Wal-Mart battle enters round one
About sixty opponents of a proposed Wal-Mart Superstore filled the Rio Rancho City Council chambers on September 11. They came to object to a proposal to undo an ordinance that stands in the way of the project at Corrales Road and NM 528.
Rumors have been circulating for several years that Wal-Mart was considering opening a supercenter in Sandoval County. Speculation placed the location at the corner of US 550 and NM 528. It could have been located at the old site of Price’s Dairy in Bernalillo. Santa Ana Pueblo also had plenty of land available. These sites are a stone’s throw apart, but because of the way the state distributes gross receipts taxes, the location represents a make-or-break issue for the competing municipalities.
Bernalillo and Rio Rancho both rely on gross receipt taxes to fund basic services. Wal-Mart controls 70 percent of all retail business nationwide. The bonanza in tax revenue promised by Wal-Mart would be tempered by the losses on the other side of the city limits. And Wal-Mart’s arrival would spell disaster for small, locally-owned businesses.
Former Rio Rancho mayor John Jennings lamented “that sucking sound” of lost revenues that occurred when Rio Rancho residents were drawn to Cottonwood Mall and the conglomeration of giant retail stores, including Wal-Mart, adjacent to the south side of Rio Rancho in Albuquerque. He worried that the same thing might happen on the north side where Rio Rancho was providing the infrastructure to support thousands of new “rooftops” to attract big business.
Last spring when Wal-Mart announced its intention to build a supercenter on Corrales Road, Rio Rancho officials saw a perfect place to make a giant sucking sound of their own. The store would draw shoppers from Rio Rancho’s growing subdivisions, as well as from Corrales, Bernalillo, and other parts of Sandoval County.
There is, however, a zoning ordinance that prohibits buildings larger than sixty-five thousand square feet. Supercenters require 190,000 square feet. The ordinance has been in place since 1999, when the property owners—the Mercado Group who want to sell the parcel to Wal-Mart—made a deal with the River’s Edge One Property Owners Association (REONA) to change existing zoning to allow a Chevron Station and a Burger King restaurant. As part of the agreement, the Mercado Group agreed to the sixty-five-thousand-square-foot limit on the rest of the property. The agreement was incorporated into REONA covenants and subsequently into a Rio Rancho zoning ordinance.
REONA, along with many Corraleños (including Mayor Kanin) and residents of neighboring subdivisions, opposes the Wal-Mart because of the congestion, noise, and light pollution it would bring. Some of them formed United Neighbors Against Wal-Mart on Corrales Road and are currently seeking donations for a legal fund.
The large crowd that gathered at the September 11 city council meeting objected to legal maneuvering by Mercado Group lawyer Brad Hays and city attorney James Babin. The lawyers contend that the developer had been coerced by REONA into entering the agreement and that the city ordinance gave REONA veto power over development. Babin argued, “Having concluded that the ordinance on its face gives the Mercado Group and REONA actual and practical veto authority over Governing Body action, the consequence thereof in my opinion is that the ordinance is void ab initio (from the beginning).”
By throwing out the ordinance, the city could clear the way for Wal-Mart and the issue would become a private legal matter between the Mercado Group and REONA. The Rio Rancho governing body would not have to become a litigant fighting an outcome that it favors in the first place. REONA could lose, due to attrition, a protracted court battle funded by the world’s largest corporation.
Mayor Jim Owen urged the crowd to remain quiet and courteous out of respect for the 9/11 anniversary. He warned against cheers, boos, and applause during the public-comment period. After the city attorney gave his opinion advising the council to throw out the ordinance, a parade of speakers voiced opposition to the supercenter and urged the council to modify the language of the ordinance that the attorneys found objectionable rather than eliminating the whole ordinance. They complained that the Planning and Zoning Department was bypassed, depriving them of due process. One speaker suggested that they were “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
After the speeches, Councilman Michael Williams immediately moved to call the question. Before the motion could be seconded, however, Councilman David Bency, who represents the River’s Edge subdivisions, objected to voting without discussion of the issue. He said “Let’s face it, this is just round one of a fifteen-round fight.” He said that developers should not assume that they deserve special entitlements from government. Furthermore, he said that it was only fair the council consider sponsoring an ordinance to replace the one that they were about to eliminate.
After a tense discussion, Bency moved to postpone the decision until a later meeting. Mayor Owen was forced to break a vote of three to three. His yes vote will drag out the expected action of the council for another month.
Practice safe computing
—Gary W. Priester
I recently received a frantic phone call from a good friend whose computer had been fried by the W32 Klez.H virus.
She was at her wit’s end trying to figure out how this could have happened. When I asked if she had virus-protection software she said sure.
"When was the last time you updated your DAT files," I asked. I knew the answer by her silence. My next question was, When did you buy this software? She said about six months ago at Costco.
I hear this sad story several times a week.
The software she purchased at Costco was probably anywhere from six months to a year old when she installed it on her computer. Virus-protection software preinstalled on new computers might be even older. Dozens of new computer viruses spring up every week and go undetected by older virus protection applications. So although you have installed the latest version of Norton AntiVirus 2002 or McAffee VirusScan, this does not mean your computer is protected. If anything, this just leads to a false sense of security.
If you spend a lot of time on the Internet or if you receive a lot of e-mail, you need a good. reliable virus-protection program. These programs don’t cost very much. They are peanuts compared to the cost of a new computer. And once you have installed new virus-protection software, immediately update your DAT files (virus definition data files that recognize the latest viruses and stop them before they infect your computer). Most virus-protection applications now make it easy to automatically update your files via the Web by downloading the latest DAT files.
If you are a casual user and Internet surfer you should update your DAT files about twice a month. I update mine once a week. I know some people who update every day. Get in the frequent updating habit and you should be okay.
My friend knows better than to open an attachment (a file attached to an e-mail message—like a JPEG photo or Microsoft Word document) from anyone she does not know. But the e-mail message she received with the intriguing subject line “A Fun Game” automatically ran an HTML script carrying a virus when she opened the message—which was anything but fun.
Even messages from friends are not always safe. I recently received several virus-infected messages from my old e-mail address, which I had closed down years ago. Someone was using my old e-mail address illegally.
Be suspicious. When in doubt, dump the message.
If your computer does sustain a virus, do a search on www.Google.com for virus-protection software. The sites that top the list may be able to disinfect your computer and repair the damage.
The Internet is a fun place to visit, but it can also be dangerous. Practice safe computing. Update your DAT files often.
Bernalillo special election scheduled for December 10
The town of Bernalillo will hold a special election of December 10 to fill the trustee seat on the town council left vacant by the death of Sharky Chavez last spring. Members of the council and Mayor Charles Aguilar have been unable to agree on an appointed replacement for Chavez.
In April, Mayor Aguilar tried to appoint Dale Prairie, who finished second in the March election for trustee, to the position. Trustee Serafin Dominguez moved to accept this appointment, but trustees Helen Sandoval and Eddie Torres voted it down. The mayor then asked the trustees to submit candidates for the position. In August, Dominguez made a motion to appoint Al Briley, whom the mayor had suggested, but once again Sandoval and Torres voted against the appointment. Candidates for the position will serve for only about fourteen months after the special election before the regular election in March of 2004. The special election will cost an estimated $2,500.
Council members and Mayor Aguilar all downplay the appearance that factions have hampered the effectiveness of the town’s governing body. Helen Sandoval said that she has always advocated an election to fill the vacant position. She commented, “I just didn’t think that four people should make the decision for the whole town. This is the way democracy works. There was no animosity. We just couldn’t agree on this issue. We work very well together and get things done in a businesslike manner.”
Mayor Aguilar said that the town government has been dealing with business and that essential services have not been interrupted. “I’d just like to have a full council so that we can deal with some of the issues that will make this a better town,” said Aguilar. “I’d like to encourage residents to get out and vote on December 10.”
Get ready to ride
On Saturday, October 26, and Sunday October 27, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the town of Bernalillo will be brimming with fun during the annual Bernalillo Arts Trail. This year, fourteen artists and six sponsors will open their studios, shops, and restaurants for a special day of shopping, visiting, and touring. Artists exhibitions, demonstrations, and introductions highlight the day along with special sales at all stops along the way. For complete details about the Trail, turn to page 2 of this Signpost for the Bernalillo Arts Trail map and participants.
The Bernalillo Arts Trail is seeking “art cars” for a parade down main street in Bernalillo on Saturday, October 26, at 1:00 p.m., in conjunction with the art event. If you have an unusual car, or know of anyone who does, contact Julianna Kirwin at (email@example.com) or 771-0590 about participating in the parade.
County adopts new computer policy
Sandoval County Commission chairperson Elizabeth Johnson thanked the information systems staff for saving crucial county records from the onslaught of what the IS staff described as “a very fast-moving worm-like virus” that entered the computer network last month. The cost of the disruption in terms of manpower, lost productivity, and equipment was estimated at $50,000. At the September 5 meeting, the county commission unanimously approved a new computer policy that provides guidelines for anyone using county computers and specifies disciplinary action for those violating the guidelines.
After the problem was discovered, the IS staff said that they found two programs running on deputy clerk Arthur Hinds’s computer. Hinds had reportedly left his computer running while he was out of town on administrative leave. Two unauthorized programs running on the computer—the SETI@home screen saver and the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program—were thought to be the vehicle through which a virus entered the network. The IS staff was unable to gain access to either Hinds’s or county clerk Victoria Dunlap’s computer and suspected that they had some sort of system lock-out to prevent access. They described the computers as “fried.”
The new computer policy requires that all PCs, laptops, and workstations be shut down and turned off when not in use. It prohibits the installation or creation of any password or system lock-out that prohibits access by IS staff, and reserves the right to audit networks, systems, and workstations on a periodic basis to ensure compliance with this policy. It directs all users to delete—unopened— any e-mail or e-mail attachment from an unknown sender (the usual way that viruses enter a computer). It also prohibits all illegal activities, spamming (use of mass e-mail), and most personal use not related to county business.
Dunlap did not agree with the IS assessment of the problem. David Hawthorne of Placitas Computers checked out the computers at her request and pronounced them virus-free. Dunlap also objected to a policy that allowed unlimited access by IS staff to the clerk’s information such as Social Security numbers in the election database.
Deputy clerk Hinds has since resigned his position, citing “a lack of communication and cooperation between the clerk’s office and the other officials in the courthouse.” He said that he was mistreated over the virus issue. “I really think I should have been given a chance to provide input before the story was given to the press. Some officials said things that I think were unfair.” The computer policy was not as clear as it is now. A lot of people leave their computers on all the time. His SETI@home screensaver and Microsoft Outlook are a widely used. Anyone in the network could have clicked on an e-mail that contained a virus.
Republican candidate for county commissioner Charles Mellon was gaveled down by Commissioner Johnson after an acrimonious discussion about the constitutionality of commission control over elected officials and the need to protect the system from the clerk’s office. Mellon said that there was no proof that Hinds’s computer was to blame.
Steve Van Horn, first vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party and chairman of the Sandoval County Board of Elections, expressed his concern that the policy would give IS staff the opportunity to manipulate elections data.
Van Horn said later that he did not deny that a computer policy was necessary, but that language should be included in the policy that acknowledges the domain and responsibilities of elected officials, including the clerk, treasurer, assessor, and sheriff. Otherwise, he said, the system of checks and balances is compromised. Using an analogy, he said, “People who entrust a bank with their valuables don’t expect the technician who works on the door to the safe to have unrestricted access to the contents.”
County spokesman Gayland Bryant said, “Sandoval County has done a a pretty good job of protecting the network against outside threats. Now we realize that we need a policy to protect it from ourselves. The technology has advanced so quickly that it’s hard to keep up and we have to learn as we go along. The new policy is designed to close loopholes and spell out penalties for abusing the system, but you can’t legislate common sense.” Bryant also said that safeguards are provided to keep the records of all elected officials secure.
Periodically, the IS department will review user guidelines and issue revisions as required.
More on computer security
The Sandoval County computer policy concludes with a list of definitions of terms such as “spam,” “virus,” “worm,” and “e-mail bomb.” Even people who are otherwise computer literate don’t understand the issues of computer security. It’s no wonder that when information systems are attacked, responsibility for crashing computers becomes a political hot potato. Information security is complicated and mirrors an increasingly insecure world. Privacy and other basic rights are threatened by sometimes controversial measures deemed necessary to keep us safe from cyber-terrorists.
Evan Carter of Los Angeles-based Setec Security said that some large government- and corporate-information networks require the protection of a full-time specialist. “Most ITs [information technicians] are too busy dealing with everyday computer problems to keep up with the technology of attacks by viruses or hackers,” Carter explained. “There is a counterculture typically made up of young men from developing countries who vent their hostility by writing viruses that have become more and more complex and creative. They send the virus out by e-mail and when someone opens this e-mail, it automatically spreads to every address in the address book. Information networks can be invaded by a user who innocently downloads a virus by opening e-mail from a seemingly reliable or well-known source.”
Carter said that although the search for extraterrestrials makes for good headlines, he doubts if the SETI@ home screensaver was the cause of the county problem because it is never actually listening—it is not on all the time. He said that he has never seen it provide access for viruses. Microsoft Outlook is notoriously vulnerable to security problems and it is a popular target for attack because it is used so extensively.
A worm or virus is embedded in software and is generally downloaded from e-mail that can appear on any user’s computer whether or not it is left on overnight. Computers that are left on do provide a target for hackers. The responsibility for avoiding viruses lies with each user. It is probably a good idea to limit personal use of company computers in order to limit the amount of e-mail that enters the network. The goal of viruses is self-replication through as many computers as possible. Viruses are suspected when a computer slows down or suddenly starts to perform in strange ways. Software designed to protect sensitive data by blocking viruses and notifying the operator that a virus has been detected should be installed by information systems staff and updated on a regular basis.
Network administrator Roger Williams said that the Norton antivirus sortware used by the county last month was not enhanced to to protect against the new virus that attacked the system. He said that whatever it was spread rapidly through the network in a bizarre way that resembled three different viruses. It did not spread through address books. The former policy was to enhance the software on an”as needed” basis when new viruses were identified on the internet. Williams said that antivirus software probably would have protected the network if it were updated on a daily basis as it is now.
Evan Carter explained that many organizations don’t take into account that most attacks come from within a network, sometimes from a disgruntled employee who becomes a malicious hacker. A hacker causes damage with a virus or by maliciously altering data or operating systems. He said that a person with a little knowledge can do a lot of damage.
Placitas IS consultant Larry White told the Signpost that up-to-date virus protection and firewalls to keep out hackers are becoming more essential all the time, especially in a government or business network. He said that he is amazed at the number of attempts to probe his personal system that are identified by the firewall.