Public outcry ignored, smart meters are still a go with City of Truth or Consequences

by Kathleen Sloan | May 2, 2020
5 min read
​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 are going forward with the purchase. 

At the Nov. 13 City Commission meeting, Chris Clark of Landis+Gyr was invited to speak in response to public outcry over the city’s recent smart-meter purchase. The company has a $1-million contract to install a radio-frequency operated smart-meter system for the city-owned electric company. The installation includes placing about 4,000 smart meters on commercial and residential buildings. He was given over 20 minutes and then answered questions from the City Commission.  

Under questioning from Mayor Pro-Tem Kathy Clark, he admitted the city had not done a cost analysis to ensure the $1-million being spent from electric-customer bill-paying revenue is a sound purchase. 

City Commissioner George Szigeti said YESCO, another smart meter company, presented a performance contract for $9 million, in which smart meters for the water and electric utilities would pay for itself in cost-efficiency savings in 20 years. After the electric-utility smart meters are purchased, water meters would cost another $500,000 or so, Szigeti said, since the “backbone” of the system will have been installed. The city would therefore pay about $1.5 million for the electric and water utilities’ smart meters.

“I feel confident in saying payback would be realized in 10 years,” Szigeti said, not addressing the huge cost disparity between YESCO’s and Landis+Gyr’s pricing, the former a performance contract, the latter an outright cash purchase.   

Mayor Pro-Tem Clark noted smart meters must have a life of more than 20 years to realize cost savings, breaking even at 20 years. Landis+Gyr’s Clark said their meters last 20 years, although technology may “outstrip” their utility in five-to-seven years. The city could always upgrade, he said, and the company will service the product for 20 years in any case.  

Mayor Pro-Tem Clark asked that customers be allowed to opt-out, which Landis+Gyr’s Clark agreed was a “good idea” and “quite common” among their customers, but no vote was taken on such a measure by her fellow commissioners and City Manager Morris Madrid said nothing. 

The fact that many electric companies allow customers to opt-out of smart meters—if they pay high fees– was not part of the discussion. Mayor Pro-Tem Clark, doing a quick search during the meeting, said only 2 percent opt-out, failing to recognize this may be because of high fees. 

Landis+Gyr’s Clark also emphasized the lack of danger from electro-magnetic waves, claiming the various equipment transmits only 82 seconds a day and people are safe a half-inch from a smart meter on the outside wall of their home, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s standards.  

The public was allowed three minutes at the mic and no interaction with the board. Eight people spoke against smart meters, emphasizing health hazards from electro-magnetic spikes, as well as the danger of meters overheating due to spikes, which cause fires. There are also fire hazards from lithium batteries. Lawsuits from resulting fires and massive uninstallation of faulty-reading smart meters are occurring across the U.S. and Canada, members of the public warned. 

Landis+Gyr’s Clark was allowed the last word, saying batteries are not in the meters to be installed for the electric utility at commercial and residential buildings. Water meters may not have a built-in electric power source, however, and may need batteries, which was not addressed. Lawsuits Landis+Gyr has faced or is facing were also not addressed. 

Activist Ron Fenn said the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which oversees commercially-owned utilities in the state, rejected electric-company PNM’s proposal to install 500,000 smart meters throughout the state, including Albuquerque. “Does the TorC Commission think it is superior or equal to the PRC?” he asked. 

City Commissioner George Szigeti had the last word, stating the PRC has only had three out of its slated five members for years and two members can sway a decision. 

Fenn said City Manager Morris Madrid and other city staff was in direct negotiation with smart-meter suppliers, yet also judged the seven companies who answered the city’s Request for Proposals. Although there were lower-cost responses, Landis+Gyr was awarded. Morris has faced “eight lawsuits for money owed,” Fenn said, and may have had “special interests in the highly un-transparent process.” 

The petition has 250 signatures, Fenn said, which have been verified as registered voters. Only 154 are needed to present the ordinance to the City Commission. It states a 10-year moratorium will occur on smart meters for any city utility. The City Commission then has a choice. It can adopt the ordinance as written. If it opposes or amends the ordinance, then it must go to a special election, allowing the people to decide the matter at the polls.

Citizen Jack Noel, who was successful in getting City Clerk Renee Cantin to approve the petition “as to form,” where Fenn did not succeed, noted that the state pays for special elections since a new law passed.  

City Commissioner George Szigeti refuted the information presented by his constituents by stating “anything can be found on the internet.” He recommended going to the World Health Organization website as a sound source, perhaps not realizing it has classified smart meters as a “class 2B carcinogen,” meaning they are possibly cancer causing. 

He also refuted the Sierra County Sun’s article for stating the city made the decision to purchase the smart meters with no public input, relying completely on vendor information, with no independent engineering study or cost analysis.

The Sun’s article was based on attending the Aug. 27 meeting at which the City Commission approved the $1-million purchase of smart meters from Landis+Gyr by mere motion, with no public comment allowed. In addition, the Sun’s Inspection of Public Records Act requests for independent studies all came back with “no such documents exist.” 

In refutation to lack of study and planning, Szigeti said, “The PUAB has been looking at this since 2014. RF (radio frequency) safety has been considered.” 

Concerning public input, Szigeti listed various Public Utility Advisory Board and City Commission meetings going back several years. At those meetings, Scott Griffen, an employee of Johnson Controls and later YESCO—smart-meter companies—presented performance-based contracts. All of the meetings were publicly noticed, he said, and the public could have given input. 

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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