Told the City “misappropriated” $300,000 from Police Department, City Commission says nothing

by Kathleen Sloan | May 30, 2020
5 min read
​Truth or Consequences City Manager Morris Madrid dropped a bombshell as he was going over the preliminary budget and the City Commission said nothing. 

Madrid, without giving a date, said the City “misappropriated” $300,000 of the Gross Receipts Tax approved about ten years ago to pay benefits and salaries for police officers to stop the problematic turnover in the department.  

Madrid said the money was used to build the animal shelter instead, “which is not part of the police department,” and it would be paid back in two parts, not naming when. 

The City Commission said nothing, beyond Randall Aragon seeking assurance that “it will be paid back?” 

Aragon used to be the chief of police for the City, until he was fired by Madrid last fall for unstated reasons. 

The Sierra County Sun asked City Commissioners if they were aware of the misappropriation before Madrid revealed it in the May 27 meeting. 

The Sun also asked whether the money was misappropriated under Madrid or prior-City Manager Juan Fuentes. 

The Sun asked Aragon in particular if he was chief of police at the time. 

Aragon was the only City Commissioner who answered. 

“Mr. Madrid caught this GRT mistake early in his tenure,” Aragon said, “and communicated this revelation at a Commission Meeting shortly after being hired in 2019.

“This was under my watch and he mentioned that this would be corrected and be coordinated with the Department of Finance and Administration.

“Suggest you chat with Mr. Madrid or the Mayor to find out how this ‘payback’ to the PD is being processed.” 

Madrid was hired around December 2018, therefore the misappropriation was discovered about a year and a half ago, if Aragon is correct. 

The misappropriation was done by prior-City Manager Juan Fuentes, since the animal shelter opened April 2018, according to one of the workers, which is more than two years ago.  

Mayor Sandra Whitehead and City Commissioner Paul Baca were and still are on the board. 

The City Commission, responsible for fiscal oversight, obviously didn’t ask enough questions about the animal shelter’s funding to determine the money source—or worse—they knew about the money source and colluded in the misappropriation. The Sun asked Commissioners which it was and got no answer. 

It is also apparent the prior board, even when told by Madrid of the misappropriation, did nothing in the last year and a half to correct it. 

Aragon’s statement implies Fuentes made a “mistake.” This is impossible. 

Fuentes was city manager for about ten years when the misappropriation occurred. He was finance director before that, both jobs requiring he know spending rules on GRT funds. 

In addition, Fuentes was twice publicly corrected for misappropriating and attempting to misappropriate GRT. 

First he was caught misappropriating Sierra Vista Hospital Gross Receipts Taxes shortly after he became city manager. Unlike then-Police Chief Randall Aragon, Sierra Vista Hospital’s then-CEO Dee Rush insisted the misappropriated money be paid back immediately. This reporter covered the incident for the Herald at the time. 

Second he was caught trying to misappropriate the same police department GRT to build a new police station, albeit with the collusion and approval by the police department and City Commission. The GRT was to provide the funding stream to float a $3-million bond for the project.  

The Herald re-ran the article written years before by this reporter. The GRT ordinance and public hearing determined the tax money was to be used for police salaries and benefits, to boost retention and recruitment and to stop the revolving door.  

The citizens, unprotected by the City Commission from misappropriation, succeeded in getting enough petition signatures to force the police-building project to the polls. It was voted down. 

Madrid, along with Finance Director Carol Kirkpatrick, said at the May 27 budget presentation that police department GRT will no longer be deposited in the General Fund and then transferred over to the police department. Now it will go directly to the police department. 

The City Commission said nothing, but this ensures even less financial oversight will occur by non-elected officials. 

It should be noted that the City’s auditing firm, Patillo, Brown & Hill, did not discover the GRT misappropriation. It has looked at the same issues for the last three years, especially the golf courses’ cash drawer, failing to dig deeply into City books. The City recently renewed its contract. 

The City’s prior auditing firm, AXIOM, dug deeply, noting the lack of financial controls. The company lasted one year. 

Other cities have financial policies in place that make the city board fiscally responsible. They often do so by placing a cap on what the city manager can spend, requiring board approval for purchases above $5,000 or so for small towns and $50,000 for bigger cities. 

Other cities also have financial policies that do not allow deposits and transfers above a certain dollar amount without city-board approval or several cross-signatures by financial officers. 

Truth or Consequences’ City Commission has no such policies.  

Therefore it is no surprise that the misuse of police department GRT is continuing. 

Madrid informed the City Commission the police department would be getting raises, repeating the same problem. The City needs to stop the turnover and attract officers. He was also explaining why the General Fund was spending more than last year—salary increases—and the City Commission said nothing. 

Therefore Madrid and the current City Commission are also not using the police department GRT for its intended purpose, to pay for police department salaries, demonstrating the continuing lack of financial oversight. 

The General Fund will spend $400,000 more than last year, mostly for police and other salary increases. The major money source for the General Fund is the people’s utility fees, which are going up at an exorbitant rate.

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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