An appropriate wrap-up

by Max Yeh | December 3, 2021
7 min read

News comes and goes, so you may not remember the hundreds of articles the Sierra County Sun published this past year—on the county commission’s passing the annual budget in secrecy, on Elephant Butte’s loss of details regarding expenditures from a $600,000 loan, on the complex of forces that control the amount of water in Elephant Butte Reservoir, on the troubles with the management of Sierra Vista Hospital, on the controversies besetting the governance of Truth or Consequences, on the daily ins and outs of the administrative life of this county. But, throughout this past year, the Sun has monitored, researched and investigated how our publicly elected and appointed officials and administrators have performed for us and put out this information for you in almost a daily stream of stories online.

Local news reports and analyzes local topics in the belief that an informed citizenship is the basis of democracy. This effort to provide our community with in-depth public-interest journalism has been the hard work and dedication of two people: Kathleen Sloan and Diana Tittle.

Diana is the Sun’s editor and de facto publisher. She not only helps to shape or assign stories, edits and fact-checks all the articles, commissions or finds the images that illustrate them and lays them out on our website, she also decides on the sidebars, curates the articles from other reporting sources that the Sun reposts and herself writes some of the stories and editorials. In her “spare time” Diana has also handled circulation, marketing and promotion and spearheaded fundraising efforts. And she does all this for free.

Kathleen is one of the fiercely dedicated local-government journalists in New Mexico. A former T or C Herald reporter, she began a blog called the Sierra County Sun in the fall of 2019 to help fill the gap left by the Herald’s closure. Kathleen’s knowledge of state law governing the conduct of local government and local codes is encyclopedic and underpins all the reporting she had done over the past two years. Not unexpectedly, our elected representatives and local government officials have not appreciated being held in her stories to high standards of accountability for following laws, regulations and norms and advancing the public interest. They routinely refuse to answer her questions or provide public documents upon her request. Instead of being discouraged, she has become a master at wielding New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act to pry out information about governmental doings that citizens have a right to know. The Campaign to Save the Sun in the summer of 2020 raised enough funds to develop Kathleen’s blog into a full-scale civic news source and keep her reporting on the state of the county through 2021.

Local and philanthropic support has sustained the Sun since its relaunch in October 2020. I think your donations have been well spent, that every article we have published has been a plus for the county. The Sun has been a successful venture, but the pace has been pitiless. Imagine producing several in-depth articles a week, with the setting up and conducting of interviews, the gathering of documents and information, the background research, the writing of stories, the fact-checking and editing of those stories, the rewriting, the re-editing—day after day. The financial resources were there to keep the Sun publishing, but the human resources have been exhausted.

When a public organization like the Sierra County Sun shuts down, there are some legal hoops that need to be threaded. Since the Sun is a not-for-profit New Mexico corporation recognized by the IRS as a 501c3 charitable and educational organization, a lot of these deal with how non-taxed dollars are handled. I want to give you the thinking that went into the plan developed by the Sun’s board of directors for dispersing these funds and the constraints the law put on our decision-making. Even though the board is fully responsible for the shut-down process, we want to be transparent and accountable to our readers and supporters.

Because the Sun is a nonprofit corporation, its assets cannot go to any individuals except as payment for services. Furthermore, non-taxed dollars have to be kept separate from taxed revenues. Both these requirements mean that after we pay our bills and issue requested refunds of unfilled subscriptions, the remaining assets must be distributed to another not-for-profit organization.

Our bylaws as approved by the IRS require us to favor a distribution to a not-for-profit in Sierra County or in New Mexico. That is the localized version of the federal laws. However, New Mexico also has laws regarding the closing of non-profit corporations. They require us to give our leftover funds to an organization “substantially similar” to ours, that is, to another not-for-profit news organization.

Since there are no such organizations in Sierra County, we had to look to the small field of New Mexico not-for-profit news sources. The Sun’s board has thus decided to disperse $10,000 of its leftover funds to Searchlight New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based news site which, like us, is devoted to in-depth and investigative reporting. The Sun has been grateful to republish many important stories that Searchlight makes available free of charge to other not-for-profit news organizations around the state. The Sun board has Searchlight’s assurances that our distribution will be used to advance some of our mission by publishing public-interest stories relevant to Sierra County and southern New Mexico on a periodic basis in the new year.

Here is our accounting of all the assets to be distributed.

October 16, 2020, through December 3, 2021


Save the Sun Campaign donations                                    $26,500

Individual donations                                                                 7,527

Alerts subscriptions                                                                  3,139

New Mexico Local News Fund grant                                  12,000

TOTAL REVENUES                                                             $49,166


Editorial stipend                                                                   $23,332

Editorial honorariums                                                              1,225

Editorial intern                                                                          1,200

Website design and maintenance                                          5,270

Marketing and promotion                                                       3,559

Unfilled-subscription obligations                                          1,080

Miscellaneous                                                                                671

TOTAL EXPENSES                                                              $36,337

BALANCE                                                                        $12,829                                                                                   

After the distribution to Searchlight, approximately $3,000 will remain. The Sun’s board has decided these funds should be distributed to the Sierra County Public-Interest Journalism Project, a 501c3 charitable and educational organization that was started two years ago to promote civic discourse and engagement here. SCP-IJP’s first project was to support the Sun. The SCP-IJP board has agreed to take over responsibility for the Sun’s website and maintain it for the immediate future as an archive. The board will also consider and help to fund future projects to support local journalism. We welcome suggestions from the Sun’s readers and supporters, sent via email to



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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.

2 thoughts on “An appropriate wrap-up”

  1. A true Sierra County treasure—you will be missed! A great loss to the community—so grateful for the Sierra County Sun’s (and its editor’s and writers’) invaluable contribution! Thank you, and all the best in your new directions!

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