Who is Town Manager Rick Bellis and how has he come to be regarded as a "divisive" personality in Taos town politics, targeted for the blame for some of the recent, hotly debated and controversial developmental projects the town has pursued, namely, the Couse Pasture rezoning and the four-story hotel?
Misinformation and "false news" abound in our current media and even in our own newspaper to the extent that we really don't know what or who to believe anymore. I have become highly sensitized to and critical of condemnations and assignation of blame where there are no references and citations of facts to back up the aspersions. So I would like to present some facts about Mr. Bellis.
Rick Bellis spent his childhood in the township of Old Bridge, New Jersey. His early childhood was marked by financial hardship. His parents struggled to keep a roof over their heads.
Rick attended the University of North Dakota where he earned a master's degree in planning and economic development. He played goalie with the University of North Dakota ice hockey team and spent a brief stint playing semi-pro ice hockey in Canada.
After graduating college, Rick married and started a family. Due to his own humble beginnings, Rick was sensitive to the plight of the poor and the homeless, so it is not surprising that he pursued a job with a rural development corporation of New Jersey, where he helped start and run a shelter for the homeless.
In 2010 he moved to Taos where he was first hired to be the deputy county manager and subsequently hired to be the Taos town manager. As town manager, the list of tasks, functions and responsibilities that Mr. Bellis administrates is imposing and more than explains his 80-hour work week.
These include: airport maintenance and development, wastewater treatment operations, wastewater collections, water production and distribution, street maintenance and rehabilitation, heavy equipment replacement and budget, landfill, recycling, economic development, affordable housing (five active projects), parks and recreation, facilities maintenance and improvement, human resources,town code enforcement, police (information technology and vehicle support), legal Issues (intergovernmental and extraterritorial), planning, building, community development, public information outreach, marketing and tourism, library, youth and family center, information technology, management information systems and finance.
Rick doesn't do it alone, however. He has surrounded himself with dedicated directors and a committed staff. He is an outstanding manager as he promotes a spirit of team work and professionalism, and maintains a high morale among the town employees by promoting career development in the town staff, identifying strengths and facilitating further training. Recently, he supported the town staff in unionizing to ensure the security of their jobs.
Rick is a person of unusually high ethics, and his commitment to service isn't limited to his formal town duties. He is devoted to the Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, where he volunteers to walk the dogs and has adopted three rescue dogs. He loves the Youth and Family Center where he supports and often attends the events.
Due to the expertise of manager Rick Bellis, we have not only recovered from our $800,000 inherited deficit, but we are now operating with a reserve of $2.7 million. Municipalities are required by law to hold one month of operating expenses in reserve for emergencies. Taos currently holds three months in reserve. This is the first year that Taos has ever received a perfect audit from the state.
So, why I ask, is this highly qualified, highly skilled and devoted town manager disparaged and labeled as divisive? The answer would seem to lie in his zeal to pursue projects that could bring increased revenue and support for the struggling Taos economy. There are no conflicts of interest, collusion or backroom deals going on here. There is just a town manager who recognizes that economic development that increases revenues is paramount for small town viability.
Mayor Dan Barrone recognized the highest quality in Rick Bellis when he hired him. I, for one, have come to appreciate how fortunate we are to have this talented, diligent and committed individual devoting his skills to the welfare of our town.
Tina Hahn is a Taos resident and married to town of Taos councilor Fritz Hahn.