Follow-up: $1-million electric-utility smart meters purchase relied on vendor information

by Kathleen Sloan | May 5, 2020
4 min read
​Document requests are in and it’s official. The City of Truth or Consequences did no planning or cost analysis, relying on vendor information to arrive at the decision to purchase $1 million in smart meters. 

The city-owned utility has 4,149 electric customers. No state law requires citizen approval or input in the expenditure of cash from electric-fee revenues, which will fund the purchase.

The City Commission voted unanimously Aug. 27 to purchase the meters by mere motion. Resolutions and ordinances can be forced to referendum or special election by 20 percent of city voters, but motions by the board cannot. Therefore the purchase is probably a done deal. 

There was no information in the agenda packet on the purchase and the price was given verbally–not in writing–by City Manager Morris Madrid just before the vote. Even if the public could have learned of the action by reading the packet before the meeting, there was no public input allowed. 

Neither the city nor the electric department analyzes the data from its analog meters to find transmission leaks in the city-owned $7-million business. Yet the city will now go to a more sophisticated system, supposedly with the knowledge of how to utilizing the data, according to City Manager Morris Madrid, making it “more efficient.”  

The city could not produce a cost-benefit analysis or an electric-utility management plan that demonstrates such equipment will deliver the claimed efficiencies. 

The Sierra County Sun looked at a study the city purchased from an engineering firm in 2015, tasked with assessing electric department equipment. The firm was hired after the city’s 2014 comprehensive plan identified a 15-percent to 20-percent energy loss due to old transmission lines and transformers. 

The study made no mention of smart meters. However, if the city had methodically completed the upgrades suggested in the study, the preparation would serve as a rationale for the upgrade to smart meters. 

Asked if any of the upgrades had been done, City Commissioner George Szigeti said “yes,” but when asked for proof, Madrid and Szigeti said the Sierra County Sun would have to look through the last four years of Public Utility Advisory Board minutes. The Sun pointed out it would be guessing or surmising what might be the highly-technical upgrades referred to in the study and requested the city produce the documents. Madrid insisted it was the Sun’s and the public’s “responsibility to inform themselves.” 

If the city’s past practices are a guide, it is unlikely methodical upgrades have been done. The study made clear the engineering firm couldn’t start assessing equipment until it did an inventory of the city’s equipment, which had never been done. Little testing had been done of equipment, the study noted. The electric department still has not put an equipment-testing or asset-management plan in place since the 2015 study; no such document exists. 

City Commissioner George Szigeti played an important part in the recent purchase of smart meters. He was on the Public Utility Advisory Board for years. He went off the board when he was appointed several months ago by the City Commission to take Commissioner Steve Green’s place, who subsequently resigned. 

Szigeti was the only City Commissioner who answered the Sierra County Sun’s questions, perhaps answering for the board, which would explain why he copied his fellow commissioners in the email response, a violation of the Open Meetings Act.  

In his email, Szigeti said the PUAB recommended the City Commission sign a $9-million “performance contract” with YESCO to replace all water and electric meters, taking 25 years to pay it off through supposed efficiency savings. The City Commission declined the purchase in 2018 as too expensive, he said. 

“This led us to the current contract,” Szigeti said. “As you can see, $1 million is substantially less than the original $9 million proposal, even if it does not include the water meters. It was decided to let the Electric Department pay for the electric meters and AMI backbone, because the department has the budget to support this expense. The water meters can be added to the system a few at a time as money becomes available.”

Therefore Szigeti relates the current purchase to the preceding four years of discussion with YESCO, even though a different vendor is in play. The vast difference in cost, between $9 million and $1 million for about half the smart meters demonstrates it is critical for the city not to rely on a vendor’s cost analysis or price quote or promise of efficiency savings. Yet that is what the City Commission has done, with city customers paying for the $1-million purchase. 

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