Opinion: Democracy disabled by town manager, council

By Robert J. Silver, Taos
Posted 10/3/19

"Give us back our park," was the rallying cry and graphic message borne by the crowd that filled Taos Council chambers on Aug. 27. Speaking truth to power, the people were voicing …

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Opinion: Democracy disabled by town manager, council

Posted

"Give us back our park," was the rallying cry and graphic message borne by the crowd that filled Taos Council chambers on Aug. 27. Speaking truth to power, the people were voicing their distress with unbidden transformation of Taos' Kit Carson Park. But far more than town peace and tranquility was at stake. Indeed, elected town officials have compromised our very democracy.

At the heart of our American system of government is the inviolate principle that we are a nation of laws, not men. Duly enacted legislation guarantees guidance and protection for all, no matter who may temporarily hold power.

Now, comes our sometimes too-clever-by-half town manager, Rick Bellis, with his documented history of routine, fiat-based, ad hoc waivers of inconvenient Taos rules, regulations, policies and ordinances. Lawful requirements and prohibitions are treated as simple suggestions, rather than as binding obligations. This wanton disregard raises the alarming specter of authoritarian rule. If we are indeed a nation of laws, even here, in Taos, this practice must end, and it must end now.

Recently, Bellis was quoted as having declared a cessation of some disturbing Kit Carson Park rule-exempted rock concert practices. If he keeps his word, there may be some degree of relief from the abusive sound bombardment visited upon the community. So, why the continuing dissatisfaction?

Closer consideration of Bellis' quoted words suggests he's promised little more than to begin complying with some of the existing park concerts rules. Having been virtually dragged, kicking and screaming, into selective Taos code compliance, does he really deserve commendation? Shouldn't he have been doing this, and more, all along? Some breakthrough, this.

And then there is the governing philosophy of the mayor and his council allies. The regime appears to operate something like this. Absent informed, meaningful community involvement, town manager Bellis cooks up some grand transformative plan. The mayor is immediately in thrall with this latest brilliant Bellis brainstorm. Council members Nathaniel Evans and Fritz Hahn are automatically on board. It's then a done deal, since two affirmative votes guarantee at least a tie vote to be broken by the mayor. Voilá!

As for Mayor Barrone, his season has passed. It's sad to see him overstay his time. He's perfected the fine art of "bread and circus." Our mayor says he and his administration have learned much and continue to learn from the Taos Vortex festival debacle. One can't help but wonder what precisely the mayor has actually learned.

Could it truly have come as a surprise to him that cavalierly waived Taos rules, (e.g., Kit Carson Park camping prohibitions) were originally enacted for good reason, following appropriate deliberation, based on sound judgment and forethought? Did he really have to acquire his newfound knowledge at our community's expense? Has he learned anything about his administration's fundamentally flawed governing process?

There's an old saying that not much additional learning follows from the second kick of a mule. The Barrone administration is now on its third kick and counting. First came the Couse pasture fiasco, then there was the four-story Holiday Inn Express debacle and now we have the Kit Carson Park rock concert conflict. The council is on quite a roll of self-inflicted political injury. Are they they recklessly suicidal, or just simply congenitally slow learners?

And then there is the matter of money. A sizeable segment of Taos has been disrupted as a result of the administration's pursuit of increased tourism-generated tax revenues. Nevertheless, manager Bellis has yet to show us the money. He reveals, however, that the Vortex festival was scheduled based on a handshake. Really? Bellis put Taos' well-being on the line based on a simple handshake? No written contract? Isn't this tantamount to management malpractice?

We've demanded that the council give us back our park. That said, we dare not relax our vigilance nor shrink from the coming struggle to take back our vulnerable cherished democracy.

Robert J. Silver lives in Taos.

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