Baca and Forrister almost squeeze in relative unknown to fill vacant city commission seat

by Kathleen Sloan | November 17, 2021
3 min read
Shelly Harrelson, the candidate favored by Baca and Forrister, is a third-generation resident of T or C. Source: Facebook

Although Truth or Consequences City Commissioner Paul Baca has been nearly silent in the two years the Sun has been covering commission meetings, he showed political savvy today by unexpectedly nominating Shelly Harrelson—a relative unknown—to fill the city commission seat left vacant by Randall Aragon’s resignation.

Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister quickly seconded the motion, thereby forcing a vote on the nomination.

City Commissioner Frances Luna, attending by phone, did not go along with Baca’s power move, pointing out that Harrelson was unknown to the community, while others who have also submitted the required letter of interest have put in long hours to attend and participate in city commission meetings. 

When Harrelson’s nomination went to a vote, Mayor Sandra Whitehead and Luna voted nay and Baca and Forrister voted aye, the tie nullifying the seating of Harrelson, at least for this go-round.

After discussion, the city commissioners decided to hold a special meeting on Nov. 29, starting at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers, at which they will interview the five candidates who have submitted letters of interest in filling Aragon’s seat for its remaining two-year term. The letters of interest are all included in today’s commission meeting packet, available online on the City of Truth or Consequence’s website.

The special meeting will be open to the public, although Forrister and City Manager Bruce Swingle suggested that the interviews should be conducted in closed executive session.

City Attorney Jay Rubin said he would need to do some research, but was pretty sure there was no Open Meetings Act exemption that would allow the interviews to be held in closed session. “I think the meeting has to be open,” Rubin advised.

When Forrister pointed out that interviews for the city manager’s position were done behind closed doors, Rubin responded that information about individuals seeking government employment can be kept private, but not details about those seeking elected office.

Shelly Harrelson’s letter of interest emphasizes she was born and raised here, went to Hot Springs High School, as did her mother, grandmother and currently her daughter. Harrelson states she has held numerous New Mexico State positions that gave her financial and budgeting experience, but fails to name those positions. She also has “read New Mexico Grants and developed grants with other state entities.”

Ingo Hoeppner, who ran for a seat on the city commission, but lost to Merry Jo Fahl on Nov. 2, has submitted a letter of interest. It states he is a German Air Force veteran, owns Ingo’s Art Café downtown, is president of the not-for-profit Acknowledge Create Teach Corporation and is a “trained industrial management assistant.”

Art Burger submitted a letter of interest and a resumé. He owns the Center Gallery Fine Art at the corner of Foch and Main streets. Burger Carroll & Associates, his 30-year-old consulting business, which is incorporated in New Mexico, “provides management and information systems services to government agencies nationwide.”

Commissioner Baca also submitted a letter of interest, but it merely requests that he be considered for the vacant Position II seat and gives no further information.

The city packet includes a query letter from Rick Dumiak that asks what he needs to do to be considered. The letter has no further information about him, but the public has become familiar with his 100 percent attendance at city commission meetings and his frequent public comments to the commissioners.

Dumiak was a member of the T or C Planning and Zoning Commission a few years ago. He revealed then that he was a general contractor for 25 years, as well as a facilities manager. Both positions required him to work with federal, state and local governments on building and zoning codes and development deals.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect that the seat vacated by Aragon was Position II, not Position IV, as originally stated.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at 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.


City Commission will wait until after municipal election to fill Aragon’s seat
by Kathleen Sloan | October 14, 2021

By delaying the appointment until they see the election results, the remaining Truth or Consequences commissioners have given themselves a larger array of options for...

2 thoughts on “Baca and Forrister almost squeeze in relative unknown to fill vacant city commission seat”

  1. I find myself agreeing with both Carol and Mark regarding the “Riverwalk” proposals. If that money is available for other purposes then both of their suggestions are good, as well as valid. I’ll add perhaps the acquisition of abandoned buildings around town, knocking down the dangerous and ugly remnants and turning some of them into neighborhood parks. The city also has a parcel of land donated by a friend that is restricted to use as a park that is collecting a lot of junked tires. It would be nice to see a city government that shows a bit of imagination for a change. Clean and tidy up what we have—it will go a long way to making us residents happier, as well as attracting more folks to visit, shop and even settle here. They could also stop what seems to be a rash of folks ignoring speed and safety, not to mention noise rules on our neighborhood streets.

  2. Indivisible/Democrat Party “bigshot” Diana Tittle, Amin Dowdy, Dimid Hayes and others in the community did the exact same thing when they ran Brendon Tolley for commission last time, including sending “anonymous postcards” promoting the election of a kid with good intentions, but no experience—who chickened out and resigned his position a few months later.

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