Williamsburg trustee and T or C commission candidates make the case for their election at public forum, Part 2

by Kathleen Sloan | October 22, 2021
8 min read
Source: League of Women Voters

Editor’s Note: This three-part series reports on which candidates showed up at Tuesday’s forum at the Albert J. Lyon Event Center and what they revealed about their qualifications and grasp of the challenges facing the bodies they seek to lead. Part 2 covers the candidates running for Village of Williamsburg trustee and City of Truth or Consequences commissioner.

Three community members presided at a local government candidates forum held at Sierra County’s Albert J. Lyon Event Center on Oct. 19, two weeks before the general election on Nov. 2.

Village of Williamsburg resident and community event planner Denise Addie hosted, while Elephant Butte real estate agent and resident Cathy Vickers and Truth or Consequences real estate agent and resident Sid Bryant served as moderators of the candidates Q & A sessions.

The local governments included in the forum were the Truth or Consequences Municipal School Board (see Part 1), Village of Williamsburg Board of Trustees, Truth or Consequences City Commission and the Elephant Butte City Council.

Addie said the candidate questions were generated by local residents from each jurisdiction. Candidates chose their questions from a hat, but since there were only three or four questions to choose from, nearly the same questions were answered by each candidate.

Each candidate was given one minute for an introductory statement and another minute to make a closing statement after the Q & A.


Addie explained that Carol L. Woods chose not to attend the forum because she is running unopposed for another term as municipal judge. Trustee candidates William N. Frazier, Paul James Mora and Majorie E. Powey did not want to attend an indoor event that they feared would further community spread of the COVID-19 virus, Addie said.  

Two seats are open on the five-member board, with Frazier, Misty Gwen Gustin and Kell A. E. Took and running for one of the seats and Paul James Mora running against incumbent Majorie E. Powey for the other. Both positions are for four-year terms.


Gustin said she is the owner of Windmill RV Park in the village. She has four children, among them Amanda Forrister, who is currently mayor pro tem of the Truth or Consequences City Commission. Gustin said she has 30 years of experience in “accounting and administration, and I have a lot of common sense.”

Asked what she would make her top three priorities, if elected, Gustin said: “I would increase transparency. When development projects are in the works, citizens don’t find out until later.” Her second priority would be “infrastructure and roads.” Her third priority would be to “protect the environment.” “We need to build green,” she elaborated.

During her closing, Gustin said: “The village needs to have a development strategy that benefits all citizens. It’s gotten away from the understanding that they work for the people.”


Took currently works for Sierra County and worked for the New Mexico State Veterans Home in the past. Her duties involve coordinating with state and local governments. “I would like to work with all other communities to strengthen Sierra County and hopefully bring some new ideas,” she said in her introduction.

Asked about her top three priorities, Took said, if elected, she would work to “increase public input, to find out what village residents want.” Her second priority would be “to strengthen ties to other local governments to work on economic development.” Her third priority echoed Gustin’s. “The environment,” Took said, “needs to be protected, as well.”


Running for a third four-year term, Mayor Sandra Whitehead texted Addie minutes before the start of the forum to announce that she would not be attending because “she may have been exposed to the virus,” Addie told the Sun.

Addie offered no explanation for the absences of incumbent City Commissioner Paul Baca and candidates Ron Fenn and Joseph Louis Schwab.

There are three seats open on the T or C city commission.

Candidates vying for Position 1, which is for a four-year term, are Whitehead and Destiny D. Mitchell.

Candidates vying for Position 3, which is for a four-year term, are Baca, Merry Jo Fahl and Ingo Hoeppner.

Position 4 is for a two-year term, having been vacated by Brendan Tolley four months after he was sworn in in 2020. Tolley’s successor, Frances Luna, who was appointed to the position last October, is not running. Competing for the seat are Ron Fenn, Rolf M. Hechler and Joseph Louis Schwab.


Mitchell introduced herself as a “lifelong resident of Sierra County,” who graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1998. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in geography at state universities.

She has served as a volunteer leader of various community organizations, including “teen court as a youth,” the T or C recreation advisory board and MainStreet Truth or Consequences.

“I was a city employee for 20 years, mostly seasonal,” Mitchell said. “It gave me an understanding of how the city does and doesn’t function. I will make sure we can create progress for all members of the community. I am a voice for youth and seniors.”

“In this age of division, how can we create a family atmosphere?” Mitchell was asked. Looking around the auditorium, she responded,: “I see about 60 percent without masks and 40 percent with in this age of division. Communication is all about what we all consider collectively acceptable and choose to move forward with in a healthful way.”

Mitchell promised to be receptive to community input. “Some [residents] bring complaints, some lacking solutions,” she said. “We should be listening to our constituents who could give us insights into problems we have, not just ignoring problems. We need to find an amicable balance.”

Given the constraints on the city’s budget, Mitchell was asked on what issues she would focus.

“I’m not familiar with the current city budget,” she acknowledged, “but know we need to focus on infrastructure and support for T or C. When I started 20 years ago, 15 people worked in the recreation department. Now four people work there. It is difficult for one to person to take on more and more. We need to find a way to work within the budget so we can get things done that will improve quality of life.”

In her closing, Mitchell said, “I would be held accountable to you. If I don’t have the answer, I will find out. I am capable of learning.”


Hoeppner, the proprietor of Ingo’s Art Café downtown, said he is “an air force veteran,” who was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base for 16 years. He is also a founding member of the nonprofit local youth organization, ACT (Acknowledge Create Teach). Currently he serves on the city’s recreation advisory board.

Hoeppner was asked to comment on conditions at the municipal pool. “When it comes to the recreation budget, we never have money,” he responded. “We are trying to plan ahead. I’m happy we remodeled Ralph Edwards Park. We got the leaks fixed at the pool, but there is nothing in the budget for enclosure. I hope we can get grants. I am fighting that our playgrounds get shade structures and a new skate park.”

Asked how he would enhance the downtown historic district, Hoeppner said “beautification through grants” was possible. He emphasized the need for wayfinding signs.

In his closing, Hoeppner invited people to stop by his coffee shop with any additional questions for him.


Fahl introduced herself as a “lifelong resident,” who has “raised four sons here.” She “worked in every bank in town” before joining the staff of the Sierra County Soil and Water Conservation District, where she served for 30 years. “I learned how to work with state and federal agencies,” she said. One of the projects she spearheaded before she retired five years ago was the three-mile Healing Waters Trail. For the last couple of years she has been working as a volunteer leader of the Turtleback Trails project.

Fahl fielded the question about the community pool by observing that there are “lots of opportunities for grants” to improve it. “Maybe we could develop a hot springs pool system like Colorado,” she suggested.

“Pools and golf courses don’t make money,” Fahl continued. “They are services. We need to figure out how to make them work.”

Asked how she would help the historic district downtown, Fahl said its success is dependent on tourism and recreation. “When [visitors] come in, we want them to stay and eat and shop—and then go. We don’t have infrastructure to support significant growth.” Fahl recommended that the city work with MainStreet and the museum to promote the historic district.

In her closing, Fahl said: “I want my grandson to love this town. We need our kids to stay here. We need to be true partners to grow our community.”


Hechler served as a T or C city commissioner for four years, stepping down in 2019. Intending to be humorous, he said he is “up for a little more punishment.”

Having just spent $100,000 on remodeling his house, Hechler said he plans to make T or C his forever home. He and his wife moved to the area in 1987. Landing a job at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, he said “within seven years I was supervisor and then became regional manager,” overseeing nine state parks. Bored in retirement, he took a job at Spaceport America as a guard, eventually becoming “head of safety and security.”

Asked why he is the better choice than his opponents, Hechler said, referring to their failure to show up at the forum: “For one thing, I’m here.”

He went on to say: “My experience and background lends itself to being a city commissioner or even city manager.” His experience working at the state park gave him planning and zoning experience and enabled him to “know the many complex issues the city faces.”

Is Main Street downtown healthy? Hechler was asked. “It’s starting to be healthy,” he responded. “We [city commissioners] approved a [Local Economic Development Agency] grant for the T or C Brewery. We need to find a good replacement for Linda DeMarino [who recently resigned as MainStreet T or c director]. The hot springs is the heartbeat of our community. We need to work with the hot springs folks to enhance that. Our hot springs need to be open; our restaurants need to be open” in order to attract tourists and events such as golf tournaments.

During his closing, Hechler asked the audience to wait to vote until the Sierra County Sentinel newspaper published its Q & As with the candidates. “Be informed,” he advised, adding: “I want to do a good job for you.”

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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