City Commission makes no findings of fact on smart-meter appeals, but provides opt out

by Kathleen Sloan | January 27, 2021
6 min read

Truth or Consequences City Commissioners sat as a quasi-judicial board during part of the Jan. 27 city commission meeting, hearing three residents’ appeals of a city staff decision denying them an exception to having electric utility smart meters installed at their homes.

Appellants were Ariel Dougherty, Ron Fenn and Lee Foerstner. Dougherty and Fenn were in attendance via teleconference; Foerstner was not present.

smart meter
“We need to leave all this drama behind us and move on,” said Commissioner Frances Luna, who moved to provide an opt-out provision for those customers with concerns about smart meters. Photograph by Kathleen Sloan

Devising the proceedings’ protocols on the spot, the city commission agreed to give the appellants five minutes each to present their cases, since their grounds for appeal varied, and then to rule on all three at once. The hearings ended with the commissioners making no findings of fact or ruling on the various grounds presented. 

The final determination, if it can be called that, was a motion, which evidently applied to all three appellants and also signaled a policy change that will give residents the option to pay a fee to avoid the installation of a smart meter.

City Commissioner Frances Luna made the motion that a “set charge [be established] for those not wanting a smart meter, the charge being $50 per month, to cover the city’s cost for reading their meter manually.” Earlier she had reported her research finding that Sierra Electric Co-op imposed a $50 special-trip charge to read rural customers’ analog meters.

City Manager Morris Madrid, who attended the meeting by phone, advised Luna: “Your motion conflicts with the ordinance,” referring to 14-30(e) of the municipal code, which outlines a process for appealing water and electric utility shut-off notices. Dougherty, Fenn and Foerstner were all sent disconnection notices when they declined to allow smart-meter installations at their homes, and the city prematurely and wrongly disconnected Fenn’s electricity for a week despite his timely filing of an appeal.

Madrid called Luna’s motion too broad, because it would let any utility customer, not just the three appellants, choose to opt out of having a smart meter and pay the charge.

Madrid claimed that the “window” for appealing had passed for those with smart meters already installed—some 98 percent of the city’s residential customers, Electric Department Director Bo Easley reported in answer to a commissioner’s question.

Luna asked: “Where in the code is this 90-day window?” Madrid corrected: “It’s 14 days.” Luna asked again: “Where in the code is this 14 days?” Madrid said he didn’t have the ordinance in front of him. “The code is on page 110 of the [city commission meeting] packet,” Luna said, waiting. Madrid finally admitted that he had decided to give Dougherty, Fenn and Foerstner 14 days to appeal in a disconnection notice he sent to them.

“Then my motion stands,” Luna said, stating any customer could still appeal, since no “window” was mentioned in the code.

Prior to her motion, Luna said, “It bothers me that the city expected 100 percent compliance.” People should be given a choice, she said, “But it should come at a cost.” People want to choose “whether to have a vaccine or no vaccine, home school or public school. If I want the good shampoo, I have to pay more.”

Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister asked if the city would have no meter readers if everyone took a smart meter. Madrid said all the water meters are still analog and read manually, therefore meter readers are still on staff.

City Attorney Jay Rubin advised the city commissioners they didn’t have to rule today. A delay would allow city staff to research the cost the city should charge to manually read electric meters, he said.

“Oh, I like the idea of reviewing the appeals one more time,” Mayor Sandra Whitehead said. Over 100 pages of exhibits and briefs submitted by appellants were in the city packet.

“This has been going on a long time. We’ve been kicking this can down the road. We need to move ahead,” Commissioner Randall Aragon said, prompting fellow commissioners’ unanimous agreement to the opt out and the $50 monthly charge. 

The commissioners did not address Dougherty’s and Fenn’s complaint that Easley, Rubin and Madrid should not be used as the commission’s legal and informational guides during the hearing, since they had signed the letters dismissing the appellants’ prior appeals and their comments could prejudice the city commission.

Mayor Whitehead did ask Madrid to address the health concerns raised by all three appellants, who had submitted in their appeals numerous studies showing ill health effects associated with smart meters, as well as citing warnings by such authorities as the World Health Organization and American Cancer Society that smart meters may cause cancer.

“Millions of homes have smart meters and they are not deemed to be a health hazard,” Madrid said in response.

Dougherty and Fenn said making them have smart meters was inequitable, since the city had exempted 30 to 40 businesses downtown. The two appellants referred to the minutes of the August 26, 2019, city commission meeting in their written appeals. At that meeting, the city commission passed a motion to award the request for proposals to install the smart meters to Landis + Gyr, after exempting downtown businesses with older electrical systems.

Madrid again addressed the appellants’ argument, a task never undertaken by the city commissioners. “There are not exemptions for those with technical capacity,” Madrid insisted. “It would be a major burden on older homeowners” to have to upgrade their electrical systems to permit installation of smart meters.

Asked to comment on the city commission’s ruling, Dougherty said in an email, “Once again, the kin-to-me-party is flying by the seat of its pants.  . . . The Commission should have asked questions of Ron or me.  . . . A $50 ‘trip charge’ is higher than many of our electric bills. The decision is ridiculous and insulting. But, following rules and law is not the City’s forte.”  

In a post-hearing interview with the Sun, Fenn said, “I don’t know what happened. The hearing was a joke. I believe they accepted our appeals at a punitive cost based on Sierra Electric Co-op’s special-trip charge, which is predicated on how far they often have to drive to read meters. The city has been told numerous times they don’t need to send a reader; we can take pictures, send a fax, whatever.

“I am not going to pay $50 a month for a reading when they can’t read the meter correctly in the first place,” Fenn said. He was referring to his and others’ apparently incorrect or inflated recent electric bills, an example of which was brought to the commission’s attention today during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“This is not over. They have not solved this problem,” Fenn said. “People are not supposed to be penalized for not taking something that will harm them. We are being penalized for wanting to be secure in our homes.”

Foerstner could not be reached for comment by press time.

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.


TorC will purchase electric smart meters for $1 million
by Kathleen Sloan | September 9, 2019

The Truth or Consequences self-owned electric utility will upgrade to smart meters for its 4,000 residential and commercial customers.  The upgrade will cost $1 million…

Public outcry ignored, smart meters are still a go with City of Truth or Consequences
by Kathleen Sloan | May 2, 2020

​Despite being presented with a petition signed by 250 registered voters in favor of banning smart meters for 10 years, Truth or Consequences City Commissioners…

Madrid turns Fenn’s lights and heat back on a week later—after Assistant Attorney General intercedes
by Kathleen Sloan | December 16, 2020

A letter sent to City Manager Morris Madrid and copied to the city commissioners by Gideon Elliot, assigned to the AG’s consumer and environmental protection...

1 thought on “City Commission makes no findings of fact on smart-meter appeals, but provides opt out”

  1. I’m glad to hear the commission finally agreed that folks can opt out of the smart meter, but the $50 fee seems more punitive than economic. Watching a government retaliate against its citizens is NOT an encouraging scene and not one that would attract new citizens to town. I suggest that the commission sit down with the utility board and figure out a reasonable figure that represents the actual cost to the town. That averaging process should include all those who have been exempted for whatever reason—economic or personal—or risk the observation that money actually IS what rules in this country and county.

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