City Commission will wait until after municipal election to fill Aragon’s seat

by Kathleen Sloan | October 14, 2021
4 min read
T or C Mayor Sandra Whitehead and City Commissioner Paul Baca
If Mayor Sandra Whitehead and/or Commissioner Paul Baca are not returned to office on Nov. 2, either one of them could be appointed to fill the Aragon vacancy, according to the commission’s unanimous agreement yesterday that the appointee should be picked from the list of candidates for city commission. Source: City of Truth or Consequences

The four members remaining on the Truth or Consequences City Commission unanimously agreed yesterday at their Oct. 13 meeting that the commission’s empty fifth seat should be filled from the list of candidates running for commission in the upcoming election on Nov. 2. The informal decision will delay their appointment of a replacement for the seat vacated last month by Commissioner Randall Aragon until at least mid-November.

The four sitting city commissioners have the authority under state law to appoint a registered voter residing within the city to fill a vacant seat by a simple majority vote.

The first meeting after the election in November will be on the 17th. The city commission also voted yesterday to hold only one meeting in November and in December—a tradition “because of the holidays,” City Clerk Angela Torres explained.

Often public boards hurry to fill a vacated seat because they are plagued with tie votes that stall city action. That is not a problem with the T or C city commission. For the last two years, at least, the commissioners have voted unanimously on almost every issue that comes before them. All actions taken during the Oct. 13 meeting were approved unanimously, with little discussion.

Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister led the discussion on the selection process to replace Aragon, who resigned at the Sept. 22 city commission meeting. “It is my will we wait until after the election. Those who signed up to run and who are campaigning—look at that pool.”

“I agree 115 percent,” Commissioner Frances Luna said. “It would be wrong to appoint from the candidate pool [at this time]. It wouldn’t be fair if we appoint an opponent to Commissioner Baca or Mayor Whitehead.”

“Good idea,” agreed Commissioner Baca, who is up for re-election, along with Mayor Sandra Whitehead. Commissioner Luna has decided not to run for her open seat.

Mayor Whitehead also agreed the appointment should wait until after the election.

Two T or C residents, Rick Dumiak and Art Berger, have submitted letters of interest, City Manager Bruce Swingle said. Would the city commission like to solicit more letters of interest? Swingle asked

“No. We’ll discuss it mid-November,” Whitehead said. “We’ll hold off until then.”

“Last time [the commission had to fill a seat] we didn’t have an election so close,” Forrister pointed out, “with candidates running and showing an interest.”

Judging by the discussion, it appears that neither Dumiak nor Berger will be considered.

When the city commission filled Brendan Tolley’s vacated seat in August 2020, it did not pick from the list of candidates who lost their bids to be elected to the commission in the previous municipal election, held six months earlier. The commission considered only individuals who had submitted letters of interest, choosing Frances Luna, who served as both a county commissioner and a city commissioner for three months after her appointment.

The city commission’s decision to wait until after this year’s municipal election is yet another demonstration of their solidarity. It seems likely they will appoint someone they can count on to continue the “tradition” of unanimity.

Mayor Whitehead underscored the value the commission places on presenting a united front in rushing to assure the public that Luna’s recent habit of attending commission meetings by phone, rather than in person, has not affected that body’s work. “Just know that Commissioner Luna is doing her best to keep us all together,” Whitehead said at the commission’s first meeting in September, when Luna’s absence first became notable.

If the voters do not return Whitehead and/or Baca to office in November, either one could be appointed to fill the vacancy, possibly preventing Forrister from becoming a sole minority voice. If Whitehead and/or Baca are re-elected, the commission could revisit its announced intention of choosing a replacement from the ranks of losing commission candidates and pick Frances Luna. By delaying the appointment until they see the election results, the sitting commissioners have given themselves a larger array of options for preserving their majority voice.

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.

4 thoughts on “City Commission will wait until after municipal election to fill Aragon’s seat”

  1. The solution to this potential problem is to not vote for any incumbent candidate, which will ensure that only one could possibly be seated as a replacement for Aragon. It is more than time for a change in our local government. There needs to be a real possibility for actual dialogue between the public and commission on the direction of our community. Dialogue has for too long been suppressed or controlled by the few, elected by the few. The future of this city hangs in the balance. Wake up, T or C.

    1. Ron, I am in 100 percent agreement that the voters of T or C need to vote out the incumbents and elect anyone else but the existing commissioners. As you are well aware, this action by the city commissioners to violate municipal city code 2-29 was just one in a very long list of violations of city code and procedures that the current commission thumb their noses at. However, I’m not surprised; the commission has virtually eliminated public comment by not responding, or if they do respond, it is at the very end of the meeting. Kind of like punishing a citizen for saying anything by making them sit and wait until late into the meeting to see if any response to public comment is forthcoming. It usually is not, and that is very frustrating and rude, in my opinion.

  2. The failure of the city commissioners to appoint a commissioner prior to the November election has shown they care little for the what the residents want or think, but only want to maintain their power over the residents of T or C. It also shows their ignorance or blatant disregard for the Truth or Consequences code of ordinances. It is not surprising to me, as the commission has ignored their own procedural rules many times in the past and they continue to do so.

    Public comment at the commission meetings is a joke and a complete exercise in futility.

    Section 2-26 of the T or C code of ordinances states that the commission will “perform all acts required for the general welfare of the City.” Is waiting till after the election to potentially reappoint someone that that voters may decide should not be on the commission only to be put back on good for the general welfare of the city? I think not!

    In addition, Section 2-29 states: “Vacancies in the Commission shall, by majority vote, be filled by the remaining Commissioners for the period intervening between the occurrence of the vacancy and the next regular election.” Read that again: “between the vacancy and the next general election.” It does not say wait till after the election; it says: before the next election.

    The city commission has violated its own laws of procedure once again, and yet they are held unaccountable. Does our city attorney not even know the city’s code? Obviously not, based on the advice he gave the commissioners that they didn’t have to do anything about the vacancy.

    Whoever you vote for on Nov. 2, make sure it is not one of the incumbents if you ever want to see a fair and just city commission for Truth or Consequences.

    Shame on the city commissioners for ignoring their own rules of procedure . . . and shame on the voters if the incumbents are reelected.

  3. As a follow up to my comment above and, in my opinion the commission’s clear violation of Section 2-29 of the city code, I attempted to file a complaint with the Tor C police department.

    The clerk at the PD’s office told me I had to file my complaint with the city clerk. I then filed my complaint with the city clerk this morning and below is the city’s response to my complaint, followed by my response to the city clerk.

    I am warning all of the residents of T or C we have a commission that is turning into a third world governing body. I know the commission will never appoint me to Aragon’s seat and I’m okay with that, but their failure to follow 2-29 shows how out of touch they are with the residents of T or C and how little they care about what you or I think.

    Good afternoon Mr. Dumiak,

    After reviewing your attached complaint, I would like to clarify the meaning of Sec. 2-29.—Vacancies, which is listed below.

    “Sec. 2-29.—Vacancies.
    Vacancies in the Commission shall, by majority vote, be filled by the remaining Commissioners for the period intervening between the occurrence of the vacancy and the next regular election.(Code 1962, § 1-5-9)”

    In your complaint, you noted that the Commission failed to follow Sec. 2-29.—Vacancies of the Municipal Code. During the Oct. 13, 2021, City Commission Meeting, the governing body chose to wait until after the Nov., 2, 2021 regular election to select a candidate to fill the vacant position. The code does not specify how long the Governing Body has to appoint a “Commissioner” to fill the vacant seat. The code does state that whomever they choose to fill the vacant seat will serve as a Commissioner until the next regular election, which will be the November 2023 election. The position could not be added to the Nov. 2, 2021, ballot because Commissioner Aragon resigned after the deadline to submit an item or position on the ballot.

    In 2023, the candidate who has been chosen to fill the vacant seat will have to run for candidacy, should they wish to continue to serve as a City Commissioner. At that time they can either choose to run for “Position II” which will be a 2 year position, or they can run for one of the 4 year positions that will be up at that time.

    I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions.

    Thank you,
    Angela A. Torres, CMC
    City Clerk-Treasurer
    City of Truth or Consequences
    505 Sims St.
    Truth or Consequences, NM 87901
    (575) 894-6675


    Thank you for your response, I do not have any questions; however 2-29 is clear in that it states as you noted, for the period intervening between the occurrence of the vacancy and the next regular election.

    This is not open to interpretation, it clearly states between two periods of time. That time is between when the vacancy occurred and prior to the next regular election, which is on Nov. 2, 2021, not in November 2023. The vacancy occurred on Oct. 7, 2021 [Editor’s Note: Aragon resigned on Sept. 22], and the next regular election is on Nov 2, 2021.

    The fact that commissioner Aragon resigned before that seat could be placed on the ballot for the next regular election is irrelevant.
    The seat should and needs to be filled prior to the next regular election as stated in 2-29.

    I fail to see how the commission’s action was not a violation of code 2-29.

    In addition, this has created the ability for a losing former commissioner to be re-seated back on the commission, a clear contradiction to the election results and the people’s will. At the minimum, this was ignorance of the code or a deliberate attempt to circumnavigate an election which can be interpreted as an attempt at election fraud. Even if the commissioner’s action is found not to be a violation by the Attorney General, it is certainly unethical at the very least.

    I stand by my complaint and I am very disappointed that the Police Department, as well as the city, has decided to try and interpret this complaint instead of following the proper legal path to determine the complaints validity. The validity of this complaint should be determined by the proper legal authority.

    I will continue to pursue this very important issue as the future of our city is at stake.

    Rick Dumiak

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