Taos County commissioners blew it - big time

By Robert J. Silver
Posted 1/17/20

"Special" indeed was the Dec. 30, 2019 Taos County Board of Commissioners special meeting. The commissioners had the sole power to appoint Taos County's (District 42) member of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

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Taos County commissioners blew it - big time

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"Special" indeed was the Dec. 30, 2019 Taos County Board of Commissioners special meeting. The commissioners had the sole power to appoint Taos County's (District 42) member of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Though this was the main agenda, the meeting also cast light on political identities and allegiances, as well as highlighting flaws in the selection process. Three men and one woman were under final consideration. The bottom line? The commissioners flat out blew it.

Due diligence should have been the order of the day. Nevertheless, instead of vigorously probing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates for this major appointment, the process resembled a beauty pageant, improvised on the fly.

Candidate pronouncements, promises and platitudes passed without challenge or followup questioning. Even when one of the candidates, currently serving on the Board of Commissioners, declined to recuse himself from voting on the selection, there was not a peep of protest. The process bore little resemblance to a thorough discharge of responsibility.

Though burdened by temperament, judgment and policy deficiencies as Taos mayor, Dan Barrone was nevertheless the overwhelming favorite of the commissioners. Had the board been curious as to Barrone's suitability for appointment to higher office, a trove of archived video recordings documents his shortcomings as mayor.

Among Barrone's liabilities, his questionable temperament for holding higher office is routinely demonstrable in his inability to tolerate criticism. He is regularly recorded responding to criticism with long-winded, thin-skinned, self-pitying soliloquies.

Also on record are stunning instances of Barrone's bad judgment. One that stands out in particular finds him in open council session, bullying and badgering a Taos council member to collude and conspire to hide alleged ethical lapses, his duty to expose such transgressions notwithstanding.

And then there is the history of Barrone's conflict-creating policy initiatives of recent years. The Couse pasture, four-story Holiday Inn Express hotel and the loud, large, late Kit Carson Park rock concerts were all Barrone administration initiatives. They kept the community mired in conflict and controversy.

Though arguably the least impressive of the four candidates, Barrone was nevertheless the 4-1 choice of the board. The lone female commissioner cast the only dissenting vote. The commissioners were asked to explain their vote once taken. Thus far, no explanation has been forthcoming. Could the answer truly be something more compelling than good old boy cronyism?

The presumption of a closed, male fraternity gained additional credence as an obviously thoughtful, intelligent and articulate female candidate was passed over without serious consideration. The following week brought still more cause for concern when the sole female county commissioner was, without comment or explanation, denied appointment as commission chair. All male members of the board had previously been granted the designation. She was refused for the second year in a row.

Perhaps unintended, a couple of highly partisan, hot-button issues, including the issue of reproductive rights, may have exposed true political identities. Barrone's response to the question of reproductive choice was a lengthy, meandering statement championing the rights of the fetus. The New Mexico Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports a woman's right to choose to have a child or end a pregnancy. So, is Barrone a Democrat or a DINO (a Democrat in name only)?

Since the overwhelming majority of Taos County voters are registered Democrats, prevailing in the Taos County Democratic Party primary is tantamount to victory in the fall general election. Not winning the Democratic nomination almost certainly portends defeat. In order to retain his District 42 state representative seat, Taos Mayor/State Representative Barrone will likely need to fend off a Democratic challenger in the June primary. We'll see if he presents himself as a Democrat or as a DINO.

Barrone pronounced himself "ready to hit the ground running." He'll likely hit the ground running all right. But from early indications, he'll probably be headed in a direction opposite to what his constituents want.

As for the Taos County Board of Commissioners, the recent special meeting offered a choice between the comfortable, crony, men-only politics of the past and the promise of a female-featuring future. Taos women must not be prevented from taking their rightful places in the political arena. The untapped political talent resides mostly with them.

Robert Silver lives in Taos.

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