• County Charter and BPU are a long way from resolution

    The issues raised by the proposed changes to the County Charter regarding the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) have been the subject of multiple letters to the editor. Those against this amendment seem to strike an overriding theme: some county council will abuse a strengthened oversight function over the BPU to the ultimate harm of the electorate; specifically, it could increase transfers from utilities to the general fund, resulting in higher taxes disguised as increased utility rates.
    As a current member of the county council, I know all too well that trust may be earned but cannot be legislated, much as competence or objectivity cannot be legislated either. The fact of the matter is that the county charter, either current or future, cannot ensure that there will never be untrustworthy, incompetent and/or biased councilors who may in turn choose untrustworthy, incompetent and/or biased members of the BPU, a board that controls a $90 million budget, nearly half the total county budget, and who cannot be removed except essentially if convicted of a felony. However, what the charter can do is to make any abuse by a public official as transparent, difficult and ultimately punishable by the electorate as possible.

  • 'It's the jobs, stupid' still good political advice

    A reader writes about a recent column: “What was obvious was your dislike for (Gov.) Susana Martinez. Why not just devote the whole piece to this? Face it, she has done a decent job and will be reelected, probably by a pretty good margin.”
    Dislike has nothing to do with it. Yes, let’s devote a column to this. No, she hasn’t done a decent job. And her reelection will be a measure not of support but of dollars spent against the inept campaign of her opponent.
    The cast of “Saturday Night Live” was once called the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.” This is how I think of both Martinez and Barack Obama — both bright, promising people with narrow experience when they took office. Had they worked their way up instead of vaulting into the spotlight, the outcomes would be different for the state and the nation.
    Combine that with money and flimsy spending rules and you get a campaign as substantial as cotton candy.
    In 2010, the candidates were sniping at each other over Martinez’s birthplace, Diane Denish’s Christmas cards, and who was soft on perverts. Martinez campaigned against Bill Richardson.

  • Supporting charter amendments is responsible choice to make

    Nearly two years ago, the County Council decided that the utilities section of the charter required an in-depth review. Because of previous work done by the 2010 Charter Review Committee, the council understood that there was possible weakness in the charter that could create oversight and accountability problems for the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Therefore it created the Charter Review Committee — Utilities (CRC-2). As a CRC-2 member, I realized the work would be challenging. I also realized that I was going need to immerse myself in the issues. I am glad that I made the investment and I would like to explain my rationale for supporting the major areas of change as follows.
    Dispute Resolution: The presence of a clear path of action in the case of a dispute between the council and the Board of Public Utilities will make each accountable to reach a reasonable solution and will tend to avoid destructive personal agendas that damage the organization.
    Communication: Poor communication is a primary concern related to accountability and liability. Providing specific direction related to communication in the charter will serve to mitigate accountability and liability issues going forward.

  • Messing around with election ballots

    Sometimes New Mexico just embarrasses itself. The latest election ballot nonsense — with non-binding advisory questions on the ballot in several counties — is one of those occasions. These antics are too stupid for serious people to take seriously. And too offensive to earn anyone’s respect.
    Last year, I heard a few leading Democrats say they were working to get an amendment to the state Constitution to decriminalize marijuana on the 2014 election ballot — not because it was the right thing to do, not because New Mexico was ready to deal with the unintended consequences of legal marijuana, but because this would get large numbers of Democrats out to vote.
    They were probably right. Democratic voters are notorious for forgetting to show up in non-presidential years. Voting for their elected representatives and even their governor won’t get Democrats to the polls, but pot will.
    These political leaders were willing to damage both our state’s constitutional process and the Constitution itself, and to invite New Mexico to become the next stoner capital of the nation, to win one election. Not our proudest moment.

  • 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.