Swingle puts key pieces of city governance in place

by Kathleen Sloan | September 29, 2021
8 min read
Source: Library of Congress

Truth or Consequences City Manager Bruce Swingle has had to build the airplane while flying it in the first four months of his tenure.  

So far, Swingle has handled two emergencies, patching up the city’s northern electrical transformer and repairing one of the remaining three out of eight city wells still operating to prevent the city from going dark and dry. He has confronted the city’s cash crisis, guiding the city commission through about $1.8 million in budget cuts, with more to come, since what cash remains must be directed to repairing the city’s long-neglected infrastructure.

At the Sept. 22 city commission meeting, Swingle presented some basic operating instructions for flying the plane. He proposed policies that didn’t exist before and offered replacements for others that were so out of date they were in violation of state law. He also again addressed the northern transformer, this time guiding its replacement. Competitive outside bids to fill key positions were accepted, followed by contract awards. Contracts soon to expire but that have not yet gone out to bid were extended to ensure that needed work was performed in the interim. 


Before securing commission approval of a thorough overhaul of the city’s personnel policy, Swingle reminded the commissioners of his bona fides in human resources. His 30 years of government HR experience has been recognized by the New Mexico Counties Association, which has called upon him to teach HR courses to county employees from around the state.

The city’s prior personnel policy was first written around 1988 and has been updated at various points since then. Swingle scrapped it altogether, noting: “It violated state law in several sections.” “This is current and correct with state law,” he said of the new policy, a document of more than 60 pages in length. It is “contemporary to best practices,” Swingle added.

When the new policy was first presented at the Sept. 8 meeting, the city commission requested that Swingle consider the many amendments proposed by resident Audon Trujillo, a former federal government contracting officer and project manager. Swingle reported on Sept. 22 that he and City Attorney Jay Rubin had examined Trujillo’s recommended changes and decided none of them should be incorporated. “The comments were not from an HR expert,” Swingle said, “and many of the suggestions did not apply.”

City Commissioner Randall Aragon responded to public comment by Trujillo and resident Ariel Dougherty advocating for the necessity of Trujillo’s suggested changes.

“Bruce [Swingle] is an expert at this,” Commissioner Aragon said. “He taught this stuff. Let’s stop this and move on.”

The city commission unanimously approved the resolution adopting the policy.


The procurement policy that Swingle also presented seems, upon examination, to closely mirror state law, covering bids, RFPs and multistep negotiation processes with bidders.

It, too, is an entirely new document, since the city’s existing procurement policy was outdated and “not comprehensive, Swingle explained.  

The city commission, without discussing or commenting on the 60-page document, unanimously adopted the policy via resolution.


Swingle had reported at the Sept. 8 commission meeting that he had been “surprised to learn” that the city had no risk control program. T or C had only a safety program dating from the late 1980s on the books, he said.  

The new Risk Control Program presented by Swingle on Sept. 22 is a 40-page document. The opening “Policy Statement” summarizes its purpose: “It is the policy of the city to protect its human, capital and financial resources to the maximum extent possible from adverse consequences. Every effort will be made to reduce and/or eliminate losses that result in employee injuries, vehicular accidents and damage to facilities, properties and liability, which may arise from city services.”

The city manager is responsible for the overall implementation of the policy. Department heads are responsible for training staff and ensuring that the policy is followed within their respective departments. Employees are responsible for knowing and following the policy.

Since activities and risks vary by department, each department head will develop specific rules and procedures for their employees. Documented biannual inspections will be conducted on each department’s facilities, equipment and operations.

According to the program documentation, a “safety committee” will be formed by the city manager to aid in “planning, maintaining and monitoring this program.”

The city commission unanimously adopted the program via resolution, with no discussion.


By state law, a city may contract with an attorney to provide legal services for a period of up to four years. City Attorney Jay Rubin’s four-year contract endedabout six months ago, but, as Swingle explained to the commissioners, the city was unable to issue a new RFP for legal services because the responsible staff member had left T or C’s employ. The commission agreed to extend Rubin’s contract, but it did so beyond the limit set by state procurement code.

Swingle made sure an RFP for legal services was one of the first issued when a new staff person was in place. The RFP had a three-week response time and garnered three respondents: Rubin, the city’s attorney for decades; the Santa Fe law firm Cuddy & McCarthy; and Santa Fe’s Coppler Law Firm, whose attorney John Appel has frequently consulted on city legal matters over the last decade.

During public comment, Ariel Dougherty expressed her opinion that the RFP’s short lead time and limited advertising reach were the reasons why so few law firms responded. The time limit was typical, Swingle said, and so was the handful of respondents, given T or C’s status as a small rural city located at a far remove from major urban areas.

Audon Trujillo complained that the evaluation team—Swingle, City Clerk Angela Torres and Assistant City Manager Traci Alvarez—were not legal experts. The chosen staff members “use legal services,” Swingle responded.  

Rubin earned 95 points, Coppler 90 and Cuddy 83 in the RFP scoring. Swingle explained the Cuddy firm’s pricing proposal was too vague to estimate how much its services would cost. Swingle, investigating further, was told that, should the firm have previously drafted needed resolutions or ordinances, T or C would incur no charge for using them. Otherwise, an undetermined fee would be charged. “We could spend a quarter-million dollars” having routine documents drafted, Swingle noted.

The city commission unanimously awarded the RFP to Rubin and then later unanimously approved Rubin’s contract. The contract is for one year, renewable for up to four years. Rubin’s hourly rate is $190. His compensation is capped at $66,000 a year, except for court filing fees, which will be billed separately. He is expected to work nearly 350 hours a year, or an average of about seven hours a week.

The city’s contract with Coppler for John Appel’s services, to be billed at $190 an hour, along with a schedule of other service costs, was extended last June to the end of September. The city commission approved a second extension through June 30, 2022, providing city staff time to develop an RFP for ancillary legal services.

Coppler will be paid up to nearly $60,000 during the nine-month contract period, which includes about $5,000 in gross receipts taxes that are collected from independent contractors for their services.


Chad Rosaker of Tech 45 Services of Las Cruces has served as the manager of T or C’s municipal airport for about a year under a contract let without going out to competitive bid. The city commission previously approved two three-month extensions of Tech 45’s contract to give city staff time to draft a more extensive RFP for a fixed-base operator. The city commission approved a third three-month extension on Sept. 22, covering October through New Year’s Day.

Over the three-month contract period Tech 45 will be paid $11,392, which includes gross receipts taxes the company must pay as an independent contractor.


Long-time Code Compliance Officer Raymond Chavez has retired. At Swingle’s request, the city commission unanimously approved the appointment of Jamie Sweeney as the “designated zoning official” charged with enforcing the city’s property and building codes. Ms. Sweeney’s formal appointment to the position was necessary to enable her to legally enter private property.


There were four respondents to the city’s RFP to replace the northern transformer. Their bids were graded by Bo Easley, the director of the city electric department; Kenneth Moran, the department’s foreman; and Steve House, the city’s electrical subcontractor, who is the owner and chief executive officer of Triple H Solar, located in Rio Rancho.

Virginia Transformer Corporation was deemed nonresponsive. The qualified three respondents were:

American Electrical Testing, which earned 1,200 points in the RFP scoring, and submitted a bid of $1,188,815, including gross receipt taxes

Bixby Electric earned 550 points and earned $1,158,000, not including GRT.

McKinley Sales, which also earned 550 points, was the lowest bidder at $913,000, not including GRT.

American Electrical and Bixby Electric stated delivery time would be within 34 weeks, while McKinley Sales promised delivery within 58 weeks.

The evaluation team recommended that American Electrical, a national company based in Foxboro, Mass., be awarded the bid, provided the city can secure the needed financing from the New Mexico Finance Authority. The city applied for financing last month and has not received a final decision.

The city commission awarded the RFP unanimously to American Electrical, pending financing, with no discussion.

The commission then approved a nearly $1.2 million contract with American Electrical to replace the northern transformer, also pending financing.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com 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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