T or C City Commission abdicates responsibility to select library advisory board members

by Diana Tittle | May 24, 2021
6 min read
The library is a linchpin community institution, with a budget of more than $210,000 in 2020-21. Municipal code charges the library advisory board with oversight responsibilities, which is why the city commission should not allow the library board to usurp the commission's appointment authority. Source: Wikimedia Commons

At its last meeting the Truth or Consequences City Commission received and approved the recommendation of the city’s public library advisory board that Brendan Tolley be appointed to the library board.

The packet for the May 12 commission meeting included library board minutes reporting that its members had reviewed two applications for the vacant position. In addition to former city commissioner Tolley, the Sun has obtained documentary evidence that the second applicant was likely Katherine (Kate) Skinner, a T or C retiree with 40 years of experience in library work and administration in other states.

Skinner's application on correct form
Katherine Skinner’s application to serve on the library advisory board, submitted on Dec. 2, 2020, on the city’s official form

But Skinner’s application never reached the city commission for consideration, even though the City Clerk’s Office duly acknowledged, in writing, the application’s receipt in December 2020 and again in March 2021.

Municipal code 3-2-247 grants the city commission the sole authority to appoint members to the five-member library advisory board for three-year terms. In submitting only its recommended choice for the vacant seat and not putting forth the name of the second candidate, the library advisory board reduced the role of the commissioners in making the appointment to that of a rubber stamp.

Before the appointment of Tolley was put to a vote, Mayor Pro Tem Amanda Forrister asked whether anyone else had applied to fill the vacancy on the library board.

“I don’t know,” City Clerk Angela A. Torres replied. This was an equivocation, as her correspondence with Skinner (reproduced below) shows.

Forrister or a fellow commissioner could have asked that the appointment be tabled until the requested information about other applicants was provided. But the commissioners let the matter drop. Their passivity gave tacit approval to the library board’s endeavor to self-determine its own membership.

Clerk Torres was highly aware of Skinner’s months-long endeavor to be appointed to serve as a “strong advocate for a vibrant and energetic public library in our community.”

On Monday, March 8, 2021, at 11 a.m., Torres sent the following email to Skinner:

Good morning Ms. Skinner,

Thank you for your interest in serving as a member on the Library Advisory Board. The Commission approved a revised board         member application at the end of 2020 and we are requiring that all interested parties submit the revised application to the Clerk’s Office. Please complete the attached application at [sic] return it to us at your earliest convenience. You can email it back to me, or drop it off at the City Clerk’s Office, 505 Sims Street, Truth or Consequences, NM. Once we received [sic] the completed application it will then be forwarded to the Library Board for consideration.

I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you, and have a wonderful day!

At 1:59 p.m. that day, Skinner sent Clerk Torres the following email:

Thank you, Ms Torres, for your attention to this matter.

Please could you let me know what happened to my application on this exact same (apparently revised) form which was submitted to, and receipt of which was acknowledged (in writing) by, City of TorC clerk’s office, on 2 December 2020.

The following day, at 9:04 a.m., Clerk Torres responded via email:

Ms. Skinner,

The attached letter [which Skinner had originally submitted before being advised of the need to use an official form, which she subsequently submitted to the clerk’s office on Dec. 2] is what I have on file in regards to your interest in serving on the Library Advisory Board. Please re-send me the completed board member application and I will be sure to forward it to the Library Board for consideration.

Skinner's letter of application
Skinner’s original letter of application


Skinner followed up this communication with a phone call to Clerk Torres. In the end, Skinner did not have to resubmit her application form. “When I told her I had an acknowledgment from [clerk’s office staffer Lisa] Gabaldon of my application on the correct form,” Skinner explained to the Sun, “Torres thanked me for telling her where to find it . . . acknowledged finding the application which I had submitted to Gabaldon, and told me she was forwarding it to [Library Director] Pat O’Hanlon.

O’Hanlon, who has been head of the library for more than a decade, has no standing in municipal code to be the gatekeeper of appointments to the library advisory board. Neither she nor the advisory board’s members have the authority to winnow out applications for board membership that they deem unacceptable for submission to the city commission.

Nor does the library advisory board have the authority to reappoint members. Nonetheless, Clerk Torres duly presented the board’s request that Michael Bankson be reappointed as an item for “discussion/action” on the city commission’s May 12 meeting agenda.

The library board’s April 26 minutes provide the context for this request:

In light of the fact that this is the first meeting of the board that Vice Chair Michael Bankson has been able to attend since his approved term expired [June 30, 2020—the board has only met once since that date, and Mr. Bankson was not able to attend] he has asked that the board request approval from the City Commission to extend his appointment to June 30, 2023, which would have been the length of his term if COVID had not disrupted the workings of the board. It was not, at any time, his intention to resign as Vice Chairman or as a member of the board.

This entry in the minutes reveals that there were actually two longstanding vacancies on the library board as of this spring. Applications for appointment to the Bankson seat were not solicited from the public. The legal notice placed by the clerk’s office in the Sierra County Sentinel on March 12 mentioned only a single vacancy, now filled by Tolley. Submitted on March 23, Tolley’s application notes that he is a “former library employee.”

Afforded no other choices of applicants, the commissioners approved Bankson’s reappointment without discussion.

As a point of information: The library advisory board is required by municipal code to hold meetings, which are open to the public, no fewer than 10 times a year. If the commissioners were aware from having read the library board minutes in their packet that the board had failed to meet for nine straight months between June 30, 2020, and April 2021, they chose not to raise the issue of the board’s lack of accountability for nearly a year. Other city advisory boards continued to meet via teleconference during the pandemic.

The public library is a linchpin community institution, with a budget of more than $210,000 in 2020-21. Ninety percent of the current budget is allocated to salaries. Local and state taxpayer dollars are its main sources of revenue.

Municipal code 3-2-248 mandates that the publicly funded library is to be publicly managed. It charges the library advisory board with oversight of library operations. In addition, board members—presently, chair Angela D. Torres (not to be confused with City Clerk Torres), Terie Hafner, Bonnye Warwick, Bankson and Tolley—are empowered by city code to play an active role in determining policy and programming, budgeting and long-term planning.

The public’s interests are not well served when the city commission tacitly allows the library advisory board to be a “self-perpetuating” body. The dictionary definition of “self-perpetuating” means “perpetuating itself or oneself without external agency or intervention.”


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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.

4 thoughts on “T or C City Commission abdicates responsibility to select library advisory board members”

  1. While I would heartily agree with Brandon Tolley’s appointment to the library board, this whole situation seems to be a reflection of T or C’s continual disregard for “process.” When any government ignores the legally prescribed process of its governing responsibility, it loses its own legitimacy. This is why few people in this town trust the commission to be doing what it is supposed to be doing because it seems like they are consistently making stuff up as they go along. Where is Mr. Rubin who is the one, in theory, who should be on top of advising the commission when it strays from its duties. Why else would we be paying him to be the town’s lawyer! Is ANYONE aware of the rules of the road to a democratic government?

  2. I’m furious about this. Another story about things being done in the dark. Illegally. And then presented as fact, or, I guess, as a fait accompli.

    I wonder why the citizens of T o C never seem to speak up.

    Why can’t our elected and/or appointed officials do things according to the laws and codes that we are all expected to follow?

  3. Thanks so much for this revealing article. This is exactly the kind of information the public needs to become aware of.

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