T or C city commission news roundup

by Kathleen Sloan | June 24, 2021
9 min read
Source: emojipedia

The Truth or Consequences City Commission held a 3.25-hour meeting on June 23 at which several items of import, including the city’s water emergency, “dire” financial straits and a resolution confirming the three commission seats up for election in November, were discussed, reported and/or acted upon.


City Manager Bruce Swingle said during his report at the end of the meeting that he had an “urgent update” related to the June 19 water emergency notice posted on the city’s public information Facebook page, which stated:

Message from the City Manager: Water Usage

Due to extreme drought conditions and the recent heat wave, the City’s water production is not keeping pace with water consumption. We are asking citizens to conserve water to the extent possible for the next few weeks. Thank you for your cooperation.

Swingle reported that the city itself had stopped irrigating land that used “potable water” and had asked “high water users” to conserve and “all agreed.” He also reported that Water and Wastewater Department Director Jesse Cole had texted him before the meeting with an update that the city had made headway in storing up water.

With only two of eight wells in the city’s well field operational, Swingle informed the city commission that, given the water crisis, he had made an emergency purchase of services to fix Well 7, rather than waiting for bids submitted in response to a request for proposals to repair Wells 7 and 6.

“They [an unnamed company] are working on it as we speak,” Swingle said, adding that he expected the work to be completed the following day.

Well 6 “is not an emergency and can wait,” Swingle said, implying that the RFP results will determine what company is hired to fix that well.

Since Well 7 will soon be fixed, the water emergency will be over “before the weekend,” Swingle advised the commissioners.

For more information on the state of city wells, including Wells 6 and 7, see the Sun’s “Related” article at the end of this story.


The city’s finances are “really in dire straits,” Swingle said in his report, addressing the issue of insufficient cash flow.

“Carol [Chief Financial Officer Kirkpatrick] is having kittens,” Swingle said. “There is a lot of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’”

Citing the $2.7 million that must be transferred out of the electric, water, wastewater and solid waste utility funds to cover expenses, Swingle acknowledged: “We are taking every penny they have for the General Fund.”

The city’s recent emergency purchases—repair of an electric transformer and the cleaning of Well 7 and trouble-shooting its pump—are evidence of the utility departments’ not having enough money to take care of ongoing maintenance and equipment replacement, Swingle said.

“This has to stop now. You will get through this year if the projections [for revenue] are accurate, but you will have nothing [to transfer] the following year,” Swingle said.

“This has been going on for decades,” Swingle said, because past city commissions have not wanted “to make hard decisions.”

He announced that he would take the 2021-2022 budget projections of revenue, expenditures and transfers to senior staff “to get their feedback.” The next step will be to hold a budget workshop with the city commissioners and senior staff. “And we need to do so immediately,” Swingle said, “within the next two weeks.”

Swingle warned that the city’s property taxes and gross receipt taxes produce very little revenue—a situation that will have to change, he said, despite “a large segment of the community not wanting to increase revenue.”

Swingle did not identify the means by which to increase revenue. He had stated earlier that the city already collects 8.75 cents per dollar in GRT, a rate that, he had noted, is among the highest in the state. The state’s GRT contribution to city coffers is about $1.5 million a year, Swingle said, which is nearly equivalent to the city’s yearly local GRT revenue. 


The city had expected to pay nearly $33,000 to fix one of the city’s two transformers, Swingle reported. “But the company that was supposed to do the work went to Colorado at the eleventh hour,” Swingle said, forcing the city to scramble to find another vendor to do the emergency repair.

The second company charged nearly $50,000, Swingle reported.


The city commission heard T or C resident Rick Dumiak’s appeal of what he deemed to be the personally injurious installation of a smart meter to read his residential electricity use. Dumiak had appealed the meter’s installation to City Manager Swingle. It was denied. Then he appealed Swingle’s denial to the city commission.

Dumiak proved through correspondence with previous City Manager Morris Madrid that he only accepted the installation of a smart meter to read his residential electricity use six months ago “under duress.” He was told his power would be cut off if he did not accept the meter, Dumiak demonstrated, producing the cut-off notice at his June 23 hearing.

“Mr. Dumiak has proven the point he has been trying to fight having a smart meter from the beginning,” Commissioner Frances Luna said.

“I don’t want a smart meter, bottom line. It’s killing me,” Dumiak said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to have Dumiak’s smart meter replaced with a digital meter, since his original analog meter has been thrown away. Dumiak said it was “debatable” whether the radio-frequency transmissions from the digital meter are harmless, but accepted the decision without further comment.

The issue of whether Dumiak and others refusing smart meters will have to pay a monthly trip and service fee of $50 to have their digital or analog meters read manually will be determined at the next city commission meeting, Swingle said. He and City Attorney Jaime (Jay) Rubin spoke with Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp on June 22 about Kreienkamp’s determination that the city commission had violated the Open Meetings Act when voting to institute the $50 fee. Rubin’s arguments did not sway the assistant attorney general, who did not change his earlier ruling, Swingle said.

A discussion of how to correct the OMA violations will be on the commission’s next meeting agenda.


The first of two public hearings were held on the city’s five-year 2022-2027 Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan that must be updated every year, according to state law.

The ICIP informs planning and financing by state agencies and the state legislature.

Assistant City Manager Traci Alvarez led the public hearing, for which no list or description of last year’s projects was provided. When Sophie Peron asked for last year’s ICIP list, Alvarez said: “It can be found on the DFA website.”

Citizens taking the time and trouble to consult the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration website would not find an update on which of T or C’s previously prioritized ICIP projects may have been funded since last year, nor did Alvarez provide one at the meeting.

Resident Ariel Dougherty gave the only public input, suggesting that the electric yard and buildings across the street from Ralph Edwards Park be converted to a community center. She suggested park patrons using the park could park in the electric yard. This would allow the city to remove the parking lot recently constructed within Ralph Edwards Park next to the river, runoff from which poses a water pollution hazard. 


The July 26, 2020, massive rain that dropped about five inches in an hour caused the Cantrell Dam “to breach, at least in one location,” Swingle said, flooding parts of Williamsburg and the southwestern end of T or C.

The city has been responsible for the dam’s maintenance since 2003, according to correspondence Swingle said he had unearthed from the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, confirming the city’s responsibility. Swingle could not find documents on the dam’s original construction or purpose, he said.

A grant/loan to design a renovation of the dam was sought from the water trust board of the New Mexico Finance Authority with the approval of the T or C city commission in September 2020.

Assistant City Manager Traci Alvarez asked the commission to approve the receipt of the grant/loan, which has been awarded by NMFA. The grant is for$450,000. The loan portion is $300,000, to be paid back over 20 years at 0 percent interest, along with .25 percent annual fee to cover NMFA administration costs. The city must also pay a $75,000 cash match to receive the grant/loan.

“It will cost several million dollars to rehabilitate the dam,” Swingle said. “This will just pay for the design costs.”

“We can’t afford not to do it,” he concluded, referring to the danger and damage caused by the dam’s breaching during the July flood event.

“Where are we going to get the money for the loan?” Commissioner Luna asked. Swingle suggested the city use part of the $1.4 million it had received from the federal government to aid in recovering from the pandemic. Although he did not mention the source of the federal dollars, he was probably referring to American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The commission approved the grant/loan unanimously.


City Clerk Angela Torres reminded the commissioners that the commission had approved a resolution in July 2020 to have the Sierra County Clerk run municipal elections. The switchover changed the election calendar. The city used to hold local elections in March, but now they will be held in November—on November 2 this year.

An election resolution, to be delivered to county clerk by June 24, was unanimously approved by the commission.

It stated that three commission seats will be open, including that held by Commissioner Luna, who was appointed by her fellow commissioners last September to fill Brendan Tolley’s seat. (Tolley resigned for health reasons in August 2020.) The person elected to the seat this November will finish out the final two years of Tolley’s four-year term.

Seats held by Mayor Sandra Whitehead and Commissioner Paul Baca are also up for election. Each is a four-year position.

Those interested in running must declare their candidacy on Aug. 24 at the county clerk’s office, Torres said. Write-in candidates may declare their candidacy on Aug. 31.


Last month the commissioners approved a resolution requiring that purchases or commitments costing more than $20,000, including contracts, memorandums of understanding and joint powers agreements, come before the commission for approval.

Swingle presented 33 items totaling nearly $6.6 million that were included in the draft 2021-2022 budget, also approved last month. He said he wanted to make sure the commission was “still comfortable” with the approved purchases.

The commissioners unanimously approved the purchases with no discussion.


The commission went into closed executive session to discuss possible or current litigation involving T or C law enforcement officers Erica Baker and Michael Lanford “pursuant to 10-15-1(H.7).” According to Clerk Torres, the commission took no action on that item in the open session following the closed session.

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.


T or C still mum about problems with city’s water wells, despite only two of eight working properly
by Kathleen Sloan | May 25, 2021

A legal ad in the Sierra County Sentinel’s May 21 edition was the first public notice and acknowledgment that two more wells in the city’s...

1 thought on “T or C city commission news roundup”

  1. Haruhuani Spruce

    Thank you, Kathleen Sloan, for this well-organized and concise report on the recent commision meeting.

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