by Kathleen Sloan | September 14, 2021
4 min read
In defense of her recommendation that the city impose a monthly fee on those residents who refuse to accept smart meter technology, Commissioner Frances Luna offered the analogy that, in an age of computers, “if you use a typewriter, you have to pay a special fee.” Source: illumination.duke-energy.com

To date, two Truth or Consequences residents, Ariel Dougherty and Ron Fenn, have appealed the city’s imposition of a $50 monthly fee on city utility customers who do not wish to have their analog meter readers replaced by smart meters.

The two appeals arguing that the charge was punitive were heard—and denied—by the city commission at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The commission’s refusal to drop or lower the charge (the purpose of which has never been clarified) will affect more than the city-estimated seven electric customers who have blocked the installation of smart meters at their homes. The city plans to install smart meter readers at the properties of all municipal water customers. After an earlier round of appeals protesting the smart meters’ mandatory installation, the commission passed a motion giving customers the right to opt-out, but imposed a $50 monthly surcharge on those who exercised that right.

Dougherty and Fenn were among those citizens who had previously appealed the electric department’s attempt to install smart meters at their homes. These appeals were heard by the city commission on Jan. 27. At that time, the commission did not address any of the arguments posed in writing and orally by Dougherty and Fenn. They ignored the appellants’ voluminous research on the unresolved health and safety questions surrounding smart meter technology, their personal health concerns and their claims of inequality of treatment and lack of due process.

Instead of considering the legal documentation of the appeals before them, City Commissioner Frances Luna cut off the commission’s deliberations by putting a motion on the floor. In the future, utility customers would be given an opt-out and charged a $50 monthly fee to retain their analog meter readers. The motion was passed unanimously by the city commission, abruptly ending what should have been a quasi-judicial hearing, with a ruling about whether they would be exempted from smart meter installation handed down to both Dougherty and Fenn based on the merits of their appeals.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office subsequently informed the City of Truth or Consequences that the motion was not legal, since the imposition of a meter-reading fee had not been on the Jan. 27 agenda. The Open Meetings Act states that only matters on the agenda may be acted upon. This OMA violation was corrected by the city commission at its Aug. 25 meeting, when the commissioners approved a resolution (included on the agenda) that imposed the fee.

For the record, an article published in the Sept. 10 issue of the Sierra County Sentinel that referred to the existence of an “opt-out ordinance” was incorrect. Imposing the fee via resolution sidestepped the rigor of law-making via ordinance. Unlike proposed ordinances, resolutions do not require advance publication in legal ads and a public hearing that has also been publicized in a legal ad.

The T or C commission has presented no evidence justifying the high amount of the fee. During the Jan. 27 commission meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister said Sierra Electric Cooperative charges a “$50 trip fee,” and so should T or C for reading a meter manually. Sierra Electric services a much greater, more rural territory, making their travel costs much higher than those incurred in T or C’s concentrated customer service area.

Several T or C residents, including Dougherty, Fenn and Rick Dumiak, have asked the commission during public comment at regular commission meetings how the city can charge $50 to read a meter at the same time that it has charged for many years an $8 base fee per residential electric customer, supposedly to partially cover meter reading. Over the last six months, they have repeatedly asked the commission to explain what the $8 fee covers, with no response. 

The commissioners’ statements on the purpose of the fee differ. Forrister said it’s a trip fee, but at the Sept. 8 meeting, Commissioner Luna stated the fee was for “special equipment” and “special treatment.” She went on to note that the older meter technology might not be available in the future. Luna concluded her attempt to provide a rationale for the amount of the monthly charge by offering the analogy that, in an age of computers, “if you use a typewriter, you have to pay a special fee.”

Dougherty’s and Fenn’s oral arguments seeking relief from the fee were cut short during their second appeals hearings on Sept. 8. Dougherty raised a point of order, noting that the city commission had not received her appeal documents, judging by the contents of the meeting packets that had been posted on the city’s website on Sept. 3.

Mayor Sandra Whitehead interrupted Dougherty and ordered her to sit down.  Forrister held up a document, asking: “Is this it? The three pages?” Dougherty’s appeal document was five pages long.

Whitehead moved on with the appeal proceedings, preventing the resolution of the question of whether the commissioners had received or read the legal record of Dougherty’s arguments. They nonetheless denied her appeal. 

During his oral argument, Fenn proclaimed: “I don’t think you’ll listen; I think you’ve already made up your minds.”

“That’s right,” Mayor Whitehead confirmed.

Her remark was followed by the city commission’s unanimous vote to deny Fenn’s appeal. 

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.

1 thought on “Unmoved!”

  1. Sounds like a kangaroo court to me. Some of these commissioners are people I voted for—I’m embarrassed, having our citizens treated this way. Again.

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