and write applications.

All the commissioners were in favor of including the Arrey baseball complex in their Top 5. Their approval was based on the fact that the complex had already received $200,000 in ICIP funding  and a promise from that community’s state Representative Luis Terrazas that he would include the project in the HB-2, or “Junior Bill,” funds that he would have the discretion of allotting in the next legislative session. 

One proposed project that did not make it into the Top 5, but which was the subject of much discussion during Monday’s workshop came from Ryan Williams, the county’s new director of emergency services. He requested the commissioners consider upgrading emergency communications throughout the county. With an estimated cost of $300,000, this project, the commissioners concluded, might find alternative funding before the January deadline for submission of the final ICIP list.

View the list of all 20 projects below.


Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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