As part of our monitoring of local affairs, the Sun’s editorial team reads the Sierra County Sentinel, both its print edition published every Friday and its online postings during the week. Last Wednesday, I noted that the Sentinel had posted a breaking news story about the Truth or Consequences City Commission meeting that morning. In the story’s lead, reporter Chuck Wentworth characterized as misinformed the 15 citizens who had voiced in person or in writing their opposition to Wilson & Company’s economic development plan calling for the construction of a vehicular and utility-bearing bridge over the Rio Grande.
In belittling the intelligence of the protestors, reporter Wentworth echoed an insult leveled earlier this year by City Commissioner Paul Baca against the 254 registered voters who signed a petition to force a referendum on the commission’s imposition of a $50 monthly fee on those declining to use a smart electric meter reader. Baca accused the signatories—whose numbers equaled one fourth of the citizens who typically vote in municipal elections—of not understanding what they were signing.
In last Friday’s edition of the Sentinel, publisher and unacknowledged editor Frances Luna took her paper’s denigration of those T or C residents who bestir themselves to critique or protest city government policies and decisions a step too far. In her weekly column entitled “The Boss,” Luna, who is also a sitting city commissioner, called upon the community to “stand up to these malicious individuals”—a “small, vocal minority” who “have trust issues with the commission.” Luna has always used her column and paper to advocate for her political and religious views. This is her First Amendment right. However, in her most recent opinion piece, Luna—looked up to by many as a pillar of the community—sought to deny local-government critics their First Amendment rights to comment at city commission meetings by asking her readers to aggressively help her silence all such naysayers.
The column began with an explanation of why Luna had decided not to run for the city commission seat to which she had been appointed last September. She also expressed regret that she had been required to give up on her dream of running for state representative because of the time demands of her new business: a women’s gun shop. The column then descended into an unhinged and anti-democratic rant against her constituents who dare to question city government. Even more disturbingly, Luna called for her readers to take it upon themselves to publicly castigate and shame the civic activists for their “constant bickering and negativity” whenever and wherever the good citizens of T or C encountered these malcontents “who would complain if you gave them a million dollars on a silver platter!”
I do think, Luna exhorted her readers,“that it’s time those of us who know that the right thing is being done to stand up to these malicious individuals. Stand up to them on Facebook, at the grocery store, and even as they are walking down the street. Let them know their behavior is unacceptable—undesirable and unwelcome. I’m not threatening them with bodily violence, but I will no longer tolerate their falsities, their hypocrisy and their belittling of the people who work for our government entities, who have lived here and given of their lives to make our community a better place to live. Seriously, what have they done but try to destroy us and waste our valuable tax dollars?
This community must decide whether we will embrace, condemn or try to excuse the soft vigilantism advocated against a significant portion of T or C’s population by one of our most influential citizens, who is seemingly heedless of how easily these days public confrontations can turn violent.