Sunday, August 17, 2014

Developments with Subjects of Past Columns

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Unfortunately, that's true of many subjects these Sunday columns have touched on.

I wrote in January that Governor Martinez, like NJ Governor Christie, tended to “maintain a personal vindictiveness that doesn't fade as they move up the political ladder.” And “Mark D'Antonio's presence in her old office is like an itch she can't keep from scratching.”

She continues to illustrate my point. Shortly before Independence Day a visitor remarked to D.A. Mark D'Antonio that D'Antonio's office had a great view of the Field of Dreams. A plan emerged to gather there with their families to watch the fireworks.

One evening soon afterward, Doña Ana County Commissioner Dr. David Garcia got a call at home. “Is this Dr. Garcia?” “Yes.” “Is this Commissioner Garcia?” “Yes.” Finally the woman identified herself as “your Governor.” Guv told Garcia of D'Antonio's party plan. He wondered what she wanted him do do. “Shut it down.” “But it's his office.”

Dr. G. obligingly contacted the County Manager, who issued some edict against booze in county offices. (Did the Guv always keep that office alcohol free?) Also no shooting of fireworks from the county building's roof.

Does it get any pettier than trying to prevent a fireworks-watching-party in her former office? Even if D'Antonio had been planning to serve booze, is this what oughtta be keeping our Guv up at night?

In May I wrote that we pay appallingly inadequate compensation to contract public defenders. Constitutionally, the State owes indigents a defense to criminal charges; but at current rates, a contract lawyer must either short-change his client significantly or work many unpaid hours to give that client a defense remotely equal to what a paying client would receive.

What sparked the column was lawyer Gary Mitchell's motion, filed in several criminal cases, demanding the State put up or shut up: since the Constitution says you gotta pay me to defend the accused, either do so or drop your case against him.

Sounded fair. I called Mr. Mitchell Monday to ask whether any court had yet ruled on such a motion. None had. (Judges rule at their own pace.) “Hopefully, we can get a ruling pretty quick,” Mr. Mitchell said.

In 2013 we questioned the mindless rush to spend a bunch of money putting artificial turf on the Field of Dreams. Proponents claimed you could use it for many events; but you can't – unless you cover it with an expensive wooden platform to protect it from spilled drinks and high heels, etc. Sure enough, first big concert – no one could sit on the field, and many had to be unreasonably far from the stage.

Two columns earlier this year concerned the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District bond election, which failed 500-2,859. That's the result I favored; but I wrote that those of us concerned about soil and water conservation shouldn't just nod off and leave this group to spend their time opposing conservation and preservation measures, most of which have little to do with their charge. Concern about local flooding deserves serious attention.

Mea culpa. I just haven't taken the time I'd intended on this. But in writing this column I saw the group was to meet Thursday, August 14, and I resolved to attend.
Quite recently, I wrote of rattlesnakes. A few days later, taking care of a neighbor's place, the wife reached for something near a Russian Sage. Curled under the bush lay a rattler. He lazily stuck out his tongue at her. She thanked him for his serenity and gave him a wide berth thereafter.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 17 August.]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Was School Too Hastily in Firing Jesus Solis

Last week's column discussed the Jesus Solis case, in which a popular teacher was accused of touching children sexually and was indicted on 52 felony counts. When those counts evaporated, he essentially pled guilty to hugging kids.

Police and prosecutors eventually reached the right result. No sex crime.
Meanwhile, Solis was fired by the school board.

School board members are non-lawyers. Some were teachers. They want to do the right thing.

Solis's termination hearing was run largely by their legal counsel, who also drew up the notice of firing. It's not illegal for him to perform dual roles; but was it wise? He wasn't required to follow the rules of evidence, and he didn't.

So what was the testimony?

No child testified Solis did anything sexual. No one testified to seeing him do such a thing.
(Superintendent Stan Rounds, who had a second school-hired lawyer as prosecutor, probably could have brought in the little girl or girls allegedly involved. He didn't. Solis's lawyer had apparently made a “gentleman's agreement” with the D.A. not to subpoena the girls without the D.A.'s permission, and he was having trouble reaching the D.A. The school's lawyers refused to give him more time. Months after the alleged event, what was the sudden urgency? Could it have been that the school's lawyers feared the charges would be exposed as hokum? When prosecutors, looking to convict Solis, questioned the first girl and two others who initially supported her, there was nothing there!)

School principal and counselor testified that one day as they finished questioning a girl about alleged lesbian activities or improper conversations on the subject, and the girl knew she was in trouble, she suddenly, out of nowhere, claimed that Mr. Solis, her teacher the previous year, had touched her inappropriately.

Principal and counselor testified they did not particularly believe or disbelieve the alleged victim.

Two teachers who'd taught the girl testified she had a bigger problem with lying than most kids. Witnesses said two other girls felt so strongly that the alleged victim was lying that they went to the principal.

Both sides agreed that at least two dozen witnesses would have testified in favor of Solis.

The prosecution had the burden of proof (though just a preponderance of evidence, not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard). So what did the prosecution present?

Rounds and an HR guy testified they believed the little girl. Neither man had talked to her.
Rounds testified that if the girl recanted, he'd still fire Solis.
Rounds waffled about whether he'd consulted the principal and what she'd said. He testified that the principal's opinion often contributed to such a decision, and he implied that this principal had supported firing Solis. In fact, she didn't, as she testified under oath.

Rounds testified he acted once Solis got indicted. (An indictment describes the charges but isn't actual evidence. Guilt or innocence gets determined in the criminal proceedings that follow the indictment.)

Rounds and the school's lawyer had padded the termination letter with a bunch of other charges that sound minor. Rounds testified these charges alone were enough to fire Solis. But if that's true, why didn't Rounds do it months ago, and save us some money?

The evidence against Solis was hearsay. Unconvincing hearsay, in my view. The school declined to comment, given an imminent appeal and possible litigation.

There's a lot the board didn't hear in the hearing. Here's hoping the board members take a more active role in deciding the appeal. Rubber-stamping a questionable decision could prove costly.

Mr. Solis, his students, and the taxpayers deserve a fair and reasoned decision.
[The column above -- Part II of II -- appeared today, Sunday, 10 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Part  I, which ran in the paper a week ago sub nom A Conscientious Teacher Put Through Hell, is available at A Sad Story - Part I or by just paging down past these italicized comments below.]
[I mention in the column that the school district authorities declined to talk to me, because Mr. Solis's appeal hearing is coming up soon and because there could also be litigation of some sort.  I mention that to explain why the school's point-of-view isn't set forth in the column, and certainly not to criticize that silenceWith what I've had available, I've tried to write a fair and accurate account -- and, obviously, I think I've managed that.]
[I can only reiterate that the deeper problem -- how to ensure that we give a huge and empathetic ear to the least hint of sexual molestation of kids while avoiding unnecessarily ruining lives of beloved teachers or other adults who've done nothing of that sort -- remains important, subtle, and challenging.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Sad Story -- Part I

This is a sad story that needs to be told.

One victim is a good and conscientious teacher named Jesus Solis.

I'm not sure there's a villain.

I won't discuss all the details, or name other names. But one day a troubled young girl was called to the principal's office and questioned about talking in the girls' room about stuff schools don't want 10 or 11 year-olds talking about. She knew she was in hot water. After the principal finished questioning her, the girl suddenly blurted out a claim that a teacher had touched her sexually. As best I can tell, he hadn't. As best the District Attorney's Office could tell, he hadn't. But she told her story, and two other girls initially went along with it.

The story that made the news was that Mr. Solis was charged with 52 felony counts. There was a photograph (probably taken after a night in jail wondering whether anyone would believe he hadn't done it) in which Mr. Solis looks like someone who would do any bad thing the newspaper said he did.

But he hadn't touched the girl sexually, according to the weight of the evidence. The school prejudged him guilty. The police investigated, and eventually he was indicted; but as the police and the DA investigated further, the case unraveled. The girls contradicted themselves, recanted, or changed their stories. There was also strong evidence undermining the first girl's credibility.

Ultimately the DA dismissed all the felonies. Mr. Solis pled guilty to hugging kids. A misdemeanor. Nothing sexual. But hugs that were perhaps unwanted. (I get those, not being a huggy kind of guy, but it's in the culture now; and it was in the culture Mr. Solis grew up in.) The DA was agreeable to a suspended sentence for the hugging.

Meanwhile, although some people who should have known better joined the bandwagon, a lot of teachers, parents, and students stood up for Mr. Solis. He is reportedly a popular and dedicated teacher.

Why do I mention all this? Because the guy whose picture we saw in the paper and whom we each casually judged seems to be a pretty good guy, and we have put him through hell. We the citizens whose School Board failed us and him. We the citizens who judged him based on a headline and a bad photograph. We the audience of news media that saw in this a titillating tale.

I doubt the girl understood what she put Mr. Solis through. She appears to have had a bit of a crush on him, and a lot of confusion about her sexuality. On the day she told her story to the principal, she smiled at Mr. Solis and repeatedly visited his classroom on flimsy excuses. She liked him.

The girl is clearly a victim: of a culture dominated by sexual messaging; perhaps of some predatory teen or adult; and of school administrators so determined to CYA that they ignored the fact that she'd made other questionable statements and allegations. Once she was closely questioned, her factual statements didn't even really amount to much.

The point here is not the girl, who probably deserves sympathy and help. It's not her parents, who supported her vigorously even as her account shrank and lost credibility. (Friends say that's because they love her; others hint that the parents thought a lawsuit against the school could turn their finances around.)

The point is to remind ourselves not to rush to judgment, but allow for what we don't know, and to use this incident to assess how our public institutions performed in a tough situation.

[This column appeared Sunday, 3 August, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, under theheadline "Good and Conscientious Teacher Put through Hell by Sex Allegations."]
[As you can imagine, this was a hard column to write.  Two sides [at least!] to the story, and everyone quite convinced that his or her view is The Truth.  Truth is a weird-shaped beast, actually -- nearly as rare as the unicorn, and not always as appealing.  This ain't the first time I've sat in rooms with people on consecutive days hearing diametrically opposed accounts, each delivered passionately and persuasively.  Neither Jesus Solis nor the girl's father would have enjoyed listening to everything I heard about him.  Solis wasn't guilty of molesting kids and got a raw deal here, but that doesn't make Jesus Solis into Jesus Christ.  At the same time, most everyone who looked into this came away believing: that the girl had a reputation for telling stories (a habit you'd figure her parents would have noticed) and that part of the parents' motivation in pushing this was financial.
I spent a lot of time looking into this matter, and have tried to write about a delicate subject fairly and accurately, including enough information for the column to make sense but without adding a bunch of information that would add to anyone's embarrassment.]
[In this extra space, I'll address two questions:
1. Is the DA "soft on criminals?"  Well, I don't think so.  I think the D.A., like most lawyers, wants to win.  Here, Solis was the ideal guy to run right over, an alleged sex offender and thus inherently unpopular in the community.  This would have been an ideal case for the D.A. to use to answer that "soft on criminals" allegation, leveled by political enemies and probably also by people, including victims, who don't fully understand the calculations that necessarily to into decisions on what to charge and which cases to settle at what price.   Sure, people who worked with Solis and kids he taught mostly liked him a lot, but by definition he didn't have any powerful political constituency behind him.  Great case, except for one thing: the facts, as developed by investigators who were not on Solis's side, simply didn't add up to a case with much chance of winning.
By the way, the girl's father says he the D.A. didn't do his job.  He says the case should have been taken to trial.  He has created a website,, where you can add your name to his petition on the subject.    I definitely don't share his view, but some readers may.
2. Then did the police screw up?  For the most part, I think not.  Just because a criminal case settles doesn't mean the police were wrong in bringing it.  For one thing, if you have any doubt at all, how do you not want to see further investigation, with advocates for both sides, of a credible allegation of this sort?
I didn't see this case as the investigating detective saw it, or listen as he did to what the witnesses were actually saying and how they were saying it.  I suspect he was also getting some pressure from the parents. Could the truth have been ascertained earlier, sparing the participants -- particularly Solis -- further angst?  I'm reluctant to judge.
Nearly 40 years ago I was a long-haired motorcycle bum who got hired as the Las Cruces Bureau Chief for the El Paso Times.  Once I was riding along with one of the city's first female police officers, to do a feature story on her. We'd picked up a male officer who needed a ride back to his car.  A call came over the radio of a burglary in progress in a residential neighborhood.  Because the male officer happened to be with us, she could take the call.  She did.  We arrived at a dark house in a quiet neighborhood.  I quickly realized that I'd better stay damned close to the two officers, because any back-up officers would instantly assume the long-haired guy was the "perpetrator."   The officers knocked on the door.  No answer.  We went in, and through the living room, and down a dark hallway.   At the far end, on the left, a door opened.  The female officer, in front, moved quickly from the hallway into a vacant room.  I, in the rear, quickly moved from the hallway into a vacant room.  The officer in the middle had no convenient exit, so he crouched and pointed his gun and shouted "Freeze! Police! at the individual who emerged from the opened door.  That individual, a tall, slender Hispanic gentleman, very sleepy, was in fact a friend of the owners whom the owners had forgotten to mention to the neighbors.  Fortunately, his first reaction was to slowly raise his hands as ordered.  But afterward, the officer and I talked.  He was shaking, because he knew how close he'd come to shooting the guy -- or at least, that if the sleepy citizen had made some sudden move, out of fear and confusion, he'd probably have shot him; and for me -- a young fellow with a radical background and quite varied experiences of police officers -- it was a good lesson.  Had the other fellow made some quick and ambiguous motion, and had there been a shooting, I could not have faulted the officer; but I knew that had I not been there, but merely read about the shooting, I might easily have condemned the shooting of an unarmed citizen.] 
[At any rate, what I hope to do in next week's column is to discuss briefly how our institutions -- law enforcement, public prosecutor, and school administration -- performed in this case.]

[I don't usually bother with stuff like this, but someone called "Sound Off" (which, for those from other places, is a feature in the local newspaper in which folks can call in and have their comments, questions, insults, and what-not printed in the paper) and we saw on Thursday this:
"GOODMAN COLUMN> Peter Goodman routinely offers innuendo, rumor, and lazy fact gathering, then draws wild conclusions.  In his latest instance of reckless commentary, he blames the school board and administrators for a person's arrest and indictment as though they, and not police and a grand jury, perform those functions."
One reason I don't usually answer these is my feeling that if someone does you the courtesy of reading what you write, s/he deserves a little respect in return.  However, it's not clear that this person read much more than the headline.  
I'm open to plenty of criticisms.  But how do you accuse me of "lazy fact-gathering"  and relying on "rumors" when I took the time to interview quite a few people and even read actual evidence, which I suspect most folks have not?   How do you get the idea I'm blaming the school board for an indictment when I say no such thing and discuss what the police and prosecutors did?  The school has certain legal obligations when there are allegations of child molestation and the like.  I think that requirement is right, although it can lead to some unfair situations.  I certainly can't fault the school for complying with the law.  Of course you want to separate the alleged wrong-doer from the kids forthwith.  I have serious questions about the school's conduct, and I'll ask them; but for the moment the school has declined to discuss the matter with me because it's still the subject of an administrative appeal within the school system and could be the subject of litigation.  (I'm not criticizing their refusal, just noting it.)
It's possible that the indictment and the withdrawal of all felony counts were each proper exercise of judgment at the time each occurred.  That's sort of how the police and prosecutors see it; the girl's father has made clear he doesn't agree with dropping the sex charges; the teacher might reasonably feel that interviewers should have gotten to what appears to be the truth somewhat sooner, or delayed an indictment.  I reserve judgment.]
[On the other hand, the reader/complainer has this disadvantage: s/he probably hasn't investigated the matter so fully, and although I've tried to be clear and fair, (1) it ain't as if I know everything there is to know either, (2) some of what folks have shared with me was conditioned on my not attributing it to the person, and (3) I resisted including several additional bits of material that, while they were accurate and (in my view) would have made the case clearer, might have unnecessary embarrassed the young girl or her family.]  

As you'll read in my next column, I do question the school board's action in firing the guy; but even so, I resist jumping to conclusions: I've seen a lot of evidence, but not everything; and

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dispatch from the Desert

Recent rains remind me to catch up on giving a little ink to the various creatures who surround us.

We've a healthy population of vinegaroons. (I know folks who grew up here and have never seen one.) They're ugly, but mean no harm to us. Conveniently, they eat scorpions.

We hadn't seen a baby vinegaroon until one showed up the other night with his parents, then alone two days later. He showed no fear, striding around as if he were master of his world. Even strolled into the house for a look.

We've seen a fair number of scorpions this season. We place an upside-down glass on top of 'em and slide a postcard underneath, carry them out to the front gate, and toss 'em over. Sometimes they immediately raise their tails in anger. Others, like the fellow last night, remain relaxed and just enjoy the ride.

A few weeks ago we had a first: a banded desert centipede in the living room. He seemed as big and fast as an NFL running back. I killed him. No time to trap him – and really didn't want to see him again. Their bites ain't fatal; but they ain't fun, and there's something discomfiting about a centipede lurking under the couch.

It's been a quiet year for rattlesnakes.
We used to treat 'em like the scorpions. A neighbor made a tool out of flexible wire and a hollow tube, and I'd catch the rattlers in the noose, drop 'em into a garbage can, and drive them somewhere.

Then we tried just letting them be; but when you're outdoors a lot, day and night, it gets a little old, nearly stepping on a rattler or wondering if the cat has sense enough to stare from a safe distance.

I killed the final one we saw last fall. It was dusk, so I hacked straight through to make sure he was dead. As they will, the severed parts writhed for a while.

An hour later the two severed ends of the snake had reattached themselves – so closely that in a photo it's hard to see where the snake was severed. In the morning, when my wife carried the snake down to the arroyo, the two ends stuck together as if they'd never been separated.

Nature not only provides us with rattlers and scorpions, but with faux rattlers and scorpions who aren't dangerous to us but perhaps gain some security from looking like their more famous cousins. Kind of like a western gunman or 1930's gangster talking the talk and sporting a gat, but secretly hoping you won't test him.

The bullsnake resembles the rattler, but doesn't harm humans. Some even become pets. They eat rattlers. Perhaps they evolved to match the rattler's appearance as a defense mechanism; but maybe they started as poisonous as rattlers and then got religion.

The solpugid looks startlingly like a scorpion, but with two oversized arms that look as though they were in casts. He rarely harms humans. He has no poison, but may bite if handled. Again, you wonder: it's clever of him to look like a scorpion to scare us; but mightn't it get him killed?

We also notice how often the same plants and animals do the same things around the same date each year.

Right now the bees are all over the purple blossoms of the Texas Sage, though in smaller numbers than in recent years. The rain has the vinegaroons out and about. The barrel cactus is blooming. The rufous hummingbird showed up recently – same time as usual.

All's right with the world – out here, anyway.

[The column above appears in today's Las Cruces Sun-News -- Sunday, 27 July 2014.]
[I'd intended to add a couple of pictures of the snake that reattached itself.  I'd been meaning to put that wonder up on the blog since last fall.  But last night when I looked, I got to the closer picture of the dead snake and had a very strong feeling that it would somehow offend the dead snake's spirit, and that I'd best omit that.  Sorry!]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

City Employee Wins Judgment against City

A year after a jury awarded former Doña Ana County Public Works Director Jorge Granados $250,000 in damages, another jury has awarded Las Cruces City employee Sandra Hunter $ 50,000. 
On July 3, 2013, a jury determined Granados had been retaliated against and subjected to a hostile work environment. I talked to jurors afterward. They were in Howard Beale mode: damned mad and not going to take it anymore. 
On July 11, 2014, a jury held the City liable for a hostile work environment suffered by Hunter. (She did not succeed on other claims.)

(Lawyers Daniela Labinoti and Brett Duke, who represented both Granados and Hunter, also recently filed a lawsuit against the D.A's Office.) 
Ms. Hunter began working for the City in 2004. She complained of discrimination, and in 2006 she pointed out that employees were getting paid for unworked time through falsified time records.  

The City allegedly responded by punishing her. She filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although filing such charges is legally protected, the City punished her further. Allegedly, Hunter kept doing her job well but the City repeatedly transferred her, placed her on administrative leave, put her through a forced psychiatric evaluation, and unfairly disciplined her for matters that other employees weren't disciplined for. 
For example, Hunter alleged that one day she called to tell her supervisor she would be fifteen minutes late.  Her supervisor being unavailable, Hunter left a message with the supervisor's assistant.  The City investigated this incident at length, conducting multiple interviews and drafting numerous memoranda, and eventually suspended Hunter without pay for one day. Hunter says other employees were frequently late and went unreprimanded. 

Hunter will receive some compensation for her emotional distress.

We get no reimbursement for any tax dollars spent harassing this woman. Or for the $50,000 plus very substantial attorney fees we'll pay. 
I sat through the week-long Granados trial. (The jurors' disgust with then-County-Manager Sue Padilla and other officials was readily understandable to me.) I also knew the case could have and should have been settled before trial, saving the County a million dollars or so.

I didn't hear a word of testimony in Hunter, so I won't assess the verdict. (I've spoken a bit to lawyers on both sides, but don't feel comfortable getting into detail about testimony I wasn't present for. The City disagrees with the verdict but hasn't decided whether or not to appeal.)

But I did immediately wonder how this happened. 
One key witness was EEO Specialist Mary Pierce. Ironically, Pierce, then employed by the County, was a major player in the Sally Ramirez discrimination case – which, as I discussed in a column last year, ended with Doña Ana County subjected to U.S. Department of Justice monitoring and required to retrain County employees.

Did the City factor in Ramirez when hiring Pierce? Will the City require some retraining of her after Hunter? Or is Pierce blameless?

Don't know. City officials can't discuss personnel matters.

Meanwhile the recent effort by Sheriff Garrisonberger to fire Undersheriff Eddie Lerma was a ready-made lawsuit. Todd Garrison's the third Sheriff to have Lerma serve as Undersheriff. Lerma served under Garrison for nearly four years – then had the sense to doubt whether Rick Seeberger's tight control of Garrison's operation was good for the County. A firing offense. I doubt Seeberger cared about fairness or whether the County paid Lerma damages some day. 
Granados was one among many recent cases by former employees against the County. I hope Hunter is anomalous, and doesn't mean the City is getting equally careless in its treatment of employees.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 20 July 2014.]

[With regard to the last paragraph: I can't overstate the difference in context.  I was hearing incredible numbers of complaints -- and incredibly passionate complaints -- about the county manager and her pals from county employees, former county employees, and others doing business (or charity) with the county.  Most of the places I saw or smelled smoke, further investigation turned up a lot of fire.  In addition, there were a host of lawsuits by employees and former employees.  Too, I have the impression from a variety of sources that the Granados case could have been settled for a small fraction of what the County ultimately spent on it.  (I know a lot less about Hunter, but the verdict was a lot smaller than the Granados verdict.) 
I spent a week in court observing the Granados trial because it seemed symptomatic of a serious problem; and when I wrote about it on the blog, hundreds of people, including many county employees and officials, read the posts and many individuals contacted me, some of them anonymously, concerning problems with county administration.  Hunter -- the facts of which started nearly a decade ago, even before the tenure of current City Manager Bob Garza -- seems a more isolated case (and a closer one, if I read the jury's verdict right).    
Having said that, though, let me make clear that I'm open to hearing about problems with any government entity. ]

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Invitation to Las Danzas

We are all invited to a celebration of a hundred years of life and dancing in a nearby village.

In 1914 a group of Indigenes from Mexico settled in the village of Tortugas. (This column concerns the group that arrived in 1914, but acknowledges with great respect that the Tigua, Piro, and Manso had been living and dancing in the village since well before 1914.)

We would know nothing of this group from Mexico if they had not been led by a remarkable man, Juan Pacheco, and later by a second remarkable man, Juan's son, Leo Pacheco.

Both men were remarkable – first, for their deep desire to keep their culture alive and, second, because they had sufficient strength of character to fulfill that desire despite poverty, society's indifference, and the way generations drift away from what they have been taught, usually in favor of whatever is new and glittery.

Central to this were las danzas. Their culture was a particular blend of Christianity and Aztec tales. When Leo told me the meanings of some of the dances, his explanation was an almost seamless web with elements from each.

If you have not seen las danzas, you should. They are very colorful. The simple music (originally drums and a violin, but now just drums) creates a compelling beat. Like the stories behind the dances, the costumes mix Christian and Aztec images. A dancer might wear a Native American headdress and bright red clothing with a scarf on the back with a picture of the Virgin. Drums beat as the dancers transport a Christian altar down the street.

To keep this tradition alive was not easy, in a village far from its origins. For example, originally only adult men danced, except for a few malinches – little girls involved in certain dances. When I met Leo in 1969 he was having to compromise. There were not enough men available. (Those present were proud to be there. One was a Los Angeles police officer who'd grown up here and still came back each year to dance.) Thus boys would be allowed to dance. (I don't recall whether women danced too that year.)

Leo loved his children, and the other children; but the compromise pained him. It was necessary, though. He would not let the tradition die out.

Leo and his wife, Estella, had twelve daughters. Their only son, Leo Martine Pacheco, died young. They were a strong – and strongly Catholic – family. The annual danzas were a central feature of family life. It was a lot of work – and the history represented was “who we are,” as one daughter recently said. When I mentioned how different Christianity and the Aztec culture seem from each other, she added, “A lot of people see us as uncivilized, just sacrificing without remorse; but when we converted to Christianity, something drew us to it.”

Eventually Leo became too ill to keep the danzas going himself.

His daughters (including Yolanda Jaramillo, the eldest) determined to continue the traditional danzas Leo had worked to keep alive. This was not a culture or a subject in which it was expected or easy for women to take the lead. Undoubtedly some men resisted their efforts at first.

But Leo and Estella raised strong women. One of his daughters told me earlier this year that whenever someone dropped off some material for use in improving their home, the daughters were expected to help out, learning building skills not generally learned by women in those days.

Leo's daughters persevered. When I watched the dances last December, there were several dozen dancers – and a lively, warm spirit. About 200 will dance to celebrate a hundred years of Danzas Aztecas here. (But please don't applaud. They are not performers!)

Sunday, July 27th there will be a mass at 10:30 a.m. at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tortugas. (The Shrine, which Juan helped to build, will also celebrate its centennial this year.) Then there will be a circle of dancing in front of the church, at 11:30 or so, followed by dancing toward the Pacheco home, where there will be a reception. The public is invited to attend the mass, watch the dancing, and enjoy the reception.

These are friends I respect. I feel honored to have been invited to share this celebration with them. I think not only of the mathematical fact of a century but of the thousand moments of difficulties, changes, and petty jealousies that added to the difficulty of loyally maintaining one's heritage and beliefs for approximately thirty-six thousand, five-hundred and twenty-five days. I will go to honor that achievement – and because this joyous event should be a lot of fun. See you there!
 [The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 13 June.  I also wrote about this group on 23 December 2012]

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Businessman to Listen To

Edward Filene must be turning over in his grave at the attitudes of both the National Chamber of Commerce and the local version.

A famous and successful store in Boston, Filene's was founded in 1881 by William Filene, German-Jewish immigrant from Prussia. Sons Edward and Lincoln took over in 1891. Inheriting the store in 1901, they became two of the nation's best-known businessmen in the early 20th Century.

Edward quickly earned Filene's a reputation as a customer-oriented store, but he was also a pioneer in employee relations. He instituted a minimum wage for women, profit-sharing, the 40-hour work week, health clinics, and paid vacations. He encouraged formation of the Filene Cooperative Association, maybe the earliest American company union. Most businessmen objected violently to engaging in collective bargaining or arbitration with their workers, and sometimes the violence was real and bloody. Filene, earlier than most, recognized that the workers were not his. He also helped pass the country's first Workmen's Compensation Law in 1911.

He was a founder of the Boston, U.S., and international chambers of commerce.

Of course, he was unusual. According to a friend, “He had a great distaste for material things, lived very modestly, never owned an automobile, and was scrupulously careful about small expenditures, all because he felt that he was a trustee for the money that he had earned and that the trustee-ship involved turning his accumulations into the greatest possible disinterested public service.”

In the 1930's, he cooperated with FDR, unlike most wealthy men. He believed that mass production, mass distribution, and worker purchasing power were the answer to economic depression. Roosevelt called him “an analyst who was able, by mathematical calculations, to make plain to us that our modern mechanism of abundance cannot be kept in operation unless the masses of our people are enabled to live abundantly.”

Henry Ford also saw that if he paid workers reasonably, he got better work – and his employees could buy cars from him.

Our business community lacks that vision.

Sadly, today's national Chamber of Commerce is a mouthpiece for the reactionary view on any issue.

The local Chamber didn't deign to discuss the minimum wage initiative with CAFÉ while there was still time to negotiate.

The Chamber also opposed the proposed new National Monument, a highly popular proposal that looked likely to help us economically. Years of discussions involved compromise with a variety of voices.

Yet in the final months, the Chamber submitted a guest column to the Sun-News calling for “cooperation” and “an issue agreed upon locally.” Proponents thought that's what they'd painstakingly worked out.

The guest column claimed there were “no provisions for BLM land releases for the future growth of Las Cruces.” But the areas close to Las Cruces, where such development might reasonably occur, weren't part of the proposal. Did they imagine housing developments on top of Las Uvas or the Robledos, or at Kilbourne Hole? There's ample room for such growth as we're likely to see – or should see, in an arid desert where we're already overtaxing our water supply.

After six years of community discussion built tremendous local support, the Chamber said “Wait, we need to discuss this.”

Shortly before CAFÉ had to finalize its wae proposal, a friend told me the Chamber now wanted to talk. He said the Chamber recognized something was going to happen, and wanted to help shape it. That seemed reasonable, if belated; but soon afterward another Chamber guest column rejected the increase and offered no alternate proposal.

Instead, the Chamber found three friendly city councilors and quickly got an inferior ordinance passed. (Remind you of Steve Pearce's clever effort to confuse monument supporters by proposing very minimal protection after years of opposition?)

I'm no expert. But Greg Smith's recent suggestion that increasing the minimum wage was a cause of the 2007 recession is nonsense. Dangerous shenanigans by banks, investment companies, and mortgage companies created highly risky investment vehicles and an overheated housing market full of bad loans. Officially, the main cause was “widespread failure of financial regulation.” No authority I've read mentions the minimum wage.

Economists don't agree that a wage increase will kill business. But I have good friends who own businesses in town and are strongly opposed to CAFÉ's proposal. I don't know that the proposal is perfect. I wish the business community had engaged in a meaningful dialogue while there was time for improvements.

The City Council vote was a perfectly legal tactic to confuse voters and defeat the CAFÉ initiative. It may succeed. But it was unfortunate. In spirit, the business community reminded me of a kid I knew who used to kick over the Monopoly board if he seemed to be losing.

William Filene, a founder of the National Chamber, would have had coffee with Sarah Nolan and tried to work out the best solution for workers, business owners, and the community.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 6 July.]

[In the column I mentioned two Chamber guest columns.   Earlier, I drafted but didn't finish a response to the one on the proposed minimum wage hike, and have added a bit of that draft below:

Chamber of Commerce President Bill Allen's recent guest column in these pages was disappointing. A mutual friend had me kind of expecting something reasonable.

Allen nowhere indicated a desire to work things out. He asserted blandly that no one would oppose a “reasonable” hike; but he never gave anyone a hint what he or the Chamber might consider “reasonable.” 

Rather, he took an extremely pessimistic view on the legitimate issue of how the hike would affect small, local businesses. 

Worse, he started talking about “outsiders.” Sorry, Bill. I remember being a civil rights worker in the Mississippi Delta. Fayette County, Tennessee. The white folks, startled by the nascent efforts of local blacks to free themselves, shouted about “outside agitators.” I was indeed an outsider, but we'd come in because local folks wanted and needed us. So “outsiders” has a tinny sound in these old ears, Bill. Suggest you stick to rational arguments on substance. Hell, Jesus and Buddha were probably outsiders in most of the towns and villages they visited; doesn't undermine the wise words they often spoke. 

It also strikes me if that “outsiders” label is a jab at CAFE, because it is not a purely local organization, then it applies to half the businessfolk in town, because McDonald's, UPS, Farmers' Insurance, Hobby Lobby, and the like are not purely local organizations either. They're huge international corporations that exist to make money for shareholders. If we close our ears to local members of CAFE, which at least exists to try to do good, then surely we oughtn't to listen to local employees or franchisees of business corporations, whose charters say nothing about trying to do good.

(Personally, I'd listen to everyone. But then, I'm an outsider. Moved here initially in 1969. Not sure about Mr. Allen.  But maybe we should just listen to J. Paul Taylor, Billy Garrett, Merrie Lee Soules, and Gary Esslinger.  And Robin Westbrock, when she starts talking.)]