Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Fight for "Customer Choice"

Help save us all money!

El Paso Electric (EPE) wants a humongous rate increase: initially $8.6 million, dropped to $6.4 million.

Recently, a hearing examiner's proposed decision (PD) recommended giving EPE about one-tenth of that, $640,000.

That was good. Credit intervenors, including U.S. Congressional candidate Merrie Lee Soules, One-Hour Air-Conditioning, and our City, County, and Attorney-General. 

But the PD, apparently a huge victory for customers, would actually be a devastating and expensive loss if allowed to stand! 

The relatively “small” overall increase is actually a huge increase to residential customers and a decrease for some large customers. Worse, most of the residential increase is to a “customer charge” that even the smallest customers pay, regardless of usage. Our poorest citizens get hit hardest.

Part of the reason we get hosed, and big companies get a decrease, is that they have a Time of Use rate and we don't. EPE determines rates mainly based on customers' “peak usage”; but while big customers can cut back to save on peak, EPE discourages residential customers from decreasing their peak-time usage. EPE doesn't give them a clear signal that shifting usage will save money. 

Each of us needs to write or call the PRC seeking “Customer Choice.”

Intervenors have proposed a wholly voluntary Customer Choice pilot program limited to 4% of EPE's customers. Customers could use less energy at peak times and save money, the way large users can. Demonstrating that we could adjust our usage would help both our wallets and our environment. 

Why would EPE oppose Customer Choice? Because if EPE can keep “peak usage” very high, it can sell the PRC on the idea that EPE needs to build additional huge (and wasteful) power plants so as to be able to supply the “peak usage” needed on the highest-usage day of the year. If usage gets evened out more, there's no such excuse. 

We're talking big money: EPE says it will build $1.1 billion in new assets over the next five years, possibly raising rates 40% – all to hit the “peak usage” need that doesn't have to occur! We're also talking urgency: EPE will file its next rate increase in early 2017.

Only by implementing the Customer Choice pilot program NOW can we help stave off this madness, by showing that many customers, if allowed, will choose to save money by washing and drying their clothes at a non-peak usage times. If we can't implement it now, we can't demonstrate that it works in time to forestall huge capital expenditures by EPE for unnecessary new power plants that we'll be paying for for decades.

It's a mystery why the hearing examiner proposes to deny us Customer Choice. The pilot program would be a small, sensible effort to gather accurate information. EPE might not want accurate information that could show its additional power plants would be a waste of money; but why should the hearing examiner or the PRC – our employees – oppose it? 

The PD claimed that there wasn't sufficient detail in the record; but Intervenors supplied huge boxes of data, including four years' worth of analysis, extensive data, and a detailed rate schedule!

The County Commission – led by Chairman Wayne Hancock and Billy Garrett – gave county attorneys clear orders to fight this; the City is doing the same. Please add your voice to the chorus!

My blog post today has further information and the Commission's address; but at least email and call Commissioner Sandy Jones at (505) 827-4531 /

Ask that we be allowed to show what we can do. We need Customer Choice.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 28 February, and will appear later on the KRWG-TV website.  You may comment directly on this blog-post, on by clicking on Opinion and looking for this column, which will be under a different headline;, or by clicking on News then Local Viewpoints on the KRWG site.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism.]

Please write:
Public Regulation Commission
1120 Paseo de Peralta
PERA Building
P.O. Box 1269
Santa Fe, NM 87504

Please call or email :
Karen L. Montoya    (505) 827-8015
Patrick Lyons            (505) 827-4531
Valerie Espinoza       (505) 827-4533
Lynda Lovejoy          (505) 827-8019
Sandy.Jones               (505) 827-8020

Tell them "Customer Choice" makes sense for EPE's customers -- and for the environment -- and that it's only fair!

Mr. Jones is "our" Commissioner.  I'd suggested calling him, if you just call one; and if you send an email, direct it to him but "cc" the others.
[You might also "cc" County Commission Chairman Wayne Hancock and/or Mayor Miyagashima, to express support for their interventions, which helped decrease the rate increase 93% from what EPE filed for.]
[But the PD retains or even strengthens the unfairness of EPE's rates.  And I can only tell you that the closer you look, the worse EPE's conduct here smells!]

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Miguel's Tree

Walking on Mesquite Street toward Klein Park I meet City Councilor Greg Smith. He's wearing a black suit and a black bow tie – and flip-flops. No socks. I compliment him on the discordance. He says later that Miguel always wanted him to go to a city council meeting in flip-flops. Greg doubted they communicated the right gravitas for the occasion; but today he'd wear them.

In Klein Park, I see many familiar faces. Several of Miguel's relatives introduce themselves. There's coffee and plenty of cookies – and a large bow-tie in a big tree, waiting to be unveiled.

People mostly know each other. I see Irene Oliver-Lewis, whom I've known for nearly a half-century – and I'm an outsider. Many of these people grew up here. “This was our park,” someone says. “We were kids. It didn't even have grass then. We were into xeriscaping before there was xeriscaping.” Another family-member points out that Mayor Klein's daughter-in-law is present, and that Klein too was a devoted public servant.

The morning progresses, as someone puts it, “on Miguel's time.” Not precisely punctual.

Jeff Sutton, Miguel's brother-in-law and a pastor, speaks for awhile. He mentions the Biblical importance of trees, like the one we are dedicating to Miguel. He notes that Miguel's parents named him Miguel Gabriel, for two angels. And as a minister of God he asks God to send those two angels down to this tree, so that whenever someone, perhaps a youngster with issues, sits in the shade of this tree contemplating a problem or decision, Angel Miguel will assist. His words – upbeat, in a way – are exactly right. 

I shoot photographs while I listen. Portraits of the faces, some with funny hats. Many folks present have intricate relationships with each other, as deep and natural as the lines on their faces.
Mayor Ken Miyagashima arrives. He tells a funny story about Miguel and a pal painting “Publisher's Clearinghouse” on Miguel's white van and stopping at people's homes. 

The Mayor speaks, and I think he means what he says. But of course I think of the irony: months ago, the two battled for the position of mayor. Two men with deep roots in this community. Two men undoubtedly ambitious but also determined to improve our community.

I can't help recalling the PAC (Treasurer: Congressman Pearce's brother) that viciously attacked Ken. An ugliness
brought by greedy outsiders with more dollars than decency. It hurt Ken. And while I won't allege that the ugliness killed Miguel, it pained him – as did the feeling that fellow citizens might think he caused it. Unfairly, I believe.

Miguel, in a friend's words, “worked very hard to run a campaign that would go by without him saying anything negative or disparaging Ken, or doing anything that would interfere with their friendship. Even when I tried to talk him into criticizing Ken.” The PAC attacks happened despite Miguel – and may have contributed to the size of Ken's victory margin.

Leaving, I pause to say hello to Ken, who's talking with a lady I don't know. She tells me she's the one who posted a comment on my blog post concerning her own suicidal thoughts the weekend Miguel died. Today she's approached the mayor offering insight into the city's mental health services. A client's view. “Miguel gave me the courage to do that,” she says. Ken mentions having her speak with a mental health advisory committee. He gives her his cell-phone number. They're still talking as I leave. 

Maybe the Angels are already on the job.
Wearing a hat for Miguel, with a tag -- and the Organ Mountains!
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 February, and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's web-site as well(A month ago, my column Death Saddens and Instructs Us discussed Miguel and his death.)  Below, additional images from Tuesday's unveiling of the tree:]
Miguel -Farmers' Mkt. 2013


 In these five images, the bow-tie gets unveiled.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Would you trust these folks?

Imagine someone wants you to invest in a big company. 

“Who's your internal auditor?” you ask.

“Milton was, but he kept reporting embarrassing facts. We fired him. Some allegation of misconduct.”

“Who replaced him?”

“A very experienced lady, two or three years ago, but she took one look and quit within a week.”

“Who replaced her.”

“No one yet.”

“Well who's your risk manager?”

“Was Fridenstine, but he got crossways with our attorney. Wondered whether it was right for our in-house attorney to also be our outside counsel, paid separately. And other stuff. He's gone.”

“Who are your internal investigators?” 

“We had two, Kim Stewart and Lupe Quezada. Working under the attorney so he could control them.”


“Well, a jury awarded Kim a million bucks because we fired her after she made an embarrassing report about Curtis Childress. She was pesky that way. Lupe's still there. She's good, but the grand jury got hold of a report she did on jailer Chris Barela. We often go around her now. Use an outside investigator. Costs extra, but it's not my money.”

“Which investigator?”

“UIS, but sometimes they're a little too objective, so we're switching.  Maybe we'll try a law firm - make sure reports come out right.”

Sound familiar? The “big company” is Doña Ana County. And I wouldn't invest if I didn't have to.
This situation is wrong. As one employee told me Wednesday, “If an auditor says 'This isn't quite right,' you're not supposed to tell him to go pound sand. That's how you get sued.” The employee had called about problems at the County.

As I started to have coffee with him, my cell-phone rang. Unfamiliar number. “Hi, I'm Jane, I work at the County. We talked once a long time ago, do you have some time right now?”

Employees say that if management doesn't like you, you get suddenly told you're on administrative leave. Ask why, and you're told: “You'll find out, an investigator will contact you.” Maybe the employees exaggerate; but how would we know, as things stand now?

County management has had serious problems for years. The commissioners made what looked like a good move by hiring Julia Brown; but it hasn't worked out. They should face up to that. (Folks act like Leticia Benavidez was some nut case for being the only commissioner who voted not to extend Brown's contract; but as one employee said, “Leiticia's the only one who ever worked at the County and knows the shenanigans that go on.” 

Commissioners (for good reason) have limited power. They have none over elected officials like Treasurer David Gutierrez or Sheriff Kiki Vigil. They have little over the County Manager.
Before Ms. Brown, management acted badly, morale was terrible, and Commissioners trusted management too much. Now under Julia, management seems to be acting badly, and morale is terrible. 

There needs to be an auditor. There needs to be a way for employees to complain without the complaint going through the County Manager. And Ms. Brown should probably be gone.

On a happier note, there's Wally. Wally plays pickleball with us. He came from some tiny Texas town. I think his wife was his high-school sweetheart. Wally's so popular that Meerscheidt Rec Center staff brought out a surprise cake for his birthday Wednesday. We sang to him, but Wally still kept beating our butts. Hard shots, precisely aimed. It was his 81st birthday.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, February 14  and will appear shortly on KRWG-TV's veb-site under News-->Local Viewpoints]

[The County may well have a good excuse for each of the events above: firing or driving away Duran and Fridenstine and Stewart, etc.  But the pattern - including apparent inaction as far as filling positions -- seems awfully suspicious.]

[As to whether Brown is getting revenge on enemies, I can't fully say; but certainly it's convenient for her to have Dennis Montoya (Sheriff Vigil's right-hand man in disputes and discussions with her and HR) out of the way.  Maybe he deserves it.  Two investigators who'd been working on the investigation of Barela (and ultimately Brown herself) are also gone.  These are not the only example.  Maybe each of her non-friends against whom action has been taken deserves the action; only time will tell, I guess.  Or a series of judges and juries will.),]

[I do feel I should add, again, that the County Commissioners have surprisingly little power.  Laws wisely implemented to protect against political interference necessarily restrict them.  As the embarrassing Mr. Gutierrez, our County Treasurer, proudly proclaims in a column in this morning's Sun-News, they can't do anything to him for his admitted misconduct.  Similarly, with regard to personnel the Commissioners can only hire and fire the County Manager.]

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Update on Earlier Sunday Columns

This column is an update on several past columns about matters as to which there have been recent developments worth mentioning.

A December 2014 column concerned initial efforts to build a non-profit community radio station in Las Cruces. Since then, it has acquired a name (K-TAL, aka “Que tal?”); a studio location; some money to help get on the air, and a lot of new volunteers. At a recent meeting we heard from many talented and enthusiastic people who want to help make this happen. Some of them have extensive radio experience or other great backgrounds. The next few months should see us acquiring the necessary equipment, setting up the studio, raising more funds, getting some interesting shows from elsewhere, and starting to train local folks to create and air a wide variety of interesting shows. 

An October 2015 column outlined why we should set up a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) concerning the detention center. Recently the County Commission directed the County Manager to put together a proposal. The CAC must be independent of the Commission and seen to be independent. I''m hoping that in addition to Commission appointees we see members appointed by LULAC, perhaps the NAACP, the mental health treatment community, and others. If you have suggestions, write Julia Brown or watch for announcement of a work session on the subject.

A more recent column hoped the authorities would act appropriately to evict Bundy and friends from the Malheur refuge in Oregon. To some degree, that's happened. Sadly, one fellow was shot when he reached for a pocket with a gun in it, although I've wondered if he meant to hand in his gun but just didn't make that clear to the authorities. But he'd said he wouldn't be taken alive. Those captured should face appropriate charges.

Overall it's a little depressing to glance back. Columns about lawsuits by former County employees (two big jury verdicts) and by alleged victims of detention center mismanagement (e.g. Mr. Slevin)? More such lawsuits are coming, with one set for trial in March, I think. Some of the alleged bad actors seem to find a strong champion in Julia Brown. I don't know why. I've written columns about alleged misconduct by Detention Center Director Chris Barela; but while charges have been filed and a grand jury will take a look at him shortly, delay let the statute of limitations run out on some charges. (I state no conclusions about whether or not he should or will be convicted. Depends on the evidence. He's got a real good defense attorney.)

I've written a lot about what seems to me excessively acrimonious politics, and about the influence of outside oil and gas interests, and even the Koch Brothers; but although the dishonest recall campaign failed a year ago and PAC attacks on Mayor Miyagashima failed to dissuade many citizens from voting for him, money in politics is a problem we haven't solved and probably can't; and the acrimony grows to absurd proportions with the national examples of Donald Trump and the other clowns vying for the Republican Presidential nomination. Politics is way too influenced, if not controlled, by money.

And HJR9 could help the corporations destroy the U.S. as we know it, by triggering a potentially disastrous constitutional convention orchestrated by ALEC.

And one very sad local note: I've written columns praising Chope's. One included an image of the matriarch, Lupe Benavides. A great lady. Her death this week is sad for Chope's, for La Mesa, and for all of us. 

But her life exemplifies how much good one person can do.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 February, and will appear later this morning on the KRWG-TV web-site (News --> Local Viewpoints).]

[Guess I should add two updates from this morning's Sun-News: the County Commission will vote Tuesday morning on a resolution asking County Treasurer David Gutierrez to resign, as my previous column  did; and February 16 will be Miguel Silva Day in Las Cruces and probably Dona Ana County.  There'll be a ceremony at 10 a.m. at Klein Park.]

[It's a beautiful, sunny morning here.  Cold, but warmer than it has been.  Bird-baths only lightly frozen this morning.]
          * * *        ** *        * * *        * * *        * * *        * * *        * * *        * * *
          strong morning sunlight.
          cat springs, mouse dead.  soon the cat
          will follow the mouse
          -- as will i, later the sun.
          who will notice our passing?