Preview: City of Truth or Consequences City Commission Nov. 13 meeting

by Kathleen Sloan | May 2, 2020
5 min read
The Truth or Consequences City Commission meeting is packed to the rafters with important items.

There are two important presentations to be given, neither with back-up materials in the city packet. 

First, the project manager from Wilson & Company, Alfredo Holguin, will give a presentation on the $9.4-million water and wastewater project the city will undertake over the next three years, if a loan agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is approved, which is later in the agenda. 

Second, Landis + Gyr, the company hired for $1 million to supply smart meters for the city’s 4,100 electric-utility customers will give a presentation. 

There has been public push-back over the smart-meter purchase. Various people have gone to the mic during public comment to state health problems are related to the electro-magnetic waves the machines emit. People have also complained the City Commission purchased the meters without public input, although customer fees will pay for them. 

Mayor Pro-tem Kathy Clark promised she would put the issue of purchasing smart meters on the agenda, but this allows for no question-and-answer participation with the City Commission or the presenter, since it is not a public hearing. Public comment has been held until after the presentation, however, which allows speakers three minutes of one-way communication. 

Under “public hearings” is an ordinance to enter into a loan agreement with the New Mexico Environment Department, which will pay for repairs to a vacuum sanitary sewer system that services about 300 customers between the river and Veater Street. The loan is $373,000 at 1.2 percent interest over 20 years. NMED is giving the city a grant of $100,000, which will also go to completing the project.  

Under “ordinances/resolutions/zoning” are several items for discussion and possible action.  

The city commission will discuss an ordinance that proposes to change the Planning and Zoning Commission from five to three members. Several years ago the P&Z members resigned and were never replaced. This item was put on the agenda by City Clerk Renee Cantin. 

The ordinance states it will amend the city code Chapter 16, section 11-2-2, parts D and F, but it only includes a change to part D, simply striking out “five” and substituting “three.” Part F states a simple majority vote of a quorum is necessary to approve a measure. If the City Commission approves the ordinance, two members could pass a measure if one member were absent. 

The Planning and Zoning Commission has final approval on home-occupation permits and conditional-use permits. All other planning and zoning decisions by the P&Z board go to the City Commission as recommendations.  

The number of Planning and Zoning Commissioners is also addressed in Article IV, “Boards and Commissions,” of the city code, which also states that board will have five members. Amending this part of the code is not addressed in the proposed ordinance. 

The next item is a resolution “authorizing indebtedness for the purpose of providing a portion of the cost of acquiring, constructing, enlarging and improving, and or extending the community water system.” The debt is for a nearly $5.5 million revenue-bond. 

A bond or bonds would be sold by the city, the sale to be overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office. No interest rate can be set until the bond issue, but a plug-in value of 2.125 percent over 40 years is proposed in the resolution. 

The city must prove it has 2,703 residential and 555 non-residential sewer and water customers who will generate $1,323,613 in bill-paying revenue a year before the Rural Development Office will agree to the loan, according to a letter from that office. 

The USDA will give the city a grant of nearly $4 million, bringing the project total up to $9.4 million. 

The Rural Development Office letter states the project will consist of the following: 
–Replace 32,800 linear feet of 6-inch, 8-inch and 12-inch old and leaking lines on Broadway, Main, Pershing, Foch, Daniels, McAdoo, N. Broadway and Austin streets. The document does not clarify if the lines are water and sewer lines. 
–Replace gas chlorination system at the Cook Street Facility.
–Install variable booster drives on existing booster pumps at the Cook Street Facility.
–Install a new backup generator at the Cook Street Facility.
–Upgrade the drinking water SCADA/HMI system (supervisory control and data acquisition/human machine interface system).
–Replace remote terminal units at the Cook Street Facility, well #1 and booster station, well #2, well #4, well #6, well #7, well #8, Morgan Tank and Booster Station, Pershing Booster Station, Cemetery Road Tanks and Dispatch Center. 

The city must consult with the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office to avoid damage to historic properties in the Hot Springs District, according to the Rural Development Office letter. 

There is another “debt authorizing” resolution on the agenda for $925,000. This is essentially a bridge loan to start the $9.4-million water and wastewater project, to be given by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation. The RCAC is a non-profit organization that works with low-income communities, especially on water-system improvements, to ensure they have clean drinking water. 

No details about the loan are in the packet. 

There is a resolution for a complex budget adjustment that gives no summary of the impact to the general fund. 

It appears the city will be the pass-through agent for $600,000 in Senior-Joint-Office-on-Aging funds to be used for building renovations and vehicle purchases. In addition, the water department will spend $55,000, the electric department will spend almost $250,000, the street department will spend $40,000, the wastewater department $48,000, the solid waste department $20,000 more than budgeted. 

Near the end of the agenda City Commissioner George Szigeti will address the issue of electric rates for the city-owned utility. Evidently the Public Utility Advisory Board recommended the rates be lowered.  

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.

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