Monday, September 29, 2014

On Emails and Email Destruction

You'll have read that Amy Orlando, Governor Martinez's hand-picked successor, apparently destroyed emails, erased hard-drives, shredded documents, and tried to undermine successor D.A. Mark D'Antonio's ability to do his job.

Emails were destroyed despite Orlando's (emailed) acknowledgment that “Anything put on computers is property of the State.”

My question is, what's most appalling? Massive destruction of documents and erasure of backup tapes? The appearance that the office and its resources were used improperly to support political campaigns? (Some emails they couldn't destroy concern 2010 Martinez campaign logistics or issues.) Or one of the few emails they couldn't erase? (These are mostly sent emails, which are harder to destroy.)

Certainly the massive destruction matters. So does apparently lying about it. A reporter's IPRA request for emails was met by a claim that they weren't available because the email servers were “routinely cleaned”; but an IT person from the Martinez-Orlando era (supported by other IT folks) admits they were not “routinely cleaned.”

One email attempts to deny the DA's office money it could use prosecuting cases. Orlando asks how much of certain grant money will be left for the office after she leaves. She learns her office has spent about $ 400,000 for 120 cases, and that 70 more cases should yield $200,000 to $300,000. Orlando begs an underling not to let D'Antonio know how to obtain and use the grant money: “Don't leave ANY note about how to do it!! Please.” That suggests her priority isn't us, but her political interest and her childish resentment of D'Antonio. By trying to deny the DA's office grant money, does she mean that if she can't be the D.A., she's on the criminals' side??)

Another email says Martinez wants her inauguration event to be “no Mexican affair!!”

Need more? A financial specialist has to “forget” Martinez's signature on an affidavit related to a hotel bill; Orlando asks underlings to change who has access to her office calendar and lie about it; and (like something out of the East German film “The Lives of Others”) Martinez and Orlando apparently copied and read employees' emails.

Particularly interesting is the Saturday, November 6, 2010 email from Martinez headed “from: Amy Orlando” that starts: “This is Susana. I am sending this email from Amy's BB. I want to make something very clear to all of you. When Amy or Susan [Reidel] gives any of you instructions – they are approved by me. . . [Anyone who's dissatisfied should] call me directly.” That tends to confirm the widespread view that Martinez remained in control of the DA's Office after leaving for Santa Fe. She goes on to ream out employees for “frankly mean emails,” “mean gossip,” and spending too much time emailing and visiting each other's offices. “I hope I have made myself clear,” she closes.

(She's been elected Governor days earlier, yet is still micro-managing the DA's Office here.)

Interestingly, the same email reams people out for failing to decline the Sunland Park case, adding that she has long “known that there was little to no evidence to charge this case. . . There is no reason for this case to linger this long in the office.” What's interesting is that her protege, or some say puppet, soon ramped up an investigation of that case and announced a bunch of very public indictments. Why?

D'Antonio's office investigated the email issue after trying to respond to an IPRA Request for emails – and discovering that the emails had disappeared. D'Antonio did not open a criminal investigation, which could have been a conflict of interest, and he says any such proceedings would be up to the State Attorney General.
                                                   -30-
[Note: this column was published yesterday, Sunday, 28 September in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Sorry not to post it here Sunday morning, as usual -- and not sure I can post copies of some of the emails, as I'd hoped to do.  May be able to add 'em soon.]


Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm Voting for Beth Bardwell

I live in District 3, where the County Commission candidates are Beth Bardwell and Ben Rawson. Karen Perez ably represented us, but had to quit because her professional work situation changed.

This race presents a clear choice.

Bardwell is a lawyer who has worked for the City of Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation, and practiced labor law. After seven years as a lawyer, she went back to school at NMSU for a Masters of Science in Biology (1999). Since then she's been working to conserve freshwater and rivers in this area through water policy reform (at the local, state, and federal levels) and on-the-ground restoration work. She worked with EBID to create the state's first public-private partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to develop a cooperative, market-based environmental water transaction program on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico. She's also worked with Audubon and the World Wildlife Fund's Chihuahuan Desert Program.

Rawson, placed in his seat by Governor Susana Martinez, had limited relevant experience. Son of a conservative businessman and former State Representative, Rawson, 31, had been general manager of his father's company for ten years. His political experience before last August was limited to working as an intern during and after high school in N.M. Governor Gary Johnson's office and some work for Michigan Governor John Engler's office while Rawson was in school in Michigan. He has been a County Commissioner for a little more than a year.

I should to add that I like both candidates. If Rawson were facing a weaker Democratic candidate, I might vote for him. I have the impression that despite his lack of experience and the common belief that Martinez and his family had ambitions to see him in higher office, he's taking his work as Commissioner seriously. On less “political” issues, he's not hard to work with and he tries to collaborate in reaching consensual solutions.

But he's facing a superstar. Bardwell has extensive and very relevant experience. We're in a water crisis, and she knows water issues. She's spent 15 years trying to convince all sides to cooperate in finding mutually acceptable ways to conserve water and preserve a living environment. A law degree and legal experience aren't everything, but they ain't dog doo. And she has the kind of low-key personality that contributes to consensual solutions.

I'll post Sunday on my blog the answers each gave to a set of questions I asked. I won't discuss those here except to say that after Rawson mentioned that there was not yet a published budget, I asked about that. Another commissioner said Rawson didn't understand the process, because the budget doesn't get published until it's approved. The same commissioner said Rawson had been kind of an obstructionist on some issues.

Bardwell has been doing for decades the kinds of things a good commissioner might do: dealing with public issues, often issues in which citizens or companies have conflicting but legitimate interests, and finding the best result for the public.

Rawson has undoubtedly learned some business skills. Running the business, he's presumably learned something about making a profit. As a Commissioner he has focused largely on infrastructure and on budget issues, both of which are important. From what I've seen of him at public meetings and in private discussions, he's friendly, has a sense of humor, and seems to listen.

In short, both candidates seem personable and well-intentioned; both seem friendly, and concerned about constituents' needs; but Bardwell's politics appear more appealing to the majority of their would-be constituents, and she has an admirable wealth of experience and hard-earned wisdom we'd be foolish not to make use of.
                                                      -30-

[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 21 September.  It states myopinion.  In my view, Ms. Bardwell has incredibly valuable experience, and I also agree with her more generally on political issues.]
[I also wanted to offer side-by-side answers by the Rawson and Bardwell, without editorializing, to a few specific questions I thought might bring out their differences. Below, I've quoted their answers as accurately as possible.


As briefly as you can, why should a resident of District 3 vote for you?
[Ben Rawson:] I provide a needed balance on the commission. I am excited to be serving the residents there. I see government as service. That means responding when people call. I also like working on projects and getting them done. I know what it takes to run a business. I was born and raised here, and have my kids here, and want it to be a better area for them to stay in, hopefully.
[Beth Bardwell:] I think I have a breadth of experience and skills that lends itself well to local government. And my values and philosophy – I'm interested in social equity, fairness, and opportunity – Professionalism in government and transparency.




What's a telling fact about your opponent that should give a voter pause for thought?
R: I'm probably going to stay away from that one. The only thing that I would say is that I believe we already have her perspective well-represented on the Commission. I don't see any big character flaws that would cause someone not to vote for her.
B: I think that his unwillingness to meet his fellow commissioners half-way, or find common ground with the other commissioners, concerns me, because at the end of the day all you can do is what you can agree with fellow commissioners on.




What's a key question a reporter should ask your opponent?


Rawson Q: What different perspective would you bring to the Commission? I think it should represent all segments of the community.
Bardwell A: What I bring is, I'm very thoughtful and balanced. I'm willing to do the homework and gather input from a diverse set of stakeholders, and based on that try to find a path forward. Regarding the second point, having ideological viewpoints is less urgent than finding common ground, being pragmatic, and moving forward.


Bardwell Q: You talk about the increase in overall budget and the importance of budget oversight. What departments, services, or other costs to you want to cut? Or, what has the Commission done during the past year that you felt was not fiscally responsible/?
Rawson A: We've gone 24 million we're spending this year that we're not bringing in. We passed a budget last month, without seeing it. I'm the only one who voted against it. We still can't see it. There's something wrong with that.
I'd also say we're doing a lot of studies where there's an earlier study that's maybe three years old. We should be implementing the first study, not doing a new one already.




You've been a County Commissioner for a year: looking specifically at your record during that year, what in that record would you say particularly recommends you to a District 3 voter? [asked only of Commissioner Rawson:]
The Foreign Trade Zone, which used to be just Santa Theresa and the West Mesa. The FTZ allows manufacturers to come in and not have all the usual costs and fees on pieces of the product they're going to make. They still have state fees, but not the federal fees.




What would you say is the most serious issue the County faces right now – and how should we deal with it?
R: I'm going to mention two.
First of all, jobs and the economy are something we have to focuson. Looking at the City of Las Cruces last year, there were 200 new jobs. With all the high school graduates we have, there are no jobs, and they have to go somewhere else. We need a change of mind-set. I'll give you an example. Near the new Union Pacific tracks, there's a company that wanted to store train cars till they're ready to go on a truck. Staff turned them down because staff wanteed 30% of the area landscaped, because it was parking lot. It's out in the desert, and there's a water scarcity such that it doesn't make sense to water things. So, yes, that's what the book says, but . . .
Secondly, infrastructure. It's not as sexy as building something new; but we have roads and dams deteriorating, and we have to get a handle on that. Anyone in business knows that proper maintenance will save you a lot of money in the long run. We have dams deteriorating, and have to prevent things from occurring such as the floods in Vado.
B: There are a lot. And the problems are complex. If they were simple solutions, we'd have figured them out by now. But the leading problem is poverty in the County.




What should the minimum wage be in this county, and why?
R: Well, not trying to duck the question but I think that should be dealt with on the federal level. The City may go to $10.10. Suppose the County did the same. Then there'd be cities, such as Anthony, where it'd be different on opposite sides of a street. If it were national, or even if El Paso was also on board, it wouldn't be so bad. I will say that I don't think the $10.10 will impact local businesses here the way some have said in the media.
At the same time, the County would have problems. There are three levels of park techs under $10.10; so if you want to keep three levels, two have to go up to even more than $10.10 right away.
B: If the County could set up a ballot measure, that'd be best. It's important that we provide our residents with a liveable wage. There's lots of evidence that increasing the minimum wage is an effective way to decrease poverty and at the same time benefit the economy. It tends to rais employee performance, which helps offset the increased expense to a business. I understand small business's concerns, but I believe that raising thw minimum is right.
Now, if the city raises the minimum wage, the County should follow suit.


[Note: With the following questions, I specifically asked each candidate for a very brief answer – yes or no, then why or why not in a sentence or at most two. For the most part they complied; and if their answers seem simplistic of brief, please blame me not them.]


New Organ Mts. / Desert Peaks National Monument: good or bad for us?
R: Neutral. Our one challenge is dam maintenance. We need to work with them on the rules and regulations to make sure we can still get up there to work on those.
B: Good for us – it puts us on the map, valuing and prottecting our valuable resources and unique landmarks. I do believe it will increase tourism and bring in additional revenue for the County without impacting land use by ranchers.




Our water problem: how serious is it and what can county commission do about it?
R: It's getting more and more serious. Probably the best help is a desalinization plant at Santa Theresa, although that could be more a CRUA issue than a County issue.
B: Over the long term, it's very serious. The County Commission can provide leadership in identifying strategies and opportunities to secure a sustainable supply, whether through a desalinization plant for Santa Theresa and the border area or looking at our growth patterns and how we can reduce our water footprint.


Public Transportation and related GRT vote?
R: Well, we have a pilot project going through the end of December; and with a pilot project, that's to determine what the need is and how to fill it. Therefore I think the GRT increase is premature. I mean, if we're getting 1,000 a month passengers, that's about 30 per day. Maybe we should just hire three taxi drivers each day. What I mean is, we need to have a closer idea of the actual need.
B: I support it. I believe that it is a strategic investment in the county – integrated regional transit system will revitalize rural communities, attract new industry, and be a powerful economic engine for the County.


Capping interest rates: yes or no? Why or why not? If so, at what level?
R: I voted in favor of that. We're capping interest rate and fees. It would be better just to cap the interets rate and allow a fee on top of that for small, short-term loans. For example, if someone borrows $200 for four months. That means the company makes only $6 profit for making the loan. The 36% sounds high, but it isn't when you break it down.
B: I support it. I agree with the current proposal to ask the State Legislature to cap it at 36%. It'll help keep local low-income families stay afloat, and put more dollars in the local economy.


What Lynn Ellins did regarding marriage? What the New Mexico Supreme Court did?
R: Very bad. Not because of the marriage issue, but because of how he did it. We're a county of laws. He chose to stop following the law the way his predecessor had done and numerous county clerks around the state were. Then what about the NM Supreme Court? Neither good nor bad. We're there.They had the right. Personally I'm a little disappointed in the outcome, but I recognize that that's the direction the country wants to go on, and that's ok with me.
B: I support it. It's important to address inequality at any level of government, and that was a courageous act, and resulted in the very first shift in the state's views and laws on entitlement to marriage - - and who's entitled to declare their love for someone else through the act of marriage.


Tell me some political figure or philosopher from the past whom you feel is underrated. Not Washington or Lincoln, but someone who's maybe overlooked, who doesn't get as much attention from us as he or she should?
R: In the political world, we all have our ideas, but we still have to work together. I'd say Mark Twain, because he was very witty, he gave thought-out responses, and he injected some humor. Sometimes we get so serious that we forget to work with each other. So Mark Twain, and also the baseball player, Yogi Berra. They both kept the humor in things and worked well with other people.
B: Jimmy Carter. I think he was maligned and put in the back quarters of history as being a poor president, but in my opinion he was trying early on to deal with some issues we're grappling with today, such as energy efficiency. He was focused early on the right issues.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

County Treasurer Davd Gutierrez Must Resign


Although I was tempted to write this week about the Las Cruces City Council's strange conduct Monday, it's also important to discuss the situation of our elected County Treasurer, David Gutierrez.

The facts seem simple: Gutierrez has admitted he solicited sex from a female employee while they were in a car traveling on county business. He admitted he'd said what he'd said and that he'd meant it. (That's to his credit – unless the lady was wearing a wire.)

There's also significant evidence that this was no one-time error in judgment. His alleged harassment of the same victim was reported in January to HR Director Deborah Weir and County Counsel John Caldwell. I didn't see the evidence, don't know what investigating they did, and can't judge them. One employee said, “she wouldn't have had to go through this if they'd done their jobs.” (On the other hand, maybe they did, somewhat slowly, and this was the result.)

Gutierrez must resign. He's an embarrassment to the County and himself, and to his party, community, and family.

We must force him to resign. While he may wish to keep receiving a handsome salary from us, remaining in his position could cost him heavily in fees fighting a possible recall effort and perhaps criminal charges.

A crime? I'm no criminal law specialist, but solicitation of sex-for-money is a crime in most states. Where he's already admitted it, the facts should be easy to prove, but a quick look at New Mexico statutes leaves me doubtful that those facts fall within the specific language of relevant statutes. (For example, “criminal solicitation” must be solicitation of a felony; and one sub-paragraph of the law on “promoting prostitution” looks as if it would apply only if she'd taken his suggestion.)

Democrats should get off our tails and actively encourage him to retire, even if the sitting governor gets to appoint his replacement. This transcends politics. (Although his conduct had nothing to do with his party affiliation, he happens to be a Democrat.)

I attended the annual Labor Day Breakfast about honoring labor, and heard all folks said there about honoring labor, as Democrats have traditionally done. Here, a man abused his power at the expense of workers he supervised.

I called to invite Mr. Gutierrez to tell me of any extenuating circumstances. I received a long email saying the public accounts were “not contextually thorough” and asked that people forgo quick judgments and extend “compassion and forgiveness.” He didn't offer to fill me in on the context, but said the incident wouldn't affect his job performance.

Gutierrez, as an elected county official, is automatically on the Democratic Central Committee. I believe County Democrats should formally consider (1) terminating his Central Committee membership and (2) censuring him and urging him to resign. Democratic County Chairwoman Christy French has convened the Judicial Council to discuss these issues soon. Gutierrez will have the opportunity to explain his side of things.

New Mexico's Constitution directs that 200 valid signatures on a petition can get a grand jury called to look into an alleged crime or official misconduct. (So can a judge, if s/he deems it necessary.) If no officials plan to act, perhaps citizens should. (Recall is cumbersome, and costly to the public.) Somewhere along the way Mr. Gutierrez will likely realize that the longer he fights, the less he retains citizens' respect or affection.

He needs to resign. I suspect he also needs to seek treatment from a qualified professional sooner rather than later, and (unless he plans to leave the County) begin the painstaking task of rebuilding some hint of community trust and respect for him.
                                         -30-

The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 14 September, 2014

Recall:
The column mentions recall.
Under New Mexico law, to recall him takes signatures equal to 1/3 the number of votes cast in November 2012, when he was re-elected. Unfortunately, that was a Presidential Election year, with a larger turnout than most years.  The people could surely do so, but at significant effort, and the resulting special election could prove costly.  Thus it should be undertaken only as a last resort.

County Democratic Party:
On 10 September, Ms. French wrote to the Judicial Council, the appropriate body to hear the case, petitioning it to meet soon concerning Mr. Gutierrez.  In part, she wrote:
Understand that I do not bring this petition lightly, but under the circumstances, I feel it is the right thing to do and it is necessary for the Democratic Party of Dona Ana County to show the voting public that we do not condone this type of behavior.  In addition to removing Mr. Gutierrez as an officer from the County Central Committee, I am asking the Judicial Council to formally censure Mr. Gutierrez and ask that he resign his office.

Did County Officials Hear about the Problem Earlier?
I've been told "Yes, definitely", first-hand, by someone who says it was discussed at a meeting within the County's HR Department -- and that HR Director Deb Weir voiced an intention to discuss the matter with County Attorney John Caldwell.
The County says "No, definitely."  It took me a while to get a comment, but the comment (after deadline for the column) was a definite "No", that no one reported to HR back in January that there was a problem with  Mr. Gutierrez's conduct toward women, or toward this particular woman.  
A couple of people had criticized Weir and Caldwell for inaction.  I wondered if maybe they'd taken some action, or at least investigated, but apparently not.

Seeking Comment from Mr. Gutierrez:
The column mentions my invitation to Mr. Gutierrez to comment.  I phoned and left him a message.  He responded by email, from which the column quotes.  It seems fair and appropriate to publish the full email, though it wouldn't have fit in the column.   Below are the email I received and my reply.  So far, I've heard nothing further.
(Of course, Mr. Gutierrez will also be invited to tell his story to the county Democratic Party -- and presumably could do so to the Las Cruces Sun-News or to KRWG-TV.)


David Gutierrez <>

Sep 8 (2 days ago)

to me
Mr. Goodman, I did receive your voicemail message, and I appreciate that you are reaching out to me for my side of the story. As you can well imagine this is a difficult and painful time for me and my family. After 18 years of dedicated public service in various roles for both Mesilla and Dona Ana County, my reputation has suddenly been pinned on a conversation that lasted less than two minutes. The picture painted by the official investigative report and discussed publicly on Aug. 29 is not contextually thorough, and I believe it unfairly portrays me, my words and the aftermath of the original conversation. What happened is regrettable, but it does not affect my ability to act in the best interests of either my office, my fine staff or the taxpaying residents of Dona Ana County. I am hopeful that all those who would judge me based on that two minute window of time would show some compassion and forgiveness during this difficult time, realizing that none of us is perfect and those of us who live in the fish bowl of public service are scrutinized in ways most people cannot imagine. There is always more than meets the eye, which is very much true in this case. Thank you again for the opportunity to state my side of the issue.

David Gutierrez
Dona Ana County Treasurer
845 N. Motel Blvd.
Las Cruces, NM 88007

Peter Goodman <>

Sep 9 (1 day ago)

to David
Mr. Gutierrez -
Thanks for your reply, but it left me unclear: do you want to talk about your side of this, or extenuating circumstances, or leave the record where it lies?   If what we've heard may be inaccurate, I'd like to hear your view on that before I write a column or otherwise act.
I do wish to hear your side; but your email doesn't tell me your side, but just says you have one, which I'd figured was likely.  I do recognize that you've provided valuable service to the community; but public / political positions are what they are, and there are good reasons folks may not extend the kind of forgiveness/patience/compassion and avoidance of judgment that they/we would do with a private person acting as an individual.
Certainly my initial view of this, to be frank, is that you should resign, but that you deserve every kind of consideration, compassion, and assistance as an individual and one who's served the community for some time.   That's my initial view, based on what I know now..  I'm open to argument, or to learning new facts.
Please feel free to email or call me -- 521-0424 or (510) 282-6690.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

thoughts on a constitution

Antonin Scalia is the U.S. Supreme Court's most passionate proponent of “originalism.” He's used the concept to harm the country significantly during the past two decades.

“Originalism” says that in close Constitutional cases you look to what the Constitution's framers knew and wrote in the 18th Century.

Like most doctrines, the justices use it when it's convenient but ignore it when it's not.

The opposite view is that some pretty thoughtful men created a living constitution that could grow with our country.

I found a neat articulation of that in a nearly century-old article in the Catholic Charities Review.

The 1910's were progressive times. Woodrow Wilson had avoided some federal legislative proposals by arguing they were illegal or should be decided by the states; but by 1915, looking at the 1916 election and Theodore Roosevelt's return to the Republican Party, he loosened up a bit.

A new law prevented kids under 14 from being employed in industry or at night or longer than eight hours a day. With hazardous occupations, the minimum age was 16.

But was this constitutional? Weren't laws on working conditions a matter for the states? (Many states had enacted such laws, but some southern states hadn't.)

Article I, Section 8 empowered Congress to “regulate commerce among the several States.”
Therefore, as the Catholic Charities Review noted, “the new Federal law simply prohibits any establishment that employes children in conditions contrary to the standards set up in the law, from shipping its products in interstate commerce. . . . [T]he law seeks to abolish child labor by making it unprofitable.”

The writer called it “a nice constitutional question” and anticipated a court challenge. He conceded, “In the minds of the men who wrote the Constitution there was probably no intention of enabling Congress to exercise any such power as is contemplated by the law that we are considering.
Nevertheless, this would not be the first instance in which the language of the Constitution has been interpreted to mean more than the Fathers intended it to include.”

He added that with a Constitution so difficult to amend formally, such methods were essential. “Otherwise, our social and industrial life would be strangled by a Constitution that was made to fit the conditions of the eighteenth century.”

It's an ugly but unarguable fact that naked capitalism is pretty brutal. It's too eager to use up men, women, and children, then toss 'em on the slag heap when they can't work anymore, and its indifferent to our air, water, land, and climate.

Our founders were preoccupied with the evils they knew, such as monarchies. They never imagined industries huge enough to poison our world and international corporations more powerful than governments. Should we reject necessary reforms and humanitarian legislation based on their failure of imagination?

A fairer sort of originalism would ask, “What would Jefferson have done?” Ask not whether Jefferson intended to outlaw something he'd never seen. Ask whether the man who wrote that each of us had a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would have wanted our Constitution used to let 13-year-old kids be worked 15 hours a day instead of going to school. Ask whether the man who sent Lewis & Clark to explore our beautiful country would have wanted us to let huge corporations destroy it because he hadn't conceived of them during his simpler times.

I understand the argument that this second sort of originalism is inherently subjective; but at bottom, so is Scalia's kind.

The current court's desire to strangle us with extremely narrow interpretations of our Constitution may exemplify why Jefferson suggested there ought to be a revolution every ten or twenty years.
                                                         -30-
 [The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 7 September 2014.]



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farmers' Market, Las Cruces 23Aug2014


I'm a regular at the Saturday morning Famers' Market in Las Cruces.

Addicted to it, you might say: not only to the fresh bread and vegetables and fruits we enjoy for the week between markets; and not only to local food, to fresh food that didn't waste a bunch of petroleum getting itself here, to buying from trusted friends instead of faceless corporations, to having some clue what's in the food I'm eating; but also to the friendship of vendors and fellow shoppers, old friends and new, great conversations, and a ready supply of enjoyable images to feed my camera.

I keep meaning to post a few of those images each Saturday afternoon, but rarely manage it.  These, at least, I did get ready, and would have posted Sunday except that Sunday was for my column from the Sun-News.

Note: I shoot street photographs in public places.  If anyone sees himself or herself in one of 'em, and wants a copy, s/he should email me and let me know, and I'll email one back.  Equally, if you see yourself or your spouse or your did or your dog up here and would prefer I delete the image, let me know -- by email or with a comment on the blog -- and I'll delete it immediately.

These are from Saturday, 23 August:

Man on Truck I

Man on Truck II

A Family Saturday

Music Lover

Man Photographing Musician

Girl with Puppy

Questions about public funding to run a non-existent law enforcement academy


In 2011 Doña Ana Community College, which teaches some law enforcement classes, wanted to start a law enforcement academy (LEA).

DASO and LCPD already had academies. Neither wanted to throw in with DACC. DACC rep Richard DeRouen made a presentation to the accrediting agency, but the agency wasn't encouraging and hasn't done anything since to accredit the non-existent LEA.

Nevertheless, DACC got the feds to shell out $156,468 for the 2012-2013 academic year for salaries, uniforms, and a fancy shooting simulator.

DACC listed LEA classes in an online catalog, despite having no such academy, then reportedly told students who applied that the classes were canceled.

DACC spent the money and got another $134,183 for 2013-2014. DeRouen received more than $80K for one year's salary and benefits out of the grants. I asked a DACC rep what DeRouen was actually doing for the LEA then, but he didn't know. There's still no LEA. (For this year DACC sought just $3,250 for replacement ammo for the shooting simulator, used in a self-defense class.)

People within DACC had questions; but one employee who asked them of DeRouen reported he got angry. One instructor was heard asking DeRouen, when the initial money came in, whether the deal was all right. DeRouen assured him it was. In August 2012 a DACC employee wrote DACC Prexy Margie Huerta a letter suggesting DACC had put the cart before the horse by obtaining and spending funds before creating the institution the funds were to help run. Before leaving for another job, the employee also warned Andy Burke that he'd get in trouble over this stuff. Burke reportedly indicated he didn't want to know.

Sadly, all this compounds lingering questions about DACC based on Huerta's scandalous handling of the Nursing Program accreditation loss. (The bulk of the activity in both programs preceded both Garrey Carruthers's NSMU Presidency and the tenure of DACC President Renay Scott.)

Did DACC tell the State it didn't have an LEA teaching classes? If so, when? Should money have been returned? Were the class listings misleading? Was all this on the up-and-up, or did DACC defraud the government? (The funds were federal grants administered by the New Mexico Department of Education.)

DACC won't say. DeRouen told me he “wasn't comfortable” talking about this matter. He referred me to a Public Information Officer who didn't know a lot and refused to let me speak with DeRouen.

DACC's applications boasted an Advisory Council “meeting twice a year to ensure that the program continues to meet student educational needs.” The phrase, “the program continues to meet student needs,” suggests a program that exists. If it didn't exist, how could it continue or meet student needs?
DACC listed as Council members a who's who of law enforcement; but several named members recalled no such meetings; and although NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez confirmed attending meetings, he conceded other agencies were less regular in attendance.

DACC said the LEA would get accredited. That hasn't happened. It's not on the agenda for the next meeting. A key factor appears to be strong inter-agency support, which is highly unlikely.

Sheriff Todd Garrison told me DASO wouldn't actively oppose the proposal, but isn't supporting it. LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya said he'd told DACC representatives “we do not want to go that route.” Another law enforcement official described “absolutely no interest in having DACC train DASO officers. (There are cogent reasons, which I'll post on my blog.)

At least current online listings now warn that “Accreditation is Pending”; but where accreditation is highly unlikely, even that could be a little misleading, though literally true.
Maybe these questions have easy answers; but if so, why didn't DeRouen offer any?
                                                         -30-
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 31 August.  It wasn't easy to write.  Some public documents raised interesting questions; but the key figure at DACC wouldn't talk with me wasn't "comfortable" talking with me about them, and questions raised by DACC critics sometimes seemed as if they might go too far.
Below, I want to amplify what the column said on a couple of points.]

[A key issue is that throughout this odd story, it probably should have been fairly obvious that accreditation for the proposed law enforcement academy was, at best, a long-shot.  That's partly because a key issue for the accrediting agency appeared to be need: was there inter-agency support for this, did local law enforcement entities want to join in the project or would they hire cadets from the DACC law enforcement academy?"
The answer was a resounding "No!" although gussied up a bit for courtesy's sake.   I talked to some very experienced law enforcement officers and trainers and they gave some pretty good reasons for their positions.  It was clearly not merely a matter of "turf."
First of all, and meaning no insult to DACC's law enforcement instructors, DASO and LCPD each have an academy.  There are good reasons to keep running those and hire graduates from them.
Why?
1. When you train cadets you gain an extraordinary amount of insight into those cadets.  Who learns more quickly or more slowly?  Which cadet finds which areas easy and which areas difficult? The insights gleaned from training the men could inform assignments and conceivably even save lives.
2. I was repeatedly told that the (proposed) DACC Law Enforcement Academy would be more "academic." 
3. Institutions training cadets include in the program a lot of policy points and other information specific to the institution that's doing the training and will do most of the hiring.  That doesn't hurt a DASO Academy cadet who later goes to Farmington or NMSU; but a new DASO officer who had trained elsewhere would have missed that material, and might need extra time to ingest it.
Since these points were articulated to the DACC folks, and since those folks went ahead and procured (and spent) funds for their project, one wonders why.  They had to know accreditation was highly unlikely.  Why did they proceed?  Ambition, I'm guessing; but if that spilled over into misleading students and/or the government, it doesn't seem appropriate.]

[Another point worth touching on is DACC's response to questioning.  DeRouen spoke with me briefly, but soon announced he was "uncomfortable" talking with me and referred me to a Public Information Officer.   The PIO was courteous, but when he learned the subject of my interest he said he wanted to check with DeRouen and get back to me.  He did, the next day, saying DeRouen didn't want to talk with me.  He offered to take my questions and obtain answers.  I initially rejected that, because I was pretty sure he wouldn't know the answers -- and if he brought back a non-responsive or incomplete answer from DeRouen, I'd be waiting a while for an answer to a follow-up question.  Then I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I called back and asked him several pertinent questions.  Mostly he didn't know the answers.  In one case he answered, but I'm pretty sure he was (unintentionally) wrong.   I reiterated that I could talk with DeRouen with the PIO on the line; but he never called back to accept that suggestion or answer any of the questions I'd already asked him.
I  have a hard job understanding that.  Always seems to me that folks are usually better off giving their best explanations and answers. (That's not necessarily true when one is being investigated by law enforcement, which may be the case here.  I'd heard so, but didn't include it in the column because I wasn't certain it was accurate.)

The PIO insisted DeRouen was upset because I'd accused him of defrauding the government.  I hadn't.  Rather, that was the question I was trying to answer: I'd seen documents that could be read that way, and were being read that way, and wanted to see whether there was a better way to read them or some additional information that would show there was nothing at all off-key about this. 

Maybe there's some easy explanation.  If so, I'd have appreciated hearing it, and perhaps writing about something more fun this week.]

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Hembrillo Canyon


We spent last Saturday in Hembrillo Canyon, which really should be Hembrilla Canyon.

Mostly you can't get there, because it's within White Sands Missile Range. We learned, among other things, that 59% of the gypsum that gives White Sands National Monument its name is actually within WSMR, and just 37% in the Monument. We were duly instructed not to photograph any structures and also not to step on, kick, or pick up unexploded ordinance.

We went with the Native Plant Society, on an outing led by a fellow with one of the world's great jobs: Dave Anderson, WSMR's gardener. As WSMR's Land Manager, he gets to wander at will some very fine country that is exceptionally uncrowded. He was a fun and knowledgeable guide.

We visited the Range's northernmost population of Night-Blooming Cereus. Easily overlooked, this cactus has a very nice flower it deigns to show off only at night – and only on one night each year. Fellow Doña Ana Photography Club member Lisa Mandelkorn – who not only photographs flowers beautifully but takes the time to know what they are – has witnessed cereus flowering. 
 

They're rare. There were only two previously tagged cereus in this “population.” Dave gave us a few minutes to wander around, and before we left there were three. They look about like an old stick someone discarded in the middle of a creosote bush.
 
Creosote is said to kill other plants; but some cacti like to grow beneath creosote. I'm not entirely sure whether the creosote as plant-murderer story is a myth or a truth with exceptions. 
 
We wound our way up into the Canyon, seeing little evidence that it had shared much in the recent rains.


We ate lunch in a cottonwood grove that had been used for centuries. And decorated by centuries of visitors: it boasted both pictographs and petroglyphs. Mescalero Apache elders had identified the pictographs, but weren't too sure what earlier folks had left the petroglyphs.

We saw no great quantity of either; but what we saw were different from what I'd seen elsewhere; and the site's silence and solitude enhanced its appeal. 


Other wonders we ran across included ancient agave roasting pits, some neat cactus, mystery agaves, and a sotol with a wren's golden nest protruding from its golden stalk. In addition, some of our stops to gawk at plants also yielded views of Lake Lucero and the white sands far below us, with black mountains looming in the background.

Our travels also took us to the battlefield where Victorio, determined not to be moved, held off the buffalo riders with a much smaller force.

It wasn't a long walk, but I turned back, guessing my week-old new hip might object to the climb. While Dave regaled the others with tales of tricks, triumph, and treasure, I sat in my truck doing the sudoku and enjoying a light rain.

Soon we reached the fabled Victorio's Peak and turned back, without getting out our shovels.
Within minutes thunderclaps were following the lightning strikes as closely as an NFL defensive back covering a wide-receiver. We abandoned photography and just drove. Fast. 
 
The dry dirt road quickly became a raging river, making it a race to get to pavement while we still could. The waters were high enough that we got our feet wet -- in the truck. 
 
A classic end to a New Mexico outing. As we headed for the exit from the Range, an oryx with two young-uns stood by the side of the road watching us curiously, but raced off into the hills after we stopped to return their stares.

                                                       -30- 
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News, though without the images.]