Sunday, November 22, 2015

County Manager

Tuesday the Doña Ana County Commission will discuss its sole employee, County Manager Julia Brown. Following a closed-door discussion, the Commission will vote on whether or not to extend her contract, by how long, and under what conditions.

Like the Commissioners, but with less firsthand knowledge, I thought Ms. Brown was a very promising hire. Like the Commissioners, but with less firsthand knowledge, I've been somewhat disappointed. 

I'd guess that none of the Commissioners gave Brown high marks at evaluation time. I'd also guess they'll steer clear of either a two-year extension or termination (despite some sentiment for each), and extend her employment for a year that could become six months if there isn't perceptible progress on certain perceived shortcomings.

Before Brown was hired, there appeared to be a clique of county officials (named in earlier columns) that looked out too much for their own and each other's power and security and too little for the best interests of the County. Many county employees and ex-employees felt their fortunes depended on kissing butts and making no waves, not on competence or top-notch public service. It sure looked that way to me.

The County also needed to do some serious long-range planning that the previous manager might not have been too keen on getting into.

Brown brought a great resume, a greater smile, and all the right verbiage. 

HR weeded out the bulk of the candidates, based on commission criteria, to save the Commission time. That sounded good, but meant HR, with an inherent conflict-of-interest, could affect the process. (I'm told that at least one applicant who promised to get rid of the county attorney and HR director didn't make the cut. Perhaps he didn't meet the Commission's standards.)

Brown's performance cleaning up the place (and being seen to have done so, to reestablish trust among county employees) has been mixed, at best. Some people are gone who probably should be gone. On the other hand, after the Stewart trial broadened our knowledge of problems the Granados trial had revealed, Brown made an incredibly tone-deaf speech to employees. Many employees have wondered whether, as two juries found, management retaliates if one presses valid complaints. Brown told them that people had lied on the stand in Stewart, that she knew the trial's result was wrong, and that many employees make complaints when they're just about to be disciplined or fired for cause, to delay or avoid consequences of poor performance. But at the end she insists she wants employees to know she's 100% against retaliation and discrimination, and they can always come to her. 

Many viewed her hiring as folks in the Middle East greeted the Arab Spring. Some of the same people feel nothing has changed. Many feel that Detention Center Director Chis Barela and HR Director Debra Weir should be gone by now.

Brown works hard, I'm told; she has attacked projects like the Comprehensive Plan that make normal people's eyes glaze over but can prove important. Although her communication with the Commission leaves something to be desired, it's fair to say she's working on the issues, that fixing things would take anyone a long time, and that a year is a significant investment in her. She has such a promising resume that some folks feel it'd be a shame to give up on her prematurely.

One observer suggested that increasingly frequent “work sessions” symbolize micromanagement by the Commission and use up a lot of management's time, undermining Brown's ability to do her job.

A two-year extension would seem unwise; but if Brown stays, the Commission should clearly articulate its concerns and desires.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 22 November, 2015, and will appear today on KRWG-TV's website as well.   I invite comments and criticisms.]

[I don't have much to add to the column.  I did have one more example of what I've called tone-deafness, although this one would qualify as just plain dumb.  Brown's office announced an office-decorating contest among different departments of county government, with someone judging it and offering a prize, and said the County would allow each employee to work five hours on the decorating, paid.   A clever guy I know worked out the math, and at current rates and assuming every employee used his or her five-hour allotment, that'd cost the county upwards of $200,000, if I recall correctly.   This at a time when county government is experiencing a civil war over pay in the Sheriff's Office!   I called a County Commissioner, and this thing hadn't been run past them.  I called Brown's office, and her office confirmed the idiocy.  I left a message asking Brown herself or HR Director Debra Weir to call me back, hoping there was some sane explanation, or we'd all misread the memo.  Never heard any such thing, but the five-hours' paid allotment per employee offer was retracted.   
Never did hear back from Brown.  She may have decided I'm a trouble-maker.  I can never figure out how public officials get that impression!]
[Oh, and I did go take a look at the correspondence between the DA and Sheriff's Office, on the one hand, and Brown and County Attorney Norm Goodin, on the other, regarding documents about alleged bad conduct in the Detention Center.  The real joke was some of what former County Attorney John W. Caldwell had held back from investigators based on the attorney-client privilege.  Included an email in which a jail employee had sent an unsolicited complaint about misuse of County resources.  It's pretty basic that there's no attorney-client privilege there.  But Caldwell withheld it.  Anyway, the upshot was that the Judge ordered documents turned over to investigators but imposed on both sides a County-requested gag order so that they can't give us those documents or say publicly what's in them.]

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Avoidable Jail Beatings: Wrong and Costly

This is a tough column to write, and maybe to read.

Sex offenders have not only violated the law, but have sometimes done things most of us find unimaginable. Messing sexually with children is unimaginable to me. 

But people who commit such crimes do not give up their humanity, or their entitlement to the protection of our laws. Unfortunately, it may take fresh lawsuits and more huge jury verdicts to get that point through the skulls of the folks who run the Dona Ana County Detention Center.

We've all heard how sex offenders are often treated by other prisoners. Therefore they're housed separately; and when they're in contact with others, you watch carefully; and you don't let other inmates know that a particular inmate is a sex offender. These are the rules.

CASE: Mr. A writes me that after his arrest (for an unspecified sex crime) a jailer placed him in a holding cell with a regular inmate and let that inmate see what he was in for. Mr. A was beaten to within an inch of his life. (Call me if you're a lawyer who has time and the skills to represent him.)

CASE: Mr. B had just returned from court. Completely shackled, he sat on a bench, helpless, waiting for the guard to remove his restraints. The jailer first unlocked a maximum-security inmate who had apparently heard the charges against Mr. B in court. The other inmate beat Mr. B so badly that Mr. B was beyond the capabilities of our local hospitals and had to be transferred to El Paso. 

Sorry, but that's just wrong.

We're not talking about a father or brother so angry over the rape of a sweet, innocent girl (or boy) that he attacks the rapist. (I'll admit having said and meant that if someone molested a certain innocent, creative, and loving 11-year-old female relative, I'd kill him myself. Even though I understand that most such molesters have first been victims.)

We're talking about the deliberate indifference of a jailer who likely hasn't met the victim, but dislikes sex offenders or gets some jollies watching a beating. Or is so careless that he should find some job where people's lives aren't at stake.

Meanwhile, “sex crimes” have expanded far beyond what most of us realize. Some poor soul who never touches anyone but watches a couple of pornographic films with underage kids in them could be locked up for decades. Such films aren't to my taste; and I understand the theory that jailing customers diminishes the market for such films. But the penalties can be draconian.

Too, an 18-year-old having a fling with a 15-year-old who says she's 17, and looks and acts it, could be jailed on a charge that sounds worse than it was. 

I concede that the two incidents cited above are allegations, not yet tried in any court of law, civil or criminal. 

But note that I don't do criminal law or hang around the jail a lot. If I know of these two cases, from the past few months, how many more might there be that we know nothing of?

As a tax-paying citizen, I don't want jailers conducting themselves this way: it's legally wrong, and it risks a Slevin-size jury verdict. Folks complaining about alleged waste at the County should sure complain far more loudly about this stuff.

These problems illustrate why we need a Citizens Advisory Committee here. Ethically or financially, we cannot afford to view our jails as septic tanks into which we need not look.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 15 November.and will appear later today on the KRWG-TV website.]

A point worthy of a column itself is the draconian nature of the penalties for watching porn on the Internet. A first offense of watching child porn on the Internet could carry a 10-year statutory minimum sentence.  We could be talking about some troubled fellow who has never touched a child and never would -- or even someone who stumbled onto a site by accident or out of curiosity about what all the fuss was about.   Congress has vastly increased the penalties in recent years not based on any science or studies or sense of justice, but out of irrational revulsion and quite rational political calculations.  

Many judges are appalled by the sentences they have to hand down.    I've read several essays by lawyers, and surveys by the U.S. Sentencing Commission have confirmed that.  According to one organization:  according to one organization:

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, federal judges believe that many child pornography sentences are too long – 71 percent of respondents believed that the mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography was too high.25 . . .  70 percent of the judges surveyed respond[ed] that the guideline ranges for possession were too high. Additionally, 69 percent believed that sentences for receipt of child pornography were excessive.  Unsurprisingly, federal judges are responding to this excess by handing down sentences below the guideline range when they are able and when they believe it is appropriate. In 2010, less than 55 percent of child pornography sentences fell within the guideline range or below it pursuant to a government-sponsored departure, while nearly 43 percent of offenders received nongovernment-sponsored below-range sentences.  In 2008, Robert W. Pratt, a U.S. district judge in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote that the sentencing guidelines for child pornography crimes “do not appear to be based on any sort of [science] and the Court has been unable to locate any particular rationale for them beyond the general revulsion that is associated with child exploitation-related offenses.”   Since then, other judges have spoken out, including Judge Jack Weinstein, of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. In an interview with The New York Times, Judge Weinstein said of child pornography sentences, “We’re destroying lives unnecessarily.”  

In any case, a Detention Center prisoner is in our care.  A jail-sponsored beating (or one in which jailers acquiesce, or one our jailers' carelessness facilitates) is both wrong and potentially costly.  To us.  Arguments about how much we spend on transportation or how much we pay our deputy sheriffs should not be complicated by allotting money to pay huge jury verdicts to prisoners. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post-Election Reflections

Las Cruces voters got it right this week. Kudos to candidates, canvassers, and voters – on both sides. Special congratulations to Mayor Ken Miyagashima for a resounding victory. 

But let's not dance in the streets just yet. The closeness of the council races sent a message to both sides: we must work harder at talking with each other and collaborating. Conservatives and the Chamber of Commerce lost the election; and the recent recall efforts, plus misleading personal attacks by an outside PAC, have alienated many uncommitted voters. Progressives should note that two council seats were decided by 18 and 11 votes, respectively. Slightly better decisions by candidates or their backers could have changed the outcome. 

Further, the outside PAC could be back next election with a bigger budget or smarter operators. (The super-PAC attacks made some voters vote against PAC candidates, but undoubtedly led others to worry about PAC-alleged scandals. I'll leave it to Steve Pearce to figure out whether the attacks ultimately helped or hurt PAC-favored candidates.) Conservatives could have won Tuesday. (Since I'm not a Republican campaign consultant I won't suggest how.)

The PAC further damaged the community's ability to move forward as a community. Not something Pearce or Mack Energy cares about, obviously. If I were Miyagashima, I'd be sorely tempted to tell some PAC allies to put their requests and ideas where the sun don't shine. Fortunately, Miyagashima will surmount any such temptations. 

Progressives and other citizens must go forward working as collegially as possible with folks they disagree with. I don't say blind ourselves to the fact that some people mean us no good. I do say that with our eyes open we should work with everyone we can, without pride in our “victory” or our supposed righteousness. None of us is always right about everything. Nor is anyone I've met always completely wrong.

If we can talk honestly across the ideological divide, we will find some areas of agreement; where we disagree, groups can understand each other better, perhaps avoiding misunderstandings and personal animus, (Understand others' assumptions. Confront others' arguments without rejecting the persons, the neighbors, making the arguments.) Together, we may be able to hammer out workable compromises. Ultimately, we all want to improve Las Cruces, although we differ on how to do that and on precisely what constitutes improvement. 

Above all, this is a community. If it degenerates into armed camps, perpetually at war, we all lose. And although each “side” may blame the other's close-mindedness and arrogance, we might dp better to glance inward for a moment and see how we can each improve our own tolerance, open-mindedness, communication, and genuinely cooperative attitude.

Examples? Conservatives complain the City is tough on businesses. If that means businesses don't want any safety and health regulations, I'd say too bad. But if it means city officials drag permit processes out unreasonably, because they enjoy power or because inaction is safe when you're unsure what to do, or because they think councilors are anti-growth, we all need to try to change that.

Another: how much and what kind of growth would be best is a fair but complicated question. We all need better information about water, for example. How much is there? How bad is it? And what would be the actual costs and harms of trying to improve water quality? All sides should collaborate on gathering information – and on educating each other honestly about the facts. Assuming mindlessly that all growth is good or bad won't cut it.

Staying in perpetual campaign mode would expand that leak in the bottom of the rowboat we all share.
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 8 November in the Las Cruces Sun-News -- which, coincidentally, also editorialized on the same subject from a somewhat similar point-of-view.It will also appear on the KRWG-TV website today.]

 [If I didn't make it clear enough: 
"Yo, conservatives: you lost, despite a Congressman and a PAC and $100,000.  The city council majority is what it is -- and even if you win Olga's and Gill's seats two years from now, you likely won't have a majority.  Deal."
"Yo, progressives: you damned near lost two council seats -- and 49% of the voters did not vote for Mayor Miyagashima.  That means someone other than the Greater Chamber and the Tea Party may have had some issues with you.  Deal."
Some progressives feel as if it's like the gridlock in Congress, where folks urge both sides to compromise, but the Republicans won't/can't because of Pearce and his ilk, extremists who'd rather make a point to their wealthy supporters than run a country in some sane fashion.  Is that true here?  The way to find out is to treat complaints or critical questions with respect and a cooperative spirit.  Where some legitimate problems turn up, try to deal with them non-ideologically.  Where not, shrug and go on to the next issue.]

[Everyone asks me "Why does Pearce hate Miyagashima so much?" or "Why do these guys care about who's a city councilor in Las Cruces?"   Obviously I don't know, although I doubt Pearce particularly hates Miyagashima and I doubt he was involved in detailed discussions of the nearly-libelous mailings by the PAC.  I do believe he wants a more Republican / conservative Las Cruces, and is working to make it happen.  The Congressman from Hobbs lost last year to a professor's wife (now, sadly, widow) who had never held public office.  I don't mean to belittle her, because I like and respect her; but if I were a five-term U.S. Congressman who kept losing the biggest city in my district to unknown Republican opponents, I'd probably want to urge Hobbs to get a little more progressive.  Don't know as I'd do it the same way, but that's why I'm not holding any elective office and am highly unlikely to seek one!]

[But it isn't just Pearce -- or, in his interest, Mack Energy.  From a recent piece by "Money in Politics Reporter" Paul Blumenthal in the Huffington Post:
"Super PACs have also played key roles in city elections for mayor and city council members across the country this year. . . . 

"A debate over the development of a toll road in Dallas led businessmen involved in city council races to create opposing super PACs. Wealthy businessmen including billionaire Harlan Crow, oilman Ray Hunt and investor Al Hill Jr. made five-figure donations to For Our Community, the pro-toll road super PAC. Coalition for a New Dallas, the anti-toll road super PAC, received $150,000 from Trammell Crow Jr.
"Small cities are not immune to super PAC involvement either, as two northern New Jersey cities found out in 2015.
"In Little Ferry, New Jersey, a group called Focus on Families is circulating flyers attacking Mayor Mauro Raguseo. “These fliers are ridiculous in their attacks, and I think the people of Little Ferry know that,” Raguseo told The North Jersey Record. The biggest problem is that Focus on Families has not filed a single disclosure report detailing who its funders are.
"Just slightly to the west, New Jersey Future First, a super PAC run by a Democratic Party consultant, got involved in a Republican township council primary election in Parsippany, New Jersey. The super PAC's involvement was confusing to residents at first, and especially to the officials it targeted.
"The group stated that all of its funding came from America’s Future First, a 527 group registered with the Internal Revenue Service. That confusion was cleared up when America’s Future First disclosed that its donors were Fairview Insurance Agency and Adams, Rehmann & Heggan Associates. Both companies held contracts with the city’s government, and the council members they opposed were critical of the contracts.
. . .
"Super PAC involvement continues even further down-ballot: Lately, billionaires can be found influencing races for school board and district attorney in Louisiana.
In short, it's the new political reality: money dictating to politics in U.S. towns more directly than it had since more than a century ago.]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Pearce Super-PAC Muscles into Municipal Election - Why?

Why is a PAC backed by Steve Pearce attacking Las Cruces candidates with misleading ads? In trying to influence the city election, why did it not even register as a PAC with the city? And why do monied interests elsewhere want to influence city council elections? 

Las Crucens should care who's mayor here. Las Crucens should care who's on the City Council. County residents, myself included, have reason to care too.

But why should oil-and-gas interests from Hobbs tell us how to vote here? Why should a super-PAC attack local candidates such as Kasandra Gandara and Ken Miyagashima?

“GOAL West PAC” has a Hobbs address. Pearce has donated some of his excess campaign funds to the PAC, and his brother Phillip is its Treasurer. 

Many citizens have recently received the PAC's mailers. 

So far, the content is pretty lame. For example, Kassanda Gandara is a mother (son a veteran, daughter in med school) who started as a PTO member fighting for her kids, and also became a social worker – but the oil-and-gas PAC calls her “a lifelong bureaucrat.” (To me, a “bureaucrat” shuffles papers. A social worker affecting people's lives, like a law enforcement officer or doctor, does something more, even if employed by the public, (As Pearce is.) Another mailer uses a funny picture of Mayor Miyagashima and talks about “lipstick on a pig.” (Las Cruces is the “pig”; the “lipstick” means comments that Las Cruces is a great place to live. Which I think it is.) The mailer blathers about “small business” without suggesting any real ideas – except that we shouldn't increase the minimum wage.

It's negative campaigning. By ousiders with money. Based on the old premise that if you repeat something long enough people will eventually believe it. And it could get uglier right at the end.

I don't much want Steve Pearce telling me whom to vote for. I don't give a rat's posterior what Pearce or his brother has to say about Ken Miyagashima. It even seems a little arrogant that no one even bothered to use the available legal methods to obscure Pearce's connection with the PAC a little, to make at least some effort to blunt the naked truth that Steve Pearce figures he can tell us whom to elect to local office.

This is the same Steve Pearce who played chicken with shutting down the government and helped cost us all billions ($1 billion in interest alone) merely to make abstract ideological points. Same Pearce who's ex-military but has a miserable record on veterans' issues. Same guy who's trying to cut back on public lands because they're inconvenient for the interests who fund his campaigns – and because he thinks government should be minimized at every turn, no matter how that harms us.
Ironically, the PAC blames Miyagashima for southern New Mexico's economic problems; but who could have done more in recent years to improve New Mexico's economy: Miyagashima (with one vote on a city council) or Steve Pearce and his ally Susana Martinez? Hi, Steve! 

If I lived in the City I'd be tempted to vote against the Pearce candidates, Miguel Silva and Eli Guzman, just to send Pearce a message. (There are other reasons.)

Guzman and fellow Chamber of Commerce endorsee Hall stiffed the Las Cruces Sun-News candidate forums. They preferred to avoid probing questions from journalists but let the Chamber (or Pearce and his big-money folks) send out misleading flyers attacking their opponents. You can't ask a flyer hard questions.

A vote for Guzman, Hall, or Van Veen is an implicit approval of running for office that way.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 1 November, and will also appear later today on the KRWG-TV website.]
[I wrote this while traveling, and sent it in Tuesday, and of course lots has been published since then on this subject.  This is simply politics at its worst: an oil company and a few rich folks, all from far beyond the borders of our county, paying to spread misleading attack ads against local candidates here.  It's a hate-group ultimately controlled by Hobbs's U.S. Congressman, Steve Pearce, who's developing an interesting habit of trying to meddle in local politics.  Sad.  Sadder if it succeeds in outweighing the will of the actual citizens of Las Cruces.  Should add fuel to the anti-Pearce fire in Las Cruces next year; but as I recall, he lost the Las Cruces portion of the 2014 vote to a gutsy, hard-working neophyte.   Folks here generally see him for what he is already.]
[For the record: I hope Miyagashima wins re-election.  I don't always agree with him, but I've found him reasonably candid with me and I think the City is generally doing some good things -- and getting attacked viciously for it.  I like Miguel personally; but I see no reason to believe he'd be a better mayor than Ken; his charter-breaking misconduct (along with other councilors) regarding minimum wage doesn't entitle him to a promotion, and the big bucks and energy of the super-PAC and the Chamber of Commerce on his behalf suggest he'd be their mayor, not the people's.  Ms. Montoya-Ortega seems a nice lady, possibly well-intentioned, and if she indeed wants to help Las Cruces perhaps she'll get more involved in local government and politics than she has been in the past.  She has shown no experience, education, or new ideas that should excite anyone about the idea of making her mayor. 
District 1? Kasandra Gandara, whom I haven't yet met, seems the far stronger candidate than Eli Guzman, whom I've only spoken to on the phone.  Gandara has done good things as a social worker, eventually got promoted to oversee a five-county region, and started as a mother fighting for her kids' education.  Guzman is personally appealing, as a local kid teaching martial arts, but he reacted badly to the effort by city codes enforcement folks to ensure that the new dojo he was building would be safe.   Further, it's hard not to assume that based on his loud opposition to freedom of choice for women wouldn't lead him to help with efforts to initiate a local anti-choice vote along the lines of the one that wasted time and money in Albuquerque.  (I hear such an effort is likely, but don't actually know so for a fact.)  
District 2? This is the closest we have to a reasonable race.  I'd vote for Greg Smith.  Reluctantly, because his conduct regarding the minimum-wage issue was not to his credit and his failure to speak out against the recall effort more vigorously was a failure to stand up for Las Cruces when it counted.  However, he does really care about improving Las Cruces, has done some things to actually improve it, and has the energy and experience to continue making a real contribution as councilor.  Philip Van Veen strikes folks (including me, during our one brief conversation) as more thoughtful than some of the Chamber-of-Commerce candidates; but I've seen and heard nothing from him that suggests he'd be anywhere near as useful and productive a councilor as Smith has been.  It's also not clear to me that he cares about aspects of the city other than making things easier for businesses and developers, or has the experience or perspective to do much good.  Maybe.  But Greg Smith can be counted on to think hard and work hard on a variety of issues that come before the council.
District 4: Jack Eakman has the background and perspective to be a very good councilor.  If the alternative is a Tea Party denizen who loathes Obama, loves Pearce, and didn't even dare show up to visit with Sun-News journalists, there's no serious alternative.  (Voting for Gilbert Vasquez would be a wasted vote, since he'd be legally precluded from taking office.) ]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thanks for a Finely-Crafted Play

The stage is dominated by a big white bed and by a huge, selection of bright-colored clothing hanging high up all the way along the back of the stage. Those clothes and a long shelf of books fairly loom above you, at least from the fifth row, suggesting not only their owner's glamour and wealth but also her ability (need!) to shift rapidly among roles and moods. The big bed – just a white sheet on it, no blankets, ready for action – also tells you a little about its owner.

Sixty years ago, that paragraph might already be making you think of Marilyn Monroe, the subject of Mark Medoff's excellent Marilee and Baby Lamb. The well-conceived and well-crafted set might also suggest (accurately) you were in store for an absorbing play. If you missed its recent five-day run at the Rio Grande Theater in Las Cruces, I'm sorry.

I should also stress, as Mark has consistently done in his facebook posts and conversation, that this was a collaboration. With a fine cast, partly local but featuring two leading ladies who came to Las Cruces to do this play. With an extensive design and production staff. With producer Dennis D'Amica. But above all with Lena Pepitone, whom Mark never met.

D'Amica, a former student of Mark's at NMSU, met Ms. Pepitone seven years ago. Ms. Pepitone had worked extensively with Ms. Monroe during the last several years of Monroe's life. She was Monroe's intimate confidante, and they were friends. She observed a lot, and D'Amica interviewed her on video over the course of the next three years. Much of the play's material comes from those interviews. Sadly, Pepitone died in 2011. She can neither elaborate on her story nor enjoy the fruits of her conversations with D'Amica.

Both two leads (and five local actors) give excellent performances in what doesn't seem the easiest play to act in. Two men play multiple roles, which adds to the difficulty – and perhaps unconsciously supports the suggestion that here men are secondary. The two women are the story.

Some of that story you may know: that Monroe was a lot smarter than she let on, but playing the “dumb blonde” – a role the world forced on her – was convenient and profitable; that she was both magnetic and insecure; and that her involvement with politicians and at least one mafioso were dangerous to her health. The play shows us the Marilyn-Lena love story convincingly and keeps us highly interested; and without necessarily sharing Pepitone's certainty (which the interview tapes themselves might lead us to do), we certainly accept the possibility/probability that Monroe was murdered.

Years ago it seemed to me that Mark's strongest work was his collaboration with Phyllis Frelich to portray the angst and frustration of a deaf person in Children of a Lesser God. Mark's skills, wit, and humor stirred her unique and sometimes painful experiences into an excellent theatrical cocktail.  Frelich had something that desperately needed saying, and Mark had the ability to tell it with just the right touches of drama and humor. 
Now we are older. Mellower, maybe. Mark has thought (and been taught, by his wife and three daughters, among others) a lot about feminism and about being a woman in this particular world. In Marilee and Little Lamb, he expresses movingly what he's learned, along with what Lena Pepitone had to teach us about some of our misperceptions, stereotypes, and perhaps prejudices. 
I'm guessing the play will get a much longer theatrical run in a much bigger city soon. Certainly it should.
[The column above appeared today, Sunday, 25 October in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and will appear later in the day on KRWG-TV's website.]
[Thinking further about this, ten days after we saw the play, I think the column doesn't stress sufficiently how Mark Medoff seems to me to have grown as a playwright.  This play is marvelously written; but Mark could always do that; and it's well-directed -- which it would have been decades ago, although I'm sure he's deepened his command of that craft over the years.  What I appreciate also is the entire complex task of staging the play.  It's not merely the clever words or the actors' delivery of dialogue and their nonverbal contributions.  The set.  The lighting.  The different ways we're taken quickly from one scene or issue to a very different one, from Marilyn with Joe DiMaggio or Arthur Miller to Lena with her husband, Joe.  The use of space.  The interesting decision to use the same actor to play Miller and DiMaggio and a gangster, while Algernon D'Ammassa plays both Kennedy brothers and Frank Sinatra.  (I don't know why Mark did that; but it seems to work.  It doesn't detract; and I see a benefit in it, as noted in the column, although I don't know that that's one of the benefits Mark saw in it.)  What I think I'm struggling to express is that plays are staged now in new ways, and Medoff has broadened and deepened his sense of what's possible and what works.]

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Notes on City Election Candidates

Making Las Cruces “business friendly” and eliminating “red-tape” are catchy slogans, but could mean things most voters wouldn't agree with.

If business-friendly means encouraging businesses, particularly small and local ones, that's great; but if it means surrendering decision-making to business or eliminating health and safety requirements, it'd be unwise.

Both mayoral candidate Gina Montoya Ortega and Council candidate Eli Guzman (District 1) have complained about their experiences with building permits – although others say the City is very cooperative.

Guzman was altering a building to house a dojo, without a permit. A codes officer spotted work and required a permit. Guzman reportedly wasn't happy. A City source says officials tried to work with him, but found him uncooperative.

Guzman says City officials were “unfriendly,” but denies the incident is why he's running. He also says his strong anti-abortion views have nothing to do with his candidacy, although someone made a video available in which he talks about that. He says that as a native he knows Las Cruces well and cares deeply about it. 

If Guzman really didn't know he needed a permit, he may not be too savvy about municipal affairs; but if he knew and ignored the requirement, that's not a good sign either. Electrical mistakes can cause fires – and a balcony with too low a railing could cause injury.

Republican Steve Caldarazzo entered this race because he didn't realize business was supporting Guzman. I asked him whether the 2010 tax lien against him and his 2012 bankruptcy indicated he'd manage our money well.

To his credit, Calderazzo was frank. He says he's worked diligently to improve, regrets his mistakes, and has learned from them in ways that would make him a better councilor. However, he's tried to withdraw.

I like both Ken Miyagashima and Miguel Silva personally. Both initially opposed the minimum-wage hike. Miyagashima's study led him to change his mind. Silva stuck to the Chamber of Commerce line. 

The city charter mandates that a petition-driven ordinance must either be passed as it is or put to a citizen vote. Silva voted to pass the ordinance while intending to violate the charter by weakening the ordinance very substantially.

The third mayoral candidate, Montoya Ortega, criticized both. She disagreed with Miyagashima on the raise; but she says that unlike Silva, she would have voted for a city-wide vote on the issue. Let the people decide, “because ultimately they'd pay for it.” 

She said in a video interview that we should invest in the city's children. She knows there are programs, but thinks there should be more. She apparently doesn't share the view that all government is bad and said that on this issue she didn't join in criticism that the City spent too much money.
She reportedly called the paperwork to enter the race “nerve-wracking.” Being a councilor and balancing competing opinions on sometimes complex issues ain't no picnic. 

Richard Hall (District 4) presents himself as the typical far-right conservative. Just before filing, he posted: “All I want is: Obama, gone; borders, closed; language, English; . . .” He also advocates mandatory welfare-screening. When Florida tried that, a lot of money was wasted on testing but very few welfare recipients tested positive. The public paid to hassle poor people pointlessly. 

Hall also criticized the council because Picacho is dead. Interstate 10 killed Picacho. Before I-10, West to East travelers had to use Picacho and Valley. It's nothing this council did!

If there's more to Hall, he's keeping it secret. He ducked the Sun-News Editorial Board (as did Guzman) and the candidate forum at City Hall, and hasn't yet returned my phone calls.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 18 October.]

Space precluded saying more about any one of the points raised in the column.  Meanwhile, this week folks in District 1 started receiving circulars paid for by a Steve-Pearce-related Super PAC of which his brother Philip G. Pearce is Treasurer.  In line with the "pro-business candidates are Republican fronts" theme, GOAL West PAC circulated pro-Guzman fliers opposing Kassandra Gandara.  A friend emailed me:
I just received a campaign circular opposing Las Cruces District #1 candidate Cassandra Gandara.  It comes from outside funding: GOAL West Pac, P.O. Box 2694, Hobbs, NM 88241.  We now have outside money meddling in district-level elections.
A vote against Guzman is a vote against Pearce's PAC.

The candidates for Mayor of Las Cruces are incumbent Ken Miyagashima and challengers Miguel Silva and Gena Montoya Ortega.  I understand Montoya Ortega hasn't voted in Las Cruces city election since 2007.  If true, that speaks to a lack of genuine interest prior to her decision to be a candidate. If I lived within city limits I'd cast my vote for Ken.
In District 1 (now represented by Miguel Silva, who's running for Mayor instead), Kassandra Gandara looks best to me -- by far.  She'd be my choice if I lived in District 1.   Guzman is superficially appealing -- a native Las Crucen teaching martial arts --- but worries me for the reasons discussed in the column.   Calderazzo was refreshingly candid when we spoke, but aside from differences of political opinion I'd want him to put some years of solid accomplishment between his 2010-2012 financial problems and a run for the council.  Bankruptcies are perfectly legal and can result from bad luck; but they do hurt someone, particularly where, as here, the amount available to pay creditors is $0.00.
In District 2, incumbent Councilor Greg Smith faces a challenge from burglar-alarm salesman Philip Van Veen. Smith is an experienced Councilor who's done some positive things.
In District 4, Jack Eackman, Gilbert Vasquez, and Richard A. Hall are all candidates.  I'd likely vote for Eackman if I lived in District 4.  He's an independent thinker and has a wealth of useful experience.    However, I know little about Vasquez.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Will the Real Las Cruces Please Stand Up?

In November's municipal election, voters will choose between two views of Las Cruces: a place we invest in, to improve quality-of-life for all, and the “shrink government, cut taxes to an absolute minimum” litany of the Tea Party and the local Chamber of Commerce.

At the recent Domenici Conference, named for our long-time Republican U.S. Senator, the experts were unanimous: you want to grow your economy? You gotta invest, particularly in infrastructure and education. 

Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt stressed investing in a “more technologically-invested future” and strengthening public education. He added that for decades his state suspended a food exemption of the three-cent sales tax. It wasn't popular, but the programs it funded were. He recommended we consider raising taxes.

The good-government ideas articulated by Hunt (no wild-eyed progressive) sound similar to what our City Council has been trying to do. 

It's pretty much what they've been getting reamed out for doing, by the Tea Party (government must shrink until you need a microscope to find non-military functions) and the Chamber (local government must not raise taxes or regulate, and the local Board of Education should shut up and do what Hanna Skandera tells 'em to do). 

I play pickleball in Meerscheidt Rec Center weekdays – as I played noon-time basketball four decades ago. The place has grown. On Saturdays, uncountable kids play sports nearby, while their families laugh and cheer. Across across from the soccer fields is the Aquatic Center. Some people live for their daily swim. Meerscheidt is also central to the lives of disabled folks who gather there for part of the day, of middle-aged and older folks playing pickleball and volleyball, and of younger folks playing basketball. Munson Center is enriches the lives of seniors in numerous ways. 

If it costs a few extra pennies a day to have a city that cares about such things, I'll pay it. If I ran a business and were thinking of locating here, that sort of thing would matter a lot to me, because it would matter to my employees, and I'd want to attract and retain the best people I could. 

But certain business interests have made clear that they wanted to “take back Las Cruces.” 

Business used to own the City Council, which largely did the bidding of developers until the Philippou fiasco finally soured most citizens on that way of doing business. The current council cares deeply about doing the right thing: safety, services to city residents, a healthy environment, and the like. That involves building codes, environmental concerns, and rational zoning decisions. 

The first step in “taking back Las Cruces” was the vicious and dishonest effort to recall three city commissioners. When constituents who'd been tricked into signing asked to remove their names, the recall group sued, and made the City waste a bunch of lawyer time. The City won. 

The second step is trying to elect city councilors who will do the bidding of business. Part of the strategy seems to be finding malleable Democrats, because this isn't a Republican city. The strategy fooled a pro-business Republican: seeing no Republican running in his district, he signed up to run – then discovered “I'd unintentionally set up some conflict in my own party.” He withdrew his name, apparently to avoid battling against the Chamber.

Next week's column will discuss specific candidates.

Make no mistake: the Chamber of Commerce wants to “take back” the City from the rest of us – and will try to take back the County next. What kind of Las Cruces do you want?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 11 October, and will appear later today on the KRWG-TV website.]

[As soon as I sent this off I wished I'd included a clarification of how business and the city should interact.  Businesses, collectively, are an important aspect of any community and, obviously, of any local economy.  I am not "anti-business" and do not believe a municipal government should be anti-business.  That would be absurd.
Business is an important interest group and the local economy iss an important consideration in local government.  But not the only one.  Not a dominant one.  Cities should try to avoid unnecessary red-tape and fees and bureaucracy.  City personnel should be courteous and cooperative with all.  That's  a pretty basic propositions.  But local governments should not be controlled by business.  That leads to corruption, to giving too little weight to safety and health concerns, and often to a short-term profit outlook that not only short-changes other values but frequently minimizes longer-term profits.  As I suggest in the column, reasonable efforts to improve the quality-of-life and environment of a city or state can also pay off economically.  
That is to say: I disagree with having the Chamber of Commerce run things but also disagree with the Chamber of Commerce having no voice at all.  Business interests should be listened to, but their view is self-interested and can sometimes be short-sighted as well.  The current Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce 's views unfortunately seem dominated more by small-government ideology than by the rational interests of its members.]  
[A further complicating factor here is drought and an uncertain water supply, even if one doesn't accept the science related to climate-change.   We live in a goddamned desert.  I love it, but it wasn't designed for a huge human population.  It will not, in the long term, support a huge human population, as well as agriculture and a significant bovine population.   We need to revisit the common assumptions that growth is good and that maximizing growth is a civic ideal.  Building houses is a noble and useful trade; but adding further strain to our water supply just as the supply itself seems likely to diminish is not a negligible factor.