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Columns

  • 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.

  • Making the ballot but not Duran's way

    New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran got her comeuppance in a case before the state Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago.
    She was adequately represented in the case by a private attorney of her choosing (paid for with taxpayer dollars, of course) when she appeared before the five justices. Nonetheless, she lost in a unanimous ruling, five-to-zip.
    As state law and custom have it, when the governing bodies of New Mexico counties approve measures for voters to consider in a general election, it falls to the Secretary of State to see to it that those measures are duly and properly placed on the general election ballot.
    The Secretary of State, after all, is the state’s chief election official, responsible for preparing and superintending printing of the ballots that await voters in their polling places come Election Day.
    So when the county commissions of two New Mexico counties, Santa Fe and Bernalillo, passed and submitted to Secretary Duran a pair of non-binding measures asking voters whether they would support decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana, the two counties’ commissioners had every reason to assume the Secretary of State would do her duty by putting the questions on the November ballot.

  • Public banking gets a hearing at symposium

    With tighter credit standards that have resulted in fewer loans since the recession of 2008, some are backing an effort to open a publicly owned and managed bank in New Mexico. These advocates are holding a symposium in Santa Fe on Sept. 27 to educate the public and decide how to proceed.
    State Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) has pushed for a statewide public bank for years, arguing it would keep more money at home and make it easier for businesses to secure capital. Fellow legislators have rejected the idea for two successive years, so backers have scaled down the idea to a publicly owned bank in just one New Mexico community: Santa Fe. They have the support of the city’s mayor, Javier Gonzales, who sees it as a resource for cash-strapped local businesses.
    Some local bankers are skeptical, citing capital availability, but little loan demand from business owners reluctant to take on more debt before they see a strong turnaround in the economy.

  • Know risks before cosigning a loan

    Shakespeare probably said it best: “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.” Four hundred years later, people still wrestle with whether or not to help out a loved one by loaning them money or cosigning a loan.
    Perhaps you want to help your kid qualify for a better student loan rate or assist your widowed mom with refinancing her mortgage. Before you cosign anything, however, make sure you understand the risks involved.
    Here are just a few of the things that can go wrong and questions to ask before committing yourself — and your good credit — to what could be a decades-long commitment:
    First, understand that the main reason you’re being asked to cosign a loan is because lenders don’t think the borrower is a good risk. By cosigning, you’re guaranteeing that you’ll repay the full loan — plus any late fees or collection costs — should the borrower default.
    If that doesn’t scare you sufficiently, read on:
    • Even one late or missed payment can damage your credit.
    • In most states, the creditor can — and probably will — go after you for repayment without first trying to collect from the borrower, because they know you’re more likely to have the money.