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Columns

  • Utilities board and department need to modernize the system

    They’re caught in a 1960s time warp.
    If you’re paying attention to the ongoing battle over the utilities charter amendment, Question 2 on the upcoming ballot, you may wonder at the fervor of those who oppose the amendment. All are former members of the utilities board (Wismer calls them Utilities Board Alumni, or UBA), or former managers of the utilities department.
    Three Charter Review Committees (1994-1995, 2010-2013) recognized problems including accountability and liability, ambiguous language, the need for a process of dispute resolution between the council and a too-independent utilities board and the lack of consistency with state law. Each committee recommended changes to the charter. The council adopted most of the recommendations of the committees and added a few more of their own.
    The UBA, current board members, and present and former utilities managers were consulted by each committee and the council and overwhelmingly and consistently opposed every change — insisting in the face of every indication to the contrary that the charter is just fine as is. What’s going on here?

  • Questions from 2010 asked again

    A $554 million award to the Navajo Nation was the civil society headliner of a couple of weeks ago. The money, expected to be paid by year-end, will come from the federal government in settlement of lawsuit filed in 2006 charging the feds with mismanagement of tribal trust assets. Public discussions about what to do with the money were set to start Oct. 6 in Chinle.
    An unasked question is why the feds still hold tribal assets in trust to mismanage. PERC Reports, a publication of the Property and Environment Research Center (perc.org), a Montana think tank, raised the question two years ago and answered a resounding, “No.”
    The question is one of those fundamentals about the institutions of civil society. As we tend to matters of daily activity, such questioning seldom happens.
    In April 2010, as the primary election approached, I posed three institutional questions to the six candidates for governor. Four years later, only the answers from now Gov. Susana Martinez matter. Here they are again.

  • Science of insurance gauges risk

    A tidal flat is an ultra productive ecosystem by virtue of its being part sea and part land. As it were, new vigor breeds also where the sea of government regulation blends with the firm footing of commercial insurance.
    Consider a regulatory model of mixed origins.
    We hear endless debate over whether this or that industrial project will cause how much ecological damage. An example is a major break in a long and winding oil pipeline. One side says all is safe. The other side says woe to our world.
    Rather than feeding on hopes and fears, rules could simply require the industry to buy insurance against such a break and its consequences. The economy and ecology would find their own balance in short order.
    If the insurance industry agrees the risk is as small as some claim, the cost of insurance will amount to nothing. If insurers judge the real risk is higher, the insurance will cost more. And so on.
    Over time, insurance rates will be based on actual data, the way the price of life insurance depends on death rates. Risk will track with data, not word wars and competing ads.

  • The case for approval of the two charter ballot questions

    We urge you to vote for the proposed changes to the Los Alamos Charter.
    We are writing as private citizens though one of us (JCH) was chair of the original Charter Review Committee (CRC1) and the other (SBO) was chair of the Utilities Charter Review Committee (CRC2).
    We will focus primarily on the second of the two ballot questions. This is an important question since it involves changes to Article V, the utilities section of the Los Alamos County Charter. The most comprehensive change recommended in ballot No. 2 is a rewrite of the section to modernize language and reorganize information into more cogent and related parts. Additionally, several other changes are recommended to address accountability issues.
    The County Utility Department provides essential services to everyone in Los Alamos and has assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars in replacement value. Although the Utility Department is wholly owned by the county and its citizens, surprisingly it does not report into the County Administrator’s Office or even the county’s elected body, the County Council. Its policy and management is directed by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), a group of community volunteers appointed by the council.

  • Collaboration aims to streamline funding for economic development projects

    When a New Mexico community wants to undertake a project for downtown revitalization, business incubation, housing or infrastructure, backers often don’t know where to look for financing and are easily discouraged or intimidated by the maze of government agencies they have to navigate.
    The state addressed this problem in the “rural renaissance” platform of its five-year economic development plan, unveiled in 2013, by creating New Mexico FundIt — a federal-state partnership that aims to be a one-stop source of start-to-finish financing for projects that will help with infrastructure development, job creation and small-business development.
    Through FundIt, communities can vet their development proposals before multiple state and federal infrastructure funding agencies at the same time. Representatives of these agencies make up a review panel whose members collectively analyze proposals and direct the most feasible ones to stay on a continual track to financing.
    The panel and its work

  • Laughing on Lipitor

    Technology is defined as “the practical application of knowledge.” Well, that’s the definition anyway. Practical? Perhaps. Knowledge? It’s getting harder and harder to tell.
    By mid-20th century, technology was all the rage. Exhibits at World Fairs predicted self-cleaning kitchens, furniture sinking into the living room floor when you needed space for a party, and mass-transit systems that would whisk you from one city to the next in minutes.
    If even 5 percent of the predictions had proved true, we’d have flying cars, bionic implants, colonies on the Moon, and life spans of 200 years.
    Perhaps it’s a good thing that these predictions never came to pass. Imagine arguing with an artificially-intelligent computer. Your smart phone’s operating system has become paranoiac, and you waste hours of time trying to get it to send a text to a friend. “Are you sure he’s really a friend? I don’t trust him!”
    Be afraid. Be very afraid. Technology is slowly ebbing into the crevasses of society and filling them with tar of obfuscation.
     Google glasses, nanoscience, genetic engineering, global GPS, social networking, powerful computer applications, material science, medical advancements. We are riding a torrential tsunami of technology.

  • Fight to save our kids is not over

    I have spent the last four years of my professional career with 9-year-olds for six hours a day, 180 days out of the year. I spend more time with them during the school year than their families do. So it came as a particular blow to me to hear the tragic news of the death of Omaree Varela — a kid that could have been one of my kids.
    Of course, we all remember the tragic story of 9-year-old Varela who died at the hands of an abusive mother, despite the fact that law enforcement officers had just recently intervened in his case.
    I, along with some of my colleagues in the House — including Speaker Ken Martinez — sought to have a legislative response to Omaree’s tragedy, and others like his. In the 2014 legislative session, we co-sponsored the HB 333, named Omaree’s Law, to try and address some of the shortcomings in the system that had been laid bare by Omaree’s case.
    One of the issues that had become apparent in Omaree’s case was the fact that despite just having visited his home in response to a 911 call and hearing his parents verbally berate him, law enforcement officers never filed a report. And this despite the fact that little Omaree had had visible injuries on his body, consistent with abuse, at the time that law enforcement officers had visited his home.

  • Watch out for wobbler syndrome

    Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, also known as wobbler syndrome, is a neurological condition in dogs that affects their cervical spine, or neck region. A compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots, wobbler syndrome gets its name from the characteristic “wobbly” walk that affected dogs typically display from the disease.
    “There are two forms of cervical spondylomyelopathy,” said Dr. Megan Steele, a veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “There is a disc-associated form that causes ventral spinal cord compression and dorsal, lateral bone and joint proliferation causing dorsolateral spinal cord compression.”
    Wobbler syndrome is typically a progressive disease most commonly found in larger dog breeds, such as Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes and Mastiffs.
    “Symptoms can vary widely from mild neck pain to an inability to walk in all four limbs,” Steele said.
    Other symptoms often include weakness, difficulty getting up from a lying position, and possible muscle loss. Clinical signs are typically slow and gradual in onset, though acute worsening can occur. If your dog appears to show signs of any of these, especially difficulty walking or any unusual neck pains, a trip to the veterinarian for a diagnosis is a recommended.

  • In economic development, we all have fed the bear

    In the early 1980s, a company wanted to bring a manufacturing plant to a small town in the state. A company representative told me years later that he met with the state senator for that area to explain the proposal and talk about economic benefits to the area.
    The senator asked how he would benefit, and the company representative talked more about economic impact. The senator asked again how he would benefit, and the company representative went on about creating a bigger economic pie that would give everyone a larger piece. The conversation continued in this vein, and the meeting ended with the senator saying he was not satisfied with the company’s responses.
    From then on the senator, who is no longer in office, voted against bills involving that company.
    Now that the Tesla circus has moved on, it’s a good time to talk about economic development, large and small.
    Tesla was worth the effort. Although most of the state considered it an Albuquerque deal, those 6,500 jobs would have lifted New Mexico’s economy. Despite the outcome, New Mexico got some positive attention, and the exercise improved the learning curve of the governor and her people.

  • Review of culture study reveals excellent work cited

    Numbers got the emphasis in the first half of the recently released report on arts, culture and creativity by the Department of Cultural Affairs. The second half, another hundred pages, commendably went places few are willing to consider for fear of ruffling self-righteousness.
    A month ago, I skipped lightly through the numbers. Today’s topic is the rest. To find the report, “Building on the Past, Facing the Future: Renewing the Creative Economy of New Mexico,” see newmexicoculture.org, the site of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
    Recognizing that numbers take one only so far, the researchers from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research did “structured in-depth interviews with 123 professionals engaged in 15 areas of creative work” and included results from 85 other interviews. That’s not many. No “authoritative census” of our creative professionals exists. Accept that BBER carefully assembled the interview group.