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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DON’T-MISS EVENT

“Riverwalk” Presentation/Input Session

Truth or Consequence's riverfront

Thursday, June 24, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
City Commission Chambers
405 W. Third Street, Truth or Consequences

This is the first opportunity for the public to be briefed and comment on on the “Riverwalk” Economic Feasibility Study, commissioned two summers ago from Wilson & Company, civil engineers, by the City of Truth or Consequences. Not to be confused with the community-led “Turtleback Trails” planning effort, which is focused exclusively on improving recreational access and amenities along the riverfront, the Riverwalk study aims to identify possible opportunities for commercial real estate development at Rotary Park, Ralph Edwards Park and a proposed “recreational hub” at the existing Highway 51 tube and paddle launch.

To prepare to provide thoughtful comment, you may view a first draft of a “concept map” of the three proposed development zones, obtained by the Sun via an Inspection of Public Records Act request, and learn more about both the Wilson & Company study and the Turtleback Trails project in the Sun’s indepth report on both planning efforts, “Healthier and Wealthier: The “Turtleback Trails” Vision of Green Riverfront Development.

 

 

Free T’ai Ch’i Chih classes in June

t'ai ch'i graphic

Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. sharp
Park next to municipal pool, Truth or Consequences

T’ai Ch’i Chih is a gentle, meditative movement. Classes of 35 to 40 minutes will improve body balance and quiet the mind. Each session will cover the opening moves, plus six to eight moves of the method (for 20 to 21 moves in total).

Volunteer class leader Carol Borsello has Medical Qigong Level II certification and 25 years of natural healing studies, including massage. Although she is not certified to teach TCC, she is eager to share her healthy hobby with others.

“Come try it out,” Borsello says. “Reinforce good balance and raise your energy level a notch or two!”

Tondo Rotondo: The Circle Show

Nolan Winkler's painting "World Without End, Amen"

June 12–August 15
Rio Bravo Fine Art Gallery, 110 N. Broadway
Truth or Consequences

Tondo (plural “tondi” or “tondos”) is a Renaissance term for a circular work of art. This exhibition features artists represented by Rio Bravo Fine Art, in conjunction with other guest artists from New Mexico and Puerto Rico, all of whom have created a variety of imaginative art using the circle as their starting point. There are paintings on circular canvases, sculptures that take the circle into the three-dimensional realm and photographs with a circular perspective. Illustrated here is Nolan Winkler’s “World Without End, Amen,” diameter 20 inches, one of the paintings in the exhibit.

The exhibition’s opening reception will take place on June 12, during Second Saturday Art Hop, from 6 to 9 p.m. Regular viewing hours are Wednesday through Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m.

 

 

HAVE YOU SEEN?

Foundation for Open Government determines T or C's fees to deliver requested electronic documents not allowed under state law

Truth or Consequences has recently begun to charge a fee of 25 cents per page to deliver electronic records requested under the Inspection of Public Records Act. FOG responded to a citizen request to determine the fee’s validity.

Reader Ron Fenn of Truth or Consequences commented: Thank you for informing on this important “right of the people” to know how our government is acting and spending our money.  Mr. Swingle needs to look at cutting costs (personnel) not penalizing residents to reduce the decades old budget deficits.

T or C still mum about problems with city’s water wells, despite only two of eight working properly

A legal ad in the Sierra County Sentinel’s May 21 edition was the first public notice and acknowledgment that two more wells in the city’s eight-well field are in trouble. Four others are offline, raising questions about the city’s water delivery capacity and the water department’s transparency about the health of the well field.

Reader William West of Truth or Consequences commented: If Wells 6 and 7 are leaking “liquid” or water with oil and metal filings, it seems possible, if not likely, we are drinking the same. If a property with a well is sold, the condition of the well water is part of the seller’s disclosure to the buyer. If T or C water is suspect, either because recent consumer confidence reports were not made public or there are capacity or quality problems with the water the city provides, should these concerns be a part of all property disclosures for sales in the city going forward?

It seems to me that fixing basic needs such as clean water, reliable electrical supply, effective stormwater handling and a transparent and aware city council should come before any consideration of “putting lipstick on a pig”-type projects such as the “Riverwalk.”

 

Wildlife trail or commercial development for Rotary Park?

Please, let us come together to prevent one more desecration. Please let us create, instead, a preserve for wildlife with access for people to the Rio Grande that will stand into the future to preserve the precious, irreplaceable quality of life that we are able to enjoy here.

Reader Patty Kearney of Truth or Consequences commented: Residing in the neighborhood between downtown and Rotary Park, I would not like to see commercial development at Rotary Park. There would be traffic in our residential streets. And the run-off from pavement and/or construction into the river seems environmentally unsound. I have no idea what sort of commercial development is proposed, but I can’t imagine it getting past an environmental impact study—which there ought to be, of course, for anything that goes in that location. I agree with Dr. Spruce. Wetlands restoration and a hiking trail. Investment in projects that make this town more its true self, not something it isn’t, will help us thrive

4 Comments 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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