Will ‘political bullies’ win in Edgewood?

Kudos to Merritt Hamilton Allen for her column in last week’s Independent (“Will the political bullies win yet again?” May 29 – June 4). Ms. Allen takes a thoughtful and timely look at what passes for our current level of political discourse and how it is being manipulated by some to produce outcomes far from normal. She looks at the tactics and tricks employed at all levels of government which are often disguised as “grassroots” movements. The title of her column, “Will the political bullies win yet again?” is a question that every voter here in Edgewood will have to answer for themselves this August when the Town conducts a special election to decide whether or not we should switch from a Mayor/Council to a Commission/Manager form of government.

The date for the special election has been set for August 24, 2020. All ballots will be cast by mail, which will start arriving in our mailboxes sometime in early August. The ballot will contain only the one question and when you have selected your choice you will then have to mail it back to the Santa Fe County clerk in an envelope provided. I believe the type of government we have now is more responsive and certainly more affordable than the Commission/Manager style of government which entrusts way too much power in the hands of a highly paid, unelected manager who does not answer directly to the voters. How we have come to this decision point is better explained by Ms. Allen in her column.

Allen discusses how so called grassroots campaigns often hide behind the label while using “dark money to bully candidates, lie to voters and manipulate communities to embrace or at least stop openly opposing their views.” Does any of this seem familiar? For the last year to eighteen months the Town of Edgewood has seen a sudden rise in all sorts of political flim-flammery as groups with names like CORE and Eyes on Edgewood have sprung up to oppose the Town’s efforts to investigate a possible purchase of the local EPCOR water utility. Over time, these groups have become more and more vocal on all sorts of different issues while at the same time launching legal actions against myself and the Governing Body.

As Allen notes, “grassroots bullying tactics have penetrated every level of our government.” In Edgewood we have seen a sharp increase in the number of people coming to our Governing Body meetings to yell at members of our board and town employees, accuse us of high crimes and misdemeanors, serve us with lawsuits and cause commotion far out of proportion to anything our Governing Body has done or might do. These same people have established an aggressive presence on social media sites where they have constructed an echo chamber among themselves. They swarm unsuspecting persons who stumble across their postings and dare to question their allegations. They boast of their intentions and hurl unfounded accusations against myself and members of our board with a reckless disregard for the truth.

Allen, in her column, notes “the manifestation of grassroots bullying using mailers and ads.” Utilizing slick expensive mailers that contain inflammatory language and misrepresentations, CORE advertised meetings where they made dark insinuations of stolen elections, stolen government funds, secret meetings and the imminent bankrupting of the Town. The solution offered by CORE was a petition to change Edgewood’s style of government from the current Mayor/Council to a Commission/Manager form of government. To sweeten the pot, CORE promised that following the special election in August, the people of Edgewood could quickly move to “throw the bums out” in the General Election on November 3rd. Without taking time to hear another side, people lined up and signed the petition. A sufficient number of signatures were certified so there will be an election held on August 24.

But, has CORE promised more than it can deliver? In a letter dated May 21, 2020, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver writes, “because the Town opted-in to the RLE (Regular Local Election Act), it will elect its municipal officers in November 2021, whether or not the form of government is changed through a Special Election in July or August of 2020.” Instead of a quick election this November where the petition signers were promised they could vote out the governing body, the Secretary of State describes a situation where the same five people who are presently on the Town’s governing body will still be serving at least through December 31st of 2021 on whatever form of governing body emerges after the election on August 24th.

To reiterate; the taxpayers of Edgewood are about to pay for an unnecessary special election to possibly change the Town’s form of government, but as of today, it looks like CORE’s promise to do an end-run around the Regular Local Election Act didn’t succeed. Regardless of the outcome of the August election, we end up with the same five people sitting in the same five chairs until at least December 31st of 2021.

Because CORE and its vociferous supporters could not or would not share this truth with you, I have decided to do so. CORE and its YouTube counterpart, Eyes on Edgewood, have misled themselves and everyone who has wasted a second looking at their crude propaganda. Is this the kind of behavior we could expect from a government made up of CORE’s handpicked candidates? If they were successful, how could they hope to govern? Under the new system, they did after all, promise that angry citizens would now have the right to call for special elections to overturn any ordinance they don’t like and recall elected officials who do something they don’t like. A never-ending series of endless and expensive special elections, is that the future we want?

The simple truth is that we here in Edgewood have exactly the right style of government for a small town such as ours. As I pointed out in my letter to the editor which appeared in The Independent on March 20, the entire pay scale for our Governing Body is $31,200.00 per year. Elected officials are directly responsible for oversight of the Town’s staff and budget, we hire all employees and direct all Town affairs. How would transferring these responsibilities to an expensive, unelected manager improve accountability?

Until Edgewood grows so large that a simple and affordable five (5) person governing board can no longer manage the Town’s affairs we should reject this colossal blunder in the making. It has been foisted on us through lies and half-truths. Instead, let’s focus our time and energies on making Edgewood the best small town in the State of New Mexico.

Let me finish by paraphrasing another part of Merritt Hamilton Allen’s column as she says it so eloquently. “Let’s xeriscape our political landscape in Edgewood and allow our elected officials to use their personal ethics and judgment to shape their decisions. Expecting them to follow blindly where the partisan bullies push them only weakens governance and lawmaking in our town, our state, and our country.”

John Bassett, Mayor of Edgewood

 

Against Edgewood taking over EPCOR water system

Without approval of the Current Town Council, and more importantly, against the Townspeople’s outcry, the Mayor set the Town of Edgewood on a dangerous and costly legal course to use hostile takeover as a means of acquiring EPCOR Water. For 40 years, EPCOR and its predecessors have safely operated and provided reliable water to residents and businesses in the Edgewood region. EPCOR is not for sale.

I do not represent the entire Council. For almost two years, the Mayor has denied repeated requests for public hearings, reports, and Council/Public discussion. For principled reasons I have opposed this brash course of action, including:

What gives the government the right to seize private property for something already working well for the public? Our Country was founded upon strong principles of private property ownership and limiting government’s power over the people.

The Community has spoken through many avenues over the past two years that they strongly oppose this takeover.

The survey the Mayor points to as support did not ask if the people wanted a hostile and costly takeover of EPCOR.

We all object to the hard water, but the Town’s engineering report said that would not be fixed with takeover because it is too expensive.

EPCOR is a private company accountable to NM Public Regulation Commission (NMPRC). This oversight agency regulates rates and protects consumers. With Town takeover, water customers lose that vital protection and rate hikes (as proven in other similar situations) would be substantial.

The Town has no experience in water management and does not have the resources, planning, and R&D as EPCOR does. EPCOR already has a proven track-record of delivering an economic and consistent water supply.

Traveling around NM, we hear nightmare stories from other governmental entities (such as in Roswell and Portales) about their government-run systems with days-long outages and maxed-out debt causing significant tax increases.

EPCOR employees would not likely stay, and current Town employees have a difficult time recruiting and keeping up with other demands, including the Wastewater Utility with critical, ongoing violations. Running a business is a very heavy burden—one that should not be forced upon them.

EPCOR has always been willing to go where development goes. Logically, they would not turn down new service.

Why should taxpayers pay for the same system twice? This is illogical.

This is not fiscally responsible. The Town cannot afford the debt service.

Government utilities are wrought with fraud, even in our neighboring municipalities.

Seizing EPCOR, at great public expense, the cost could likely run well over $20 million.

NM has tough eminent domain laws and if the Town “loses” the lawsuit, us taxpayers will be liable for EPCOR’s legal expenses too.

I have long proposed working with both public and private entities to accomplish our community goals. Partnering with EPCOR, the Town could just as easily invest in capital projects through grants and other sources available to governments. This allows fiscal responsibility, no more legal fees ($80,000 so far!), a productive way to ensure fiscal responsibility while gaining all the advantages of EPCOR’s certified water and wastewater operators, engineers, water quality specialists, planners, and 24/7 customer service—something our small town could not possibly afford on its own.

Public-private partnerships are successful in many New Mexico communities. I see this option as an investment in our community without costly legal wrangling, without adding significant long-term debt to the town, without operational concerns, without additional town staffing expenses, and without causing significant increases for water rate-payers or Edgewood taxpayers that inevitably come with an adversarial condemnation action.

A hostile takeover of EPCOR, for no pertinent reason, is a financial sinkhole that ultimately means increased taxes, water rate hikes, lack of PRC oversight, and the loss of other community-desired services like improved roads and parks and recreation (such as much needed youth programs and trails).

I call on EPCOR to innovate ideas and I call on my fellow Council Members and Community to come to the table together on solutions for the region’s hard water. We can make this a big win-win for Edgewood.

Audrey Jaramillo, CPA

Edgewood Town Councilor

 

Either form of Edgewood government will work

I hold no brief for either a mayoral or city manager form of government. I have lived under both, and in my experience one is no better than the other. First my disqualification: Once, at a 1980s town meeting on Cape Cod, a woman in attendance demanded to know what right I had to voice an opinion. (Oddly, I was speaking in support of prohibiting chain stores and promoting local businesses. I explained that I had voted and volunteered in our town, owned and paid taxes on a home in town for nine years. “Ha! That doesn’t make you a native,” she said, sure as Perry Mason that she had exposed my bogus claim to enfranchisement. “You’re just a ‘wash-ashore’!’’

I’ve been living in an unincorporated area of Edgewood only since 2006—so that may discount to some what I wish to say. But for many decades before moving here, I was active in both Boston and Cambridge politics, serving on various committees. Even held a minor office for two terms (until I came to my senses). The Cambridge City Manager was convicted or financial ‘irregularities” and was sentenced to five years. In Boston, under a five-term mayor, I witnessed top-shelf zoning irregularities. (He died, so he decided not to run for a sixth term—Boston joke). If you are wondering, ‘How stupid could voters be?’ You decide.

Boston is a city with one of the highest residency turnover rates in the USA. People come to get an education (thirty-three colleges) and their professional start in white-collar branch offices, hoping for a promotion into Manhattan (where the rents are even higher). They don’t vote; thus Boston City/Suffolk County employees, election after election, have been the largest voting bloc (over 50%), and rewarded for knowing whom to vote for.

Oh, yeah, that Cambridge City Manager? When he was freed from jail, he was reappointed as City Manager. My point is that anyone of ill intent—elected politician, appointed official, or bidding contractor—can game any system you can impose. Mayor or Town Manager, it’s a crap shoot unless integrity and exemplary experience are primary qualifications. Just to be safe, it might be good to have rotating professional ‘performance review’ panel: accountant, engineer, assistant DA, politics reporter—unaccountable to any local officials.

Frank Cullen, Edgewood

PS: Enjoyed columns as always by James Taulman, Jo White and Darrell Allen (by grace of M. H. Allen).

 

Problems with Edgewood include latest audit

Finally, after intense resistance, Edgewood voters will have their Special Election in August, as petitioned by the citizens and afforded to them us by law. It was disturbing that it took the New Mexico Secretary of State to step in and inform the Mayor that the law required him to call the election. More disturbing, they did nothing to address the Secretary of State’s clear direction. Even after her letter, Councilors Abraham and Jaramillo had to ask a judge to order Mayor Bassett and Councilors Holle and Abrams to follow the law. It is unheard of in New Mexico to have to get a judge to order a Mayor and councilors to just follow the law and hold a legally required election. Worse, the mayor refused repeated requests to even communicate on this matter with Abraham and Jaramillo and left no other alternative. It is negligent to intentionally withhold information from elected town officials.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. The town has now received a Qualified Audit, which means there are so many errors and violations of law in the town’s handling of public matters that Edgewood citizens need to be seriously concerned. Open Meetings Act violations, mishandling of town funds, violations of permit for the town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The flurry of recent activity to get a failing wastewater treatment plant to a legal operational status after six months of ignoring the problems only happened after an Edgewood citizen notified the Environment Department that the plant was exceeding the legal limits of pollutants by up to 1,100 times. And now the Mayor wants to takeover operations of our drinking water system.

Instead of fixing the massive violations of the sewer plant, the mayor’s focus and efforts have been on things the community does not want:

1. Hostile take-over of a local water system without the funding or expertise to do so and racking up big legal expenses.

2. Millions wasted on unwanted residential sewerline extensions to his family property while the sewer plant itself is in violation of safe levels of operation month-after-month. Meanwhile, the promised commercial district goes unaddressed and roads go unpaved.

3. Holding on to his role an additional two years without a vote of the people, while trails, parks and recreation have received little to no attention and the equestrian center is closed because of Edgewood’s failure to maintain it.

4. Failing to respect the rights of Edgewood citizens and attempting to evade the duty to call a legally required special election in August.

The citizens of Edgewood are being short-changed and could be facing big expenses for things they don’t want while essential services go wanting. The time is long overdue for the mayor and his two councilors to make a course adjustment to put fiscal responsibility and safe and effective operating of town facilities as top priorities and to learn to manage what they have rather than overextend the town to take over more facilities to mismanage.

Jerry Powers, Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood

 

Write down your end-of-life plan

Hello my East Mountain neighbors. Everyone would agree that this is a challenging time. Just one of those challenges is looking into the hard reality of facing our own mortality. This pandemic reinforces our need to write down our end of life plans. I hope that most of you reading this have already done your advanced directives and appointed your health care proxy, just in case you are unable to speak for yourself at some time in the future. If you have these documents, good for you. This is also a excellent time to examine your advanced directives to see if they still reflect what you believe and want for the end of your life.

If this task is still on your to-do list, now is a perfect time for this important work. If you need assistance, there are groups that can help you. My favorite is Compassion and Choices. They have numerous resources, all free, to help guide you through your thought process and develop a written document.

There is also a new free COVID-19 tool kit that can help you clarify your end of life wishes as regards this disease. If you’ve already done your advanced directives, this is a great addition. Just attach it to your file. I just finished mine. You can get this tool kit in both Spanish and English at compassionandchoices.org.

In addition, this website has numerous free webinars to help you understand your end of life options. Don’t forget the last and most important thing: Have the conversation with your loved ones about what options you would prefer at the end of your life. It’s great to have it written but it’s even better if you discuss it with them so you know they really understand your concerns and wishes. The link above can help you with that task.

I guarantee you will have a sense of peace and satisfaction once you’ve completed the verbal and written statement of your wishes. And you can check it off your to-do list.

Phyllis Bergman, RN

Cedar Crest

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.