Many important decisions have been made during Dan Barrone’s tenure as mayor. Three stand out as having been made in an undemocratic manner:
• Attempted rezoning of the Couse pasture.
• Creation of a hotel overlay zone, allowing the construction of four-story hotels.
• Moving the farmers’ market to the Plaza.
In all three cases, Town Manager Rick Bellis used an undemocratic and non-transparent process to advance these projects. And, in each case, Bellis acted with the tacit support and approval of both Mayor Barrone and Councilman Fritz Hahn. Both the Couse pasture and four-story hotel projects clearly demonstrate that Barrone and Hahn embrace the mantra of “development at all costs” even when that development is a slap in the face to the cultural heritage and character of the community.
Let’s take these projects one by one.
Remember the 2015 proposed rezoning of the Couse pasture to allow the construction of a mega-Smith’s complex? The lack of transparency was astounding. Even Councilman Nathaniel Evans, a reliable Bellis supporter, rationalized his “no” vote as being based on a “lack of transparency.” But, Councilman Hahn turned a blind eye and voted “yes,” continuing his obedience to Bellis and his agenda.
Here’s something you may not be aware of. Concurrent with his deception regarding the Couse pasture, Bellis traded e-mails with the developer, Jay Batra, assuring him he would grease the slides to make the four-story hotel, a destroyer of Taos’ cultural integrity, a reality, one way or another.
To guarantee the creation of the hotel overlay zone, which allows construction of four-story hotels, the Barrone administration appointed local realtor and developer, Pavel Lukes, to the planning and zoning commission, in time for him to second the motion creating the hotel zone, even though he had a personal financial stake in the project going forward.
The decision to move the farmers’ market from town hall to the Plaza was made without the input of Plaza merchants, those most affected by the move. When Bellis convened a meeting of the merchants in the Plaza gazebo to tell them the decision had already been made, it was insulting to say the least. We can argue the pros and cons of the move, but there can be no argument that Bellis and the Barrone administration showed a complete lack of respect for the Plaza merchants and their opinions.
Also, consider these examples which clearly demonstrate Bellis’ and the Barrone administration’s lack of respect for the democratic process:
• Elimination of public participation in the development review committee, the initial step when proposing new development in the town.
• Reducing the time citizens are allowed to address the council from five to three minutes.
• Totally ignoring the signatures of thousands of citizens on petitions opposing both a mega-Smith’s and a four-story hotel.
Bellis’ complete lack of respect for people like myself (i.e. Anglo seniors) by referring to us as “blue hairs.”
There’s an expression in which I strongly believe:
“Democracy is a dialogue.” For the last four years, too much critical dialogue has taken place behind closed doors and out of view and ear shot of the citizens of Taos. I do not trust Rick Bellis to act in a democratic and transparent manner. Nor do I trust Dan Barrone nor Fritz Hahn to stop Bellis from continuing to trample on our democratic processes in favor of “backroom deals.”
For the record, I worked hard for Dan Barrone when he ran for Mayor in 2014. I made a significant financial donation to his campaign. I also supported and donated to Fritz Hahn’s campaign.
However, I cannot support either man for re-election. Democracy is too important to me to do so. And, once trust is lost, it is nearly impossible to regain.
Fortunately for me, two candidates, Darien Fernandez and Pascual Maestas, are running for mayor and councilman respectively in the March 6 election. Both men have unequivocally indicated their intention to take the necessary steps to restore honesty, transparency and respect to town government, and they have outlined the steps they will take to do so. I support both men. And, I hope you value a democratic and transparent form of government in Taos enough to do the same.
Mark Asmus lives in Taos.