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letters, opinions, editorials

The ESCAFCA debacle and the Placitas secession

—Stephen M. Barro

In last month’s Signpost, Mr. Sal Reyes, Chairman of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (ESCAFCA), offered a string of excuses for ESCAFCA’s meager accomplishments (including blaming his critics), but avoided the main issues concerning the Authority’s performance and its handling of taxpayers’ money. These remarks are intended to fill in parts of the story that Mr. Reyes understandably chose not to discuss, and to explain why Placitas residents last year worked so strenuously—and in the end successfully—to remove Placitas from ESCAFCA’s jurisdiction.

ESCAFCA has been inept both in carrying out its flood control mission and in managing its finances. The clearest indicator of how little progress it has made in its five years of existence is its ongoing failure to start construction of any flood control facility. The only activity describable as flood control that Mr. Reyes can point to, likely to begin anytime soon, is the digging of one large hole, a retention pond, in Bernalillo town. (As it happens, this pond is to be built on 4.5 acres sold to the town for $650,000 by Mr. Bill Sapien, who served alongside Mr. Reyes on ESCAFCA’s board and preceded him as chairman). The limited protection that such a pond can offer—only against relatively small storm events and only for a small percentage of Bernalillo homes—is not an impressive benefit to stack up against the more than $3.6 million in ESCAFCA property taxes already levied on local businesses and homeowners.

ESCAFCA’s plan for a major project to convey Bernalillo floodwaters to the river apparently has been set aside. Instead, the Authority has initiated what may be a quixotic search for purported ancient Bernalillo drainage channels, the theory being that if such pathways could be found and cleared of impediments (such as people’s homes), there might be less need for a large diversion project. ESCAFCA’s other major proposed Bernalillo project, upgrading of the town’s Rio Grande levees, is limited for now to a small study to be carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, which could lead, years down the road, to a quest for federal construction money and financial contributions from other local governments. That leaves nothing on the horizon to protect Bernalillo against flooding from major storms. Mr. Reyes rightly says that ESCAFCA lacks the capacity to provide such protection, but fails to acknowledge the underlying reality: ESCAFCA was never large enough or rich enough to cope with Bernalillo’s long-standing flooding problems; only an entity with many times its resources could hope to take on that task.

Mr. Reyes’s message to his Algodones neighbors is that ESCAFCA’s on-again, off-again Algodones project is once again off—his own 2011 assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. Algodones property owners seem now to have become involuntary parties to a rather one-sided deal: they can expect no flood control benefits for the foreseeable future but will still be called upon each year to dutifully pay their ESCAFCA taxes.

On the financial front, ESCAFCA’s history is one of wasting taxpayers’ money and diverting to unproductive uses funds that could have supported real flood control. Some prime examples:

ESCAFCA raised $3 million from its 2009 bond sale, supposedly for capital projects, but now, thirty two months later, $2.2 million of the proceeds still sit in the bank, unused. Interest payments on the idle borrowed funds now exceed $200,000—taxpayer money simply thrown away. But rather than having learned from its very costly mistake, ESCAFCA—inexplicably—has chosen to repeat it. The Authority recently borrowed another $3 million, on which it is already paying interest, even though it has no projects underway to which the funds can be applied.

No less than 44 percent of all ESCAFCA spending to date (not counting debt service) has gone for overhead expenses, such as paying the Authority’s executive engineers, attorney, accountants, and consultants. But instead of trying to reduce this very high overhead rate, ESCAFCA has acted to raise and to conceal it. Its board recently voted to re-label certain operating expenses as capital outlay and to spend bond money earmarked for projects on overhead costs. This ploy—of dubious legality—will significantly reduce the funds available to build flood control facilities.

Of the nearly $900,000 ESCAFCA has spent for “projects,” almost half was expended for studies aimed mainly at persuading FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to revise its flood maps so that the flood insurance premiums of certain property owners could be lowered. This use of money epitomizes ESCAFCA’s skewed priorities. The activity had nothing to do with controlling flooding; it was arguably not a legitimate part of ESCAFCA’s mission; and it diverted substantial funds from real flood control work.

The citizens who mobilized in 2010 to try to reform ESCAFCA were motivated in part by the aforesaid waste and mismanagement and in part by multiple instances of deception and misconduct by those controlling the Authority. Among the transgressions (all extensively documented) that angered ESCAFCA’s constituents:

The appointed incumbent directors “forgot” in 2008 to issue a call for nominations for elected director positions, thereby ensuring that each of them could run unopposed.

The same directors deliberately understated the taxes property owners would have to pay if voters approved ESCAFCA’s bonds.

The ESCAFCA board imposed a much higher tax rate than was needed to pay off the bonds voters had approved. They did this to support an undisclosed plan for issuing future bonds, and so that they would be able to misleadingly tell voters before subsequent bond elections that “a yes vote will not cause your tax rate to go up.”

ESCAFCA concealed information by failing to maintain records required by law and, as the state Attorney General found, by repeatedly violating the New Mexico Open Meetings Act.

Aggrieved citizens succeeded in electing two reform directors to the five-member ESCAFCA board in November 2010, but Mr. Reyes and his allies struck back with a plan to change the election rules in a way designed to keep them in control indefinitely. They hired attorney Michael Cadigan to lobby on their behalf (at a cost to taxpayers of over $60,000) and enlisted State Senator John Sapien to push their scheme through the New Mexico legislature. Reform proponents responded by testifying at multiple legislative committee hearings and supplying legislators with detailed evidence of the Authority’s misbehavior and misfeasance. They supported a counterproposal to allow residents in each of three areas, Bernalillo, Algodones, and Placitas, to vote on whether or not to remain in ESCAFCA.

It was a close call, but Senator Sapien’s effort to entrench the Reyes crew failed, as did the call for opt-out elections. Instead, “compromise” legislation was enacted that separated Placitas from ESCAFCA. The legislation stipulated that Placitas taxpayers would cease paying for ESCAFCA operations after the 2011 tax year but would remain obligated for principal and interest payments on previously authorized but not yet issued bonds. That obligation—in effect a $3 million-plus ransom for Placitas’ release—remains troubling and controversial, but the alternative could have been to suffer ESCAFCA’s deficient management and to continue paying its taxes into the indefinite future.

No major flood has hit Bernalillo since the 2006 storm that led to ESCAFCA’s creation, but should one occur in the coming years, we know what the victims will ask: “Where is the flood control we were promised in 2007 and for which we have been paying taxes?” The truth is, not even a well-run ESCAFCA—much less the present dysfunctional one—could safeguard Bernalillo, given the resource constraints. The best thing Chairman Reyes and fellow directors Jack Torres and Wayne Sandoval could do now for their remaining Bernalillo and Algodones constituents would be to invoke Section 72-20-36 of ESCAFCA’s founding Act and dissolve the Authority. There is enough money in the bank not only to pay off ESCAFCA’s outstanding bonds but also to do what should have been done at the outset: conduct a serious, independent investigation of what is needed to reduce the Bernalillo flood threat, and then determine which government body, with what enhanced funding sources, should be charged with achieving that goal.

re: casting call is racism, disgusting racism

I was compelled to make a brief comment on the racist casting call issued by the New Mexico Department of Tourism.

The underlying, disgusting theme of disrespect for and lack of awareness or consciousness about Hispanics, and everyone else in New Mexico, is undeniable in the casting call. In my view, the casting call is also an assertion and an assumption, false, I might add, that only “Caucasian” people tour in New Mexico and that the people whom we want to entice will prefer to see other “Caucasians” and/or white-looking people. I have been in New Mexico for 48 years, was educated here, raised our son here, had a profession and retired here, and continue to work diligently in my community. I am a New Mexican, Black as night and proud of it. I prefer not to entice folks who would come to New Mexico looking for “light-skinned” people, or who are likely to be most comfortable with “light-skinned” people. We are a multi-cultural state, indeed with our own foibles, but we are a multicultural state, and most of us like it that way.

Many of my family members have toured New Mexico repeatedly, and each and every one of them is Black, with not one “Caucasian” in the bunch. They spent a lot of money here, too. Do we not want to entice them to come back? I believe we do.

In her senseless attempt to explain her racist casting call, Secretary Jacobson said “’...we wanted a tourist who could represent people coming from a wide range of states like Maine, Texas, Florida, or Washington.’” Well, guess what: tourists with a wide range of skin tones come from all of those states. There are Black African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians from Maine; there are Black African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians from Texas; there are Black African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians from Florida; and there are Black African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians from Washington. In fact, people from all over the world tour in New Mexico, arriving in their dark and light skin tones. Secretary Jacobson has done herself, Governor Martinez, our state, and our community a disservice with this racist casting call.

If New Mexico Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson is exemplary of the Governor’s appointments, this is sad commentary on the caliber of “leadership” or lack thereof in this administration.

Doris Fields, Placitas

re: showing respect for the flag

I remember standing in the freezing cold at 6:00 a.m. in the morning in the company street when I was in the Army, watching the flag being raised and waiting with anticipation for the boom of the cannon. Cold though it was, it was always an awesome and proud experience.

And in the evening, the sound of taps as the flag was lowered, folded, and respectfully retired for the night.

I gained a newfound respect and love for the flag during my two years in the US Army in the late 60s. Because the stars and stripes proudly represented the country we were defending.

I know some of my neighbors share my sense of patriotism and love of country, but it troubles me to see the flag treated with disrespect. As I drive though Placitas I see many flags that remain up 24/7 and only one of these is property illuminated. Many flags have faded and discolored, and some are frayed and tattered.

Displaying the flag this way is not patriotic. It’s disrespectful and shameful.

By all means, fly your flag proudly. We do it on almost all important dates and holidays. But if your flag is not properly illuminated, then install a light, or retire it at sunset. If your flag is soiled or tattered, take it to the American Legion and let them destroy the flag correctly and with respect. And if you’re like me and remember fondly your chilling mornings watching the flag ascending the flag pole, go out and buy yourself a small cannon and fire it off after the colors have be restored for another day.

—Gary W. Priester, Placitas

Is this what Arizona wanted to unleash?

—Wally Gordon, Mountain musing

When I was a young man, Mississippi was a byword for evil. It was a place where policemen, government officials, and businessmen donned white robes and murdered blacks whose only offense was that they wanted to vote. It was a place where intimidation, blackmail, threats, and violence were a way of life. It was a place that constantly provoked us to ask, “Is this really what we are?” On Thursday night, I along with several hundred other New Mexicans went to the National Hispanic Center to meet a group of writers from throughout the Southwest that call themselves Librotraficante, which they translate as book smugglers. For those on the stage as well as in the audience, it was clear that Arizona is the new Mississippi. The mere mention of the name of the state conjures up images of prisoners forced to sleep in tents and wear pink pajamas, of armed vigilantes patrolling the border, of politicians saying openly that they hope to drive Mexicans out of Arizona and into other states, of the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, and of anyone who has brown skin being subject to arrest if he cannot prove that he has a right to be in the United States.

But the last straw for those gathered Thursday night was that the Arizona Legislature passed and Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a measure outlawing all ethnic studies courses. In January, this law resulted in the Tucson Unified School District canceling its Mexican Studies Course and banning the seven books read in the class. Those seven join a list of subversive books by such writers as Shakespeare and Thoreau that are now proscribed in Arizona.

Speaker after speaker in Albuquerque asked where this Arizona phenomenon would lead. It has already spread to a couple of southern states. It puts in jeopardy not only Hispanic studies, but African American studies, women’s studies and any other program that focuses on particular cultural groups. But even that is not the end. A bill, sponsored by five Arizona senators, SB 1467, states that educators at public schools and universities can be fined, suspended and fired if they “engage in speech or conduct that would violate the standards adopted by the Federal Communications Commission concerning obscenity, indecency, and profanity if that speech or conduct were broadcast on television or radio.” By prohibiting all profanity and indecency (whatever that is), the law would ban all dictionaries, The Canterbury Tales, The Catcher in the Rye, and a goodly share of all contemporary literature. One of the bill’s sponsors, Lori Klein, arguably participated in profane and obscene conduct herself when during an interview with the Arizona Republic, she took out a loaded handgun and pointed it at the reporter’s chest.

The Albuquerque audience surprised me. I had been expecting a small turnout heavily larded with young Hispanics. Instead, every one of the hundreds of seats in the theater was filled and dozens stood in back and along the sides. Most of the audience was over thirty and many were in their 60s and 70s. And Anglos were heavily represented. The evening was all about writers and writing. A number of New Mexico poets, essayists, and novelists read their work, some of it written expressly for the occasion. The stars of the evening were what was being called caravanistas, those who rode the bus from Houston to El Paso and Mesilla and on to Albuquerque. The final stop was to be the next day in Tucson. “Does this smell like a movement to you?” one speaker asked, and the audience shouted, “Yes.” “Do you people in Arizona really think we’re going to give this up?” the speaker continued.

Arizona was silent. “Arizona tried to erase our history,” Tony Diaz, the Houston organizer of the caravan, shouted, “so we decided to make more.” He added, perhaps wishfully, “The entire world is watching.” Members of the audience shouted out the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” and the 1910 popular Mexican chant “Viva la revolución.”

John Crawford, who owns a book publishing company in Albuquerque said of the banned books, “It’s my great shame that none of them is on our list.”

Telling the audience, “Welcome to the good fight,” poet Tony Mares read a poem that linked “banned books” to “burned books” to “burned people,” adding, “But not this time.”

Veteran New Mexico activist and poet Margaret Randall called the Arizona action “cultural genocide.... banned history bans memory.”

Mary Oishi told the offending state, “Arizona, you made us all illegals.”

The bitter anger that Arizona is creating spilled over into the overheated rhetoric of poet Gary Brower of Placitas, who said, “Anyone that accepts that a human being can be illegal accepts a fascist state, and the only good fascist is a dead fascist.”

When I left the center, I wondered: is this really what Arizona wanted to unleash?

Reprinted from The Independent—a newspaper of special interest to residents of the East Mountain area of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The new nonfiction book, “A Reporter’s World,” by Wally Gordon, is available in electronic version at: and for $4.99. Print copies will be available in April for $19.99. Print copies can be pre-ordered at a discount by mailing a check for $14.99 to: Wally Gordon, 7 Jupiter Court, Tijeras NM 87059.

re: true grit and puffy eyes

Dear Friends Back East,

Just as sure as Road Runner will elude Wile E. Coyote, as sure as my hair is the color of road kill, and as sure as I have just postponed my colonoscopy for another year, my home region is again predictably plagued by savage spring winds and vicious allergies.

Fortunately, the winds have not yet been tornado or hurricane-strength. They are, however, highly effective in causing enormous quantities of the Land of Enchantment to become airborne and enter my dwelling as well as all body openings of which I still possess awareness. I am truly a man of the soil.

There is no part of my house in which I can tread and not hear the crunch of true grit beneath my feet.

We rejoice, however, that Nature in her kindness has unleashed our allergy season at the same time as the unremitting winds in order that we endure them simultaneously—kind of like serving multiple jail sentences concurrently rather than consecutively.

For me, my allergic reactions are caused by juniper pollen. No, I do not mean the same Juniper Pollen who worked as an exotic dancer years ago in Hackensack and who we each so wishfully and piggishly loved at insurmountable distances. I refer to the fine powdery material released this time of year by male junipers as part of their sexual outreach program and most of which ends up in my eyes and nose.

I will not say that my body’s reaction to pollen causes my nose to run like a faucet—that’s a silly analogy. My nose actually runs like a Sandia Mountain arroyo after a one hundred year rain event. My post-nasal drip, drip, drip is now clearly audible—so much so that fellow restaurant customers move away from me in disgust.

I find that my facial features are constantly in a hapless pre-sneeze arrangement—brow furrowed in abject perplexity, mouth open in bewilderment and indecision, reddish eyes squinted, sad, and bat-like. Only a complete sneeze can render my appearance anywhere close to public acceptability.

My main defenses are whining, supplemented by intense self-involvement. Regrettably, these practices resulted in my inadvertently leaving old Patrick, Coon Cat extraordinaire, outside in the wind for a shamefully long time. When I found him, he was hunkered down with his eyes tightly shut, tail wrapped around a patio table leg for stability. He came in with a mournful little chirp, sat, and glared at me for a moment and seemed to say, “Boss, I love you, but sometimes I think you couldn’t find your nose with two hands and a map.”

Although I don’t think “nose” was his true choice of words. And I think the New Mexico sun will be out tomorrow.

—Your Friend, —Herb

Physicians seek ruling to provide aid in dying

—Steve Hopcraft

On March 15, two prominent Albuquerque physicians, Dr. Katherine Morris and Dr. Aroop Mangalik, along with the national nonprofit Compassion & Choices, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico asked a court to clarify the ability of mentally competent, terminally ill patients to obtain aid in dying from their physician if they find their dying process unbearable. The doctors requested a ruling that physicians who provide a prescription for medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient, which the patient could consume to bring about a peaceful death, would not be subject to criminal prosecution under existing New Mexico law, which makes a crime out of assisting another to ‘commit suicide.’ The physicians’ case asserts that the choice of a dying patient to have a peaceful death is not ‘suicide,’ and moreover, the physician does not assist such a patient in ‘committing suicide.’ Laura Schauer Ives, managing attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico, and Compassion & Choices Director of Legal Affairs Kathryn Tucker represent the physicians.

Dr. Morris, a surgical oncologist, cancer researcher, and assistant professor of medicine, told an Albuquerque news conference, “A couple of years ago, a patient of mine in Oregon asked me for aid in dying, and because she lived in a state where it was already affirmatively legal I had no fear of supporting her request. But it was a hard decision. I had voted for the law twice. I was raised to respect people’s autonomy and decisions. But it was hard when a lovely woman to whom I was very attached asked for it. I wrote her a prescription, she got medication, and she held onto it for a long time. After many months of good times and hard times, she decided—she decided—not to endure any further suffering. I hope the court will rule that patients in New Mexico have the same autonomy over their end-of-life choices.”

Dr. Aroop Mangalik is a practicing oncologist as well as a clinical researcher in internal medicine and hematology-oncology, and a professor of medicine. He provides primary care to adults, some of whom are terminally ill. Dr. Mangalik stated at the press conference, “Without honesty and compassion, too many patients suffer needlessly in the last few weeks of their life. No one should force a dying person to suffer. Doctors already provide treatments for terminally ill patients that are intended to ease suffering, but which we know may advance the time of death. When doctors write prescriptions for aid in dying in response to patients’ requests, their intention is primarily to provide patients with comfort and control.”

Ms. Tucker told the news conference, “This case is a statutory construction case: the court is asked to determine the scope of a statute. We expect that this case can move quickly, as it raises a question of law that the court should be able to resolve in a relatively short time. If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor and holds that aid in dying is not prohibited by New Mexico law, physicians in New Mexico will be able to provide this option without fear of sanction.”

Ms. Ives explained the constitutional claims that arise if the court should find that the state’s statute against “assisting suicide” does reach the medical practice of aid in dying. “In its vagueness, and by violating the private physician-patient relationship, the statute applied to aid in dying would deny the due process of law our constitution guarantees. It would deny doctors equal protection of the laws. It would deprive doctors of the right to free speech. And by denying the decision-making power of New Mexico citizens in one of the most intimate and fundamental areas of their lives—the way they confront the end of their lives—it would deprive them of their inherent and inalienable rights.”

“I’m here today, first and foremost,” said Dr. Morris, “because this is an issue that doesn’t get talked about at all or only in sound bites. As a society, our persistent refusal to face death is hurting us. But I also am here for selfish reasons. New Mexico is my home, and this is an option I would want. I don’t know if I would take it, but I want the right.”

The case was filed in the Second Judicial District Court. The filing and supporting declarations can be viewed at

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