Elephant Butte news roundup

by Kathleen Sloan | June 18, 2021
5 min read
Source: Impresa Modular

News made at Wednesday’s Elephant Butte city council meeting: local housing starts are up, so is patronage at the municipal golf course, and raises for city councilors are in the works.


A holdover from the receding pandemic—the trend of working remotely from home—has boosted housing starts in the Southwest, including in Elephant Butte, according to Lindsey Moore, the city’s fire department and land use administrator.

Moore gave a mid-year report on building permits at the Elephant Butte City Council meeting on June 16. In the first six months of this year Moore has issued 68 permits, which include new homes and commercial buildings. as well as home and commercial improvements. Among them are 10 new-home building permits.

Moore reported that she has recently received inquiries about two more new home permits for a residential neighborhood “near the beach.” So far she has received neither of these applications.

Some of the new-home permits have been issued to people who own summer weekend homes and now want to live in Elephant Butte full time. “There are six or seven families who have moved from larger cities” to become full-time residents,” Moore also noted. “It’s happening all over the Southwest.”

Last year, the city issued a total of 110 building permits.


The pandemic’s effect on Sierra del Rio Golf Course has not been all bad, according to Richard Holcomb, managing partner of Spirit Golf, the company hired by the city to manage the golf course and its restaurant and bar. In his first annual report to the city council, Holcomb noted golf was one of the few outdoor activities people could pursue during the pandemic.

Rounds of golf played at the course from June 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021, totaled 12,236, according to Holcomb. This represents an increase of 2,700 rounds from the year before. In the first five months of this year, 6,289 rounds were booked. Based on this track record, Holcomb said the company is likely to attain its goal of booking 14,000 rounds by the end of May 2022.

Improving the golf greens has been Spirit Golf’s focus, Holcomb said, adding that the company has received “rave reviews” from locals and out-of-state players. He claimed the grounds are nearing “pro-golf tournament standards.”

Spirit Golf has created a nursery alongside Hole 10. Holcomb said the company planned to grow various grasses suitable for different seasons and parts of the course, but the pandemic has affected the supply chain. The “big box stores buying 60 percent of the seed,” make it a scarce commodity.  

Sierra Del Rio’s restaurant and bar have both been severely hampered due to COVID-19 restrictions. In addition, the “onslaught of free government money,” Holcomb stated in the written report supplementing his oral presentation, “made it nearly impossible to hire staff.”

To compensate, hours and days of operation were cut and breakfast was eliminated, Holcomb said, adding that he has also improved staff efficiencies. He was pleased with customer turnout on Memorial Day and Mother’s Day, yet he worries about attracting more customers than can be efficiently served over Father’s Day and Fourth of July. “It’s an interesting dilemma,” he noted.

“We are optimistic we will be able to expand service once the government handouts end and people go back to work,” Holcomb said. Already lifted is the restriction on placing a bar cart on the course. “We are actively seeking part- and full-time help to re-introduce this much requested service.” 

A document included in the meeting packet gave an overview of the golf course’s revenues and expenses since the city was gifted the facility in April 2017. Through May 26 of this year, the Sierra del Rio operation has taken in $2,483,473. The city’s subsidy over the four years of its ownership totals $1,164,423. Expenses during that time have amounted to $3,669,349, for a loss of $1,185,875 without the city subsidy. With the city subsidy, the operation has lost $21,452.


City Councilman Michael Williams placed a discussion of raising the salaries paid Elephant Butte city councilors on the June 16 agenda. He asked city staff to gather data about salaries paid to other local government boards for comparison purposes.

Mayor Pro Tem Kim Skinner, who has served on the council for 14 years, noted that her starting salary was $111 a month. “I’m currently at about $144 a month,” she said.

The salary currently paid Elephant Butte mayor is slightly more than $312 a month, Williams told the Sun in a phone interview.

Skinner said the Elephant Butte council salaries are a fraction of those paid to the Sierra County Commission, probably as little as one twelfth. Sierra County Commissioners are paid about $21,300 a year, Williams told the Sun. That averages out to $1,775 a month.

The mayor of the Village of Williamsburg is paid $600 a month, Trustees are paid $100 a month and $25 for each meeting they attend while serving on other boards such as the Sierra Vista Hospital Joint Powers Commission.  

Truth or Consequences city commissioners are paid $6,000 a year. Starting in January 2022, they will be paid $12,000 a year or $1,000 a month.

After discussion, it was agreed that Elephant Butte City Attorney Ben Johnson will draft an ordinance that increases the mayor’s pay to $750 a month and councilors’ pay to $500 a month, with a cost-of-living increase to be added each year.

Johnson said the T or C City Commission raised salaries by passing a resolution, but state law 3-10-3 states raises can only be instituted via ordinance. The statute reads: “A noncharter municipality [i.e., those created by general law, such as Elephant Butte and T or C] may provide by ordinance for the compensation of the mayor and other individual members of the governing body.”

An opinion issued by the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General in 1981 prohibits a governing body from giving itself a raise.

The Elephant Butte councilors agreed that if the salary increase is passed, it would not start until January 2022, when the winners of this November’s councilmanic election take office.

The council could experience a high turnover this election cycle. Only City Councilman Travis Atwell’s seat is not up. Seats held by Mayor Edna Trager, Mayor Pro Tem Skinner and Councilman Williams are up. Winning candidates for the seats will serve a four-year term.

City Councilman Gerald LaFont announced last month he will resign on July 1. His seat is up for election, and the winning candidate will complete the last two years of his four-year term.

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

1 thought on “Elephant Butte news roundup”

  1. Golf course manager Mr. Holcomb seems to resent the “onslaught” of public money that is keeping him from hiring workers without offering a pay increase. But he seems fine with the public subsidies he (the golf course) receives in order to pay his salary.

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