In the Rearview

The death of an open government champion, a school-related conflict and Holy Cross Hospital expanding

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As part of our weekly series, The Taos News dug into the newspaper's archives to uncover the top stories of the week from 10, 25 and 50 years ago. This week recalls the 10th anniversary of the death of an open government champion, a school-related conflict and Holy Cross Hospital expanding.

10 YEARS AGO: 'Sunshine Law champ Johnson dies at 84', Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2007

Journalists and transparency advocates across the nation mourned the death of Robert "Bob" Johnson, founder of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, according to a staff report in The Taos News. Johnson gained attention as the Associated Press reporter who wrote the first bulletin about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After decades as an AP reporter, Johnson had founded FOG and directed it for a couple of decades. He died of a stroke on his way to the office.

Through FOG, Johnson fought to hold New Mexico public officials and government offices accountable. He worked with lawmakers - and sometimes against them - to protect the rights of journalists and the public to access public documents. He was a resource reporters could call on when they hit a gray area of public records.

"Bob Johnson was one of the major forces behind the concept of open government in New Mexico," said then-state Attorney General Gary King. "We'll all have to work hard to preserve his legacy."

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, under the direction of veteran journalist Peter St. Cyr, continues Johnson's work today in a challenging time for transparency. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez campaigned on a promise of transparency, but has held an iron grip on information out of her administration and state departments. And now, at the federal level, access to government information - as simple as finding sources once readily available on federal websites - has disappeared.

25 YEARS AGO: 'Confrontation averted between teachers, school board', By Rick Romancito, Sept. 3, 1992

The school year started with a near riot a quarter of a century ago. Teachers showed up "armed for bear" to a meeting with then-Taos Municipal Schools board after hearing former Superintendent Juan Aragon intended not to ratify their contracts.

Almost every teacher in the district packed the Celestine Romero Administration Building in late August to express their dismay, according to a story in The Taos News by reporter Rick Romancito.

Ignacio Peralta, who was then the board president, stepped in to mollify the angry educators by saying it was all just "a miscommunication."

But the members of the Taos Federation of United School Employees remained a bit suspicious. "We felt that our contracts were in jeopardy," said Liz Moya at the time.

Aragon said little as Peralta worked to keep the peace and assure educators their contracts were safe. Aragon left shortly after the meeting and declined repeated attempts by the newspaper to reach him for comment.

A new statewide collective bargaining law passed earlier that year by the legislator added to the confusion as district officials tried to make sure the legislation didn't conflict with existing policies.

Taos teachers still stand up for what they believe, sometimes against the administration. In 2015, with the administration planning to cut five teachers and a secretary due to a scaled-back budget, the teachers union stepped in and offered an alternative. They said they would take furloughs, effectively reducing their own pay to preserve the positions.

"By a margin of nearly eight to one, the district faculty and staff are willing to sacrifice pay in order to save the jobs of six of our colleagues," union secretary Francis Hahn wrote to The Taos News in an email in May 2015. "We're not new to this. Four years ago, the membership ratified a 4.5 percent pay cut, amounting to a nearly $750,000 donation to the district, to save jobs and programs. We have yet to see our pay fully restored."

50 YEARS AGO: 'Holy Cross Hospital expanding', August 1967

Three young nurses from the Midwest joined the staff of Holy Cross Hospital this week in 1967, bringing the total number of "sisters and nurses" on staff to 13.

The hospital was under the direction of Mother Superior Mary Monica, who was originally from Chicago, but came to Taos to serve as administrator of the hospital from 1948 to 1956.

Mother Monica announced the addition of three nurses at the same time she touted other expansions to the rural hospital serving the greater Taos area, including new experiment, such as a spectrophotometer (a light-measuring device) for the lab. Getting a new intensive care unit was among the prospects for the 30-bed facility.

"With more tourists coming to Taos throughout the year and with increased population in the northern area, the hospital has a continuing obligation of expansion to the public," she said at the time.

The hospital employed 43 "laypeople" at the time of the expansion and had an annual budget of $125,000 for payroll and another $125,999 for supplies, making the hospital "a major factor in the economy of Taos."

"The average number of beds occupied is between 22 and 26. Ski season and year-round tourism add appreciably to emergency demands at the hospital," the story read.

Holy Cross Hospital -- no longer operated by nuns -- is again undergoing its own sort of growth spurt. Voters last year approved a mill levy to generate millions of dollars for the hospital to keep up with capital demands and aging infrastructure.

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