American politics

The political season has come early in Taos. We are less than one year away from an election to decide who will fill two Town of Taos Council seats and who will lead the community as the Mayor in March 2022, but more importantly, the decision will determine the direction of the community for years to come. As the pandemic slowly subsides and the economy begins to recover, we are looking to the future with new knowledge and lessons learned from 2020.

While some may see the early coming of this election season as "just politics," I would argue that politics are good and necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy and community.

I was told I would need thick skin for this job, but in the face of criticism, it is the seasoned politicians that deflect, obfuscate and confuse, rather than address the issues directly and publicly. These are not personal attacks or dirty politics; these are legitimate criticisms of the decisions made and positions taken as elected officials.

Accountability is a hallmark of democracy, and criticism should be a welcome part of it.

The ideological divide on the Town Council is clear for anyone watching public meetings or reading the Taos News lately. While I hold a different opinion than the Barrone administration, I can respect an opposing viewpoint and the healthy discussion of issues, and it is high time for the Barrone administration to defend publicly and transparently, local issues and actions taken.

If development of the airport is the best use of staff time and talent, defend it. If applying for [Economic Development Administration] funds to build water and sewer infrastructure out to the airport rather than food supply chain development, revolving loan funds to support small businesses, technology innovation, or responding to "economic injuries caused by the pandemic," (all of these eligible under EDA guidelines - see: eda.gov/coronavirus) defend it.

If the belief that putting close to a million dollars year after year into the reserves (which are well beyond the required minimum) will help the community more than raising staff wages, defend it (see the advertisement in this week's edition of the Taos News looking for a Public Works Operator paying a measly $11.73/hour before taxes and mandatory retirement plan contribution).

Instead of claiming that expenses such as homelessness support, public bathrooms and hazardous-duty pay for employees are not eligible (Department of Finance & Administration's guidance for local government CARES Act approved expenditures clearly states these are approved - see nmdfa.state.nm.us/budget- division/cares-act/ and click on "Coronavirus Relief Fund Guidance updated September 2, 2020") be open and transparent and explain why they are better spent somewhere else.

If creating additional rules to prevent nonprofits from applying for CARES Act Small Business Continuity Grants (no rule was issued by DFA to prevent nonprofits from applying - see: nmdfa.state.nm.us/budget-division/cares-act/), defend it.

If using the Town's share of the $1.9 trillion dollar American Recovery Plan Act is best spent as "revenue replacement" and not used in direct support of households, small businesses and nonprofits (all approved expenditures under the American Rescue Plan Act (see: congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1319/text) after a worldwide pandemic and recession, defend it.

Defend ignoring Council's direction and prioritization of capital projects in the Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan (ICIP) when requesting $1.375 million for "Airport Parking Lot Improvements" from state capital outlay when this item was listed as priority #8 for only $75,000. Meanwhile, affordable housing is listed as priority #2, the Town's HVAC system as #3 (which was not fully funded by CARES Act reimbursements), and sidewalk replacement as #7 (a priority in the Strong at Heart report).

When defending these positions, be prepared for arguments to be assessed and examined for validity, logic and reasonableness by the public, the media and colleagues with opposing viewpoints. That comes with the job. Yes, it is an election year, but that doesn't make criticism any less valid. Debate of the issues is healthy for a democracy. Rather than chalking up the criticism to an election year in an attempt to diminish the arguments made against the positions taken, embrace them. This is an opportunity to make the case to the public.

Pascualito Maestas is a town of Taos Council member.

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