Elephant Butte City Council sends letter to Governor asking that EB Lake St. Park be opened

by Kathleen Sloan | May 8, 2020
6 min read
The Elephant Butte City Council held a special meeting May 6 to consider a back-to-work resolution but nixed it for a plain letter to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, primarily asking her to open up Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the key economic engine affecting all businesses in the City. 

The City Council mulled over the New Mexico Municipal League’s suggested plan for opening up the economy, which is close to what the Governor is likely to propose after her current executive order expires May 15, according to City Councilman Mike Williams. 

Mayor Pro-Tem Kim Skinner and City Councilman Travis Atwell said they agreed with the plan. 

The statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission, according to the New Mexico Municipal League’s Reopening Plan, as of April 30, was 1.24, or, on average, every new case will create one and one-quarter new cases. 

The NMML plan states the transmission rate should drop to 1.15 by mid-May, assuming current social distancing remains steady. 

The NMML plan recommends the state not open until the transmission rate is 1.15 and the state reaches a testing capacity of 3,000 tests a day. The NMML does not explain why 3,000 tests a day are adequate “to box in” the virus, that is, to identify and quarantine people with the virus to stop it spreading. 

The NMML recommends test results be turned around within 24 hours and contract tracing of those who have crossed paths with those found to be infected be determined within 36 hours. 

The plan is vague, stating it is “rec.” to quarantine, or, supposedly, recommended to quarantine those Health contact-traced people for 14 days. 

According to a May 4 press release from the Department of Public Health Information Officer David Morgan, the State testing capacity is “10,000 tests a week” or about 1,400 tests a day. 

Tests are free, if you are without insurance, but still limited to symptomatic people, asymptomatic people in contact with those who have tested positive, asymptomatic nursing home residents and other “congregant” residents, such as those living in homeless shelters and group homes. 

The State’s hospital capacity for “general beds,” “ICU beds,” and “ventilators,” are all three deemed “sufficient” by the NMML, “based on modeling,” the plan states. 

There is a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, estimated to be a 28-day supply by mid-May. 

The NMML plan contemplates phased openings. The first phase, starting May 15, has a “gating criteria,” of the 1.15 infection rate, to be calculated for each of the five “Public Health” districts in the State. If the area cannot meet the criteria, then further opening of businesses may be delayed.

Sierra County’s Public-Health district includes Catron, Socorro, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Dona Ana and Otero counties. 

Safety practices for businesses include six-foot distances, closing common areas, cleaning surfaces, wearing face masks, washing hands, using hand sanitizer. Employees should be screened daily, “verbally or with a written form or text/app,” supposedly self-certifying they feel fine.

“Best practices” for business employees is to take their temperature daily with a no-contact thermometer, sending them home if it is over 100.4 degrees. 

Retail stores would open at 20-percent capacity and other non-essential businesses at 50-percent capacity after May 15, if the infection rate drops and the testing and tracing capacity increases. 

Restaurants and bars may open up to 50 percent capacity, but the plan for these businesses is still being worked out. No bar stool service or standing service will be allowed. 

Hotels will probably be allowed to open at full capacity. 

Gyms and salons will open, following safe practices as well as they can.  

Churches will be allowed to open, but capacity is still being determined. 

Theaters, casinos and nursing-home visits will remain closed. Mass gatherings won’t happen. Any out-of-state airplane arrivals must quarantine for 14 days. Vacation rentals for out-of-state visitors won’t be allowed. 

These restrictions will be in place for two to three weeks before loosening them are considered. 

Mayor Edna Trager said she spoke with some of Elephant Butte’s restaurateurs and some said opening at a 50-percent capacity doesn’t allow them to break even.  

The City’s restaurant is on the line too—Trager asked City Attorney Benjamin Young if the city-owned Sierra del Rio Golf Course restaurant has its liquor license—a key component in reopening May 16. 

The City signed a contract with Spirit Golf to manage the restaurant, golf course and pro shop, which includes use of the City’s liquor license. Young said Spirit Golf’s license use is still tied up in Santa Fe, and recommended the City Council have “a conversation with Spirit Golf,”  to renegotiate parts of the deal. Takeover has been delayed because of the pandemic. 

The other variable for opening up restaurants is customers, Trager said, which all depends on the Lake opening to ensure that food, “with a limited shelf life,” gets consumed in a timely manner. 

“It the Lake doesn’t open, it will be devastating to our economy,” Atwell said, with other City Councilors agreeing. 

Skinner said the Governor is not opening the Lake because she “enacted a seasonal-worker hiring freeze at Elephant Butte Lake State Park when oil and gas prices dropped.” 

People are being hired, Skinner said, but it requires going through the GPE or Government Point of Entry procurement process. In addition, public bathrooms need to be closed and replaced with port-o-potties, Skinner said, and the State is still “trying to establish occupancy” for the whole park.

Trager said the communication with the Governor’s office has been one way, although “we’ve been asking for dialogue. We can’t get answers on just about anything,” she said. 

City Attorney Young was asked if the City Council should approve the NMML plan as a resolution. Young said he examined the Truth or Consequences resolution, which is trumped by the Governor’s executive order, which is acknowledged in the resolution, making it nearly pointless.

“The prudent thing to do is to stand back and follow the Governor’s process,” Young said. 

According to City Councilman Michael Williams, the Governor is asking for feedback from cities, not in the form of a resolution, but a letter. 

Trager asked the City Council if they had anything else it wanted in the letter to the Governor, besides opening the Lake. 

Williams said, “If the Governor refutes our request to open up the Lake, suggest that we open it up to Sierra County. It is in our county. That would control the numbers.” 

Trager said some people are saying the Governor and State Parks have no say-so in part of the Lake. She has received a number of communications indicating the southern part of the Lake, “south of the Butte,” is federal Bureau of Reclamation area, not State Park area, and is therefore open to the public. 

Some claim the whole Lake is BOR property, Trager said, “but a number of people have been ticketed for substantial amounts, in the hundreds of dollars,” who have tried boating in the northern part of the Lake. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
Share this:

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.

Scroll to Top