Welcome, Bruce!

by Diana Tittle | May 4, 2021
5 min read
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The Sun applauds the selection of Bruce Swingle as the new city manager of Truth or Consequences.

Swingle said he made the move because he likes a challenge, and managing city government will provide him several, given T or C’s reliance on utility fees for operating funds, burgeoning debt, impenetrable department policies, procedures and performance, unresponsiveness to citizen complaints, disinterest in long-range planning and piecemeal approach to infrastructure maintenance and replacement.

Thankfully, Swingle, who for the past seven years has served as Sierra County manager, brings demonstrated administrative skills to the job.

If we have a complaint about his past performance, it’s that, during his watch, the Sierra County Commission publicly endorsed conservative political positions, usually in the form of resolutions that were often drafted by Swingle and County Attorney Dave Pato. A public body that is supposed to represent the interests of all its constituents has no business taking sides on controversial issues (such as gun and right-to-work laws, endangered species recovery policies, NMCD2 Congresswoman Yvette Herrell’s vote to decertify 2020 presidential election results—to name just a few).

Politics aside, Swingle, who assumed his new responsibilities on Monday, has shown himself to be a good government practitioner. He hired qualified, hardworking staff and helped to develop their talents. His extensive verbal reports during county commission meetings demonstrated that he worked well with his team and knew the details and reasons for budget decisions and expenditures. He had a firm grasp of each department’s operational challenges and successes. The capital projects undertaken during his tenure were organic outgrowths of daily observation and on-the-ground assessments backed up by engineering studies.

Sierra Countians should also know that Swingle is among the few local government officials who understands their responsibility to answer questions from the press as representatives of the public’s interests. As county manager, Swingle took reporters’ phone calls, responded to their emails with cogent answers and did so promptly. Accessibility and accountability to the public via the news media built trust and confidence in his and his staff’s competence to manage public affairs.

For all these reasons, we hope City Manager Swingle will be receptive to quickly implementing the following 10 changes in procedure recommended by the Sun in the spirit of making T or C’s municipal government more transparent, responsive and effective.

1.  Draft a resolution to be approved by the city commission that defines the parameters of the city manager’s authority to commit and expend public monies. The expenditure limit should be $20,000, with no project costs being artificially subdivided to avoid oversight by the city commission. The resolution should require the city commission to approve all expenditures above $20,000, even if such spending has been previously approved as part of an annual budget. This provision will ensure that commissioners and the public are more aware of how the city’s funds are being spent.

2.  Revise the record-keeping on capital projects (defined by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration as those costing $5,000 or more). Over the last 21 months the Sun has been on the local government beat, the costs of various capital projects have been nearly impossible to track because of the city’s unorthodox budget format. All capital projects should be grouped in their own section of the budget, subdivided by department. Project financing should be broken down by source, including city funding, so that the public can see how its dollars are being spent. Expenditures, including payment of debt and interest, should be tied to specific projects.

3.  Recommend to the city commission that an update of T or C’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan be included in the fiscal 2021-22 budget and completed within a year. Without a current plan, the city has no roadmap to guide its short-term and long-range capital projects, non-routine expenditures and staff time commitments.

4.  Recommend to the city commission that master infrastructure planning be included in the fiscal 2021-22 budget and completed over the next two years. Suspend all unfunded infrastructure projects until the master plans are completed so that all needed repair and replacement projects can be done the most efficiently and economically.

5.  Require cost-benefit analyses of projects for which grants are being sought to be prepared and presented to the city commission for approval prior to the submission of the grant application. If the monies sought come as a grant/loan, the analysis should include the loan costs, time frame for repayment and impact on the city’s total debt load.

6.  Require department heads to submit quarterly reports to the city commission in writing and in person and to take questions from the commissioners about the reports at commission meetings. The reports, which should be routinely included in the packet for those meetings, should deal primarily with operational challenges and solutions and provide justification for the engagement of consultants and providers of professional and other services to ensure that the work is not able to be performed by department employees. Regular reports will ensure that department heads notify the city manager and commission of their desire to apply for a grant, hire an engineer, architect or consultant or initiate a capital or special project.

7.  Require Wilson & Company engineering firm to coordinate the $50,000 economic feasibility study for “Riverwalk” development that it has undertaken for the city with the Turtleback Trails planning led by citizens with no-cost technical support from the National Parks Service to prevent each effort from working at cross purposes.

8.  Recommend that city commissioners respond to issues raised by members of the public at commission meetings or pledge to provide answers at the next meeting. The commissioners’ current practice is to answer selectively, if at all.

9.  Make sure the city commission packet contains all documents pertinent to the meeting agenda. For example, if a grant is being considered, the draft grant application should be included. If a project is being considered, a cost analysis, project budget and proposed revenue sources should be provided. Otherwise, neither the commissioners nor the members of public can make intelligent appraisals of the issues to be considered.

10.  Require department heads to answer reporters’ questions to the best of their abilities and turn over requested documents as soon as possible.

Correction: This editorial has been edited to correct the statement that, as county manager, Swingle was an elected official.


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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 “Welcome, Bruce!”

  1. Thank you, Diana! These are excellent recommendations for Bruce Swingle and our city commissioners. It gives me hope for some transparency and accountability for our city government.

  2. Great suggestions. Here’s one more. Make the meeting agendas more informational. In addition to the ordinance number, include a sentence or two (in plain English) saying what the item is about and why it is on the agenda—e.g., what is the issue? This would help me decide if I want to attend a meeting, or write a letter to the manager or the commissioners, expressing my views ahead of the meeting.

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