For Mayor of the Town of Taos
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Taos is more than just a destination; we are a community, resilient and proud with culture and traditions. Community is built on trust, and unfortunately trust in local government is broken. I am running for Mayor to return the Town of Taos to the people of Taos.
Local People – Local Economy – Local Government
The Town of Taos must reprioritize its focus to include local issues. The same inequities that have plagued our community have only gotten worse as a result of the pandemic, and as Mayor, I will work to make these issues my priority.
I have divided these topics under three headings: local people, local economy, and local government. However, many of the issues truly fall under all three. Take affordable housing, for example. I have placed it under local people because having a home is the foundation to quality of life. Yet, the lack of affordable housing plays a profound role in the economy with many businesses unable to find employees that can afford to live here. Local government also has a hand in shaping the housing supply through zoning, tax credit projects, and federal grant funds.
Local people, local economy, and local government priorities work hand-in-hand with each other to address our community’s needs. Click on the buttons below to expand and learn more about my top priorities.
People will be the top priority of my administration. The people of our community are our family members, friends, and neighbors. The economy means nothing without a focus on the people that are impacted by the decisions made by government. Without people, there is no economy; without people, there is no government. As your Mayor, every decision will be carefully evaluated to understand the effect on locals before votes are taken.
Housing has become the top priority in Taos. A recent Taos County Chamber of Commerce survey of local businesses identified housing as the highest need for local businesses. Not only is it difficult for people to find a home, businesses are having trouble finding employees that can afford a home in Taos. The issue of low wages is compounded by the very high median home value. Both issues need to be addressed, but housing affordability and gentrification threaten the culture and history of our community.
- Establish a Community Land Trust
A community land trust is an initiative used in other parts of the country to create housing options that build equity for tenants. Unlike subsidized housing where rental payments go to developers for profit, a community land trust would create housing options that pull people out of poverty. Click here to learn more community land trusts.
- Institute a High Value Transfer Tax
A Home Rule municipality could institute a high value transfer tax for homes sold over a specified dollar amount. The funds collected by this special tax could be earmarked for affordable housing projects.
- Explore Other Communities’ Solutions
Some say that housing affordability is a nationwide problem, and they use that as justification not to take any action. However, because this is a nationwide problem, creative solutions can be found all over the country. Some communities are placing deed restrictions on property requiring that a long-term tenant lives in the home. Others are providing financial incentives for property management companies to rent to long-term tenants. I will explore any and all solutions that will help bring down the cost of a home.
- Collaborate with State Government
Some options are not allowed by the state such as rent control (see Chapter 47 Section 8A in statutes), which is specifically banned, even for Home Rule municipalities. Working with our legislators, I would propose introducing two new sections to statute: Special Valuation of Short-Term Rentals and a Special Valuation of Vacant Homes. With these two new sections in statute, counties and municipalities could levy additional taxes on short-term rentals and vacant homes. This would create a financial incentive to put homes back into the long-term rental supply and would help to address the rental and housing crisis in Taos.
Ten Vital Services
As Mayor, I will put the needs of locals first by committing 1% of the general fund (about $100,000) to support and coordinate efforts to create access to the ten vital services that are needed to survive and thrive (housing, food, medical/dental healthcare, behavioral healthcare, transportation, parent supports, early childhood education, community schools, youth mentorship, and job training). I will collaborate with our local non-profits, educational agencies, and service providers to help support improvement to access and care.
As substance abuse and alcoholism rates increase, the need to provide some type of detox service is becoming ever more vital for Taos’ success. High rates of substance abuse and alcoholism directly affect the ability of local businesses to hire quality labor, reduce educational outcomes among children and adults, and contribute to the effects of generational and historical trauma. Bringing a detox center to Taos will require effective collaboration between local government, detox providers, Holy Cross Hospital, and non-profit service providers. As Mayor, I will ensure that the Town of Taos is a good-faith partner toward the provision of detox services.
Preparing for Climate Change
In all of our decision making, we must keep climate change in mind. The global pandemic has shown us what economic disruptions can look like, and climate change increasingly threatens life as we know it. We must make local decisions that not only reduce our own emissions, but prepare Taos for the economic future in the event that the rest of the world does not reduce emissions in time.
- Convene a Water Council
Water is our most precious resource. Although the Abeyta Settlement has allocated water rights among the five parties (Taos Pueblo, the Acequias, Town of Taos, the Mutual Domestics, and El Prado Water and Sanitation District), it does not address the need for water conservation and the real limitations of the aquifer beneath us. Taos’ growth of industry, population, and agriculture is wholly dependent on the water supply. As Mayor, I will convene a Water Council whose purpose is to plan for the future and find funding to implement water conservation measures.
- Promote a Renewable Energy Economy
Taos has long claimed the title of “Solar Capital of the World.” Thanks to Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and their goal of becoming 100% daytime renewable within one year, Taos can say that the title has been earned. But we must go further. To address climate change, I will invest in the electrification of vehicles, homes, and businesses.
- Transition Town Fleets to Electric Vehicles
As Electric Vehicles (EVs) gain greater range and efficiency, we must lead the transition to a renewable energy economy by investing in fleet conversion. Although the initial upfront costs are higher, electric vehicles are cheaper to maintain and operate resulting in long-term savings. Good for the environment and good for the taxpayer!
- Management of Surrounding Forests
Although there are no forests in the Town of Taos, wildfire poses an even greater risk as drought is worsened by climate change. Proper forest management and usage of the lumber and firewood harvested will help protect the community while providing heat and economic opportunities. As Mayor, I will strengthen relationships with our federal land managing partners and local organizations committed to forest and watershed health.
I imagine much of Taos has been jaded by the phrase “economic diversification” during political campaigns. It has been touted for decades with no real movement. In the Taos News’ publication “Taos’ Golden Years” celebrating the Town of Taos’ 50th anniversary in 1984, then-Mayor Phil Lovato said, “we must deal with the lack of industrial diversity and continuing unemployment, particularly among our youth.”
In 2022, we are still in need of industrial and economic diversification. Shifting economic momentum takes time and deliberate effort. The next few years will be the perfect opportunity to begin making investments to truly diversify our local economy. With federal funding initiatives for local governments, institutions of higher learning, and school districts, the time is now to make investments in new industry. If federal funds are allowed to be spent on tourism infrastructure, then Taos’ dependency on the service industry and the booms and busts that come with it will be cemented. It will be a long time before the federal funding opportunities from the Build Back Better and Infrastructure bills come around again, and we must ensure that these investments are spent on local needs first.
As a Mayor with an advanced degree in economics, I will put my education and skills to work to craft an economy that is resilient, sustainable, and works for all. I will work with our economic development partners to develop econometric models and make decisions based on the data rather than feeling.
Career Technical Education
I will collaborate with local higher education to provide training in the trades (electrical, plumbing, welding, carpentry, machining, and renewable energy). Right now, labor is in short supply. If Taos can demonstrate committed investment in workforce development, businesses will find that Taos has what is needed to run a profitable enterprise.
Economist Michael H. Shuman, author of The Local Economy Solution and Local Dollars, Local Sense, argues that greater rates of return are found by helping local businesses rather than chasing the single, large-scale corporation. I will support and engage our small businesses that drive the local economy.
Film is becoming big business in New Mexico, and the most beautiful and spectacular place to film is in Taos. However, bringing the film industry to Taos will require careful negotiation that ensures our own community members are safely employed to help create the next box-office hit. I will work collaboratively with regional partners to ensure that the film industry brings economic opportunities to locals.
Food Supply Chain Development
Taos survived the Great Depression relatively unscathed due to a food supply chain rooted in local land. Today, the majority of our food is brought in on trucks and prices are dependent on macroeconomic trends. Meanwhile, every dollar spent on non-local food is a dollar that leaves our local economy. Local food supply chain development is not only good economics, it is sustainable diversification that benefits all. I will work with local farmers and ranchers to bring back the mobile matanza and incentivize local food production and consumption.
Trust has been broken in government at all levels. Time and time again, government actions have benefited the rich, the well-connected, the special interests, and even government officials themselves. Trust in government is at an all-time low, but I will rebuild trust in local government. That starts with being transparent, inclusionary, and communicative. Below are some of my ideas that I will implement as Mayor of the Town of Taos all of which will last beyond my term of office.
It is high time that Taos joins the other major municipalities in New Mexico (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Los Alamos, Silver City, Clovis, Alamogordo, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, and Rio Rancho) and become a Home Rule municipality.
What is a Home Rule municipality? Let’s start by considering what a non-home-rule municipality can do. Municipalities like Taos only have the powers that are explicitly granted in New Mexico State statutes. If the Town Council wanted to build a minor league baseball stadium, that would be allowed under Chapter 3 Article 65. What about municipal cable television? Also allowed under Chapter 3 Article 23A. What about a municipal streaming channel? No statute addressing this situation, so it is not allowed. According to the New Mexico Municipal League (NMML), “if the power in question isn’t expressly authorized by the statute or the Constitution, or cannot be necessarily implied from a power that has already been authorized, it is presumed that a municipality does not have the power.” Maybe a streaming channel could be “implied,” but proving such may also take a legal battle. Why go through all of that trouble when Taos could simply be home rule?
NMML continues by stating “under home rule, it is assumed that a municipality has a power unless it is expressly denied by state statute or constitution.” Under home rule, could Taos have a streaming channel? Yes, no state statute prevents it. Could home rule Taos implement a high-value transfer tax on homes sold for more than $500,000? Yes, Santa Fe (a Home Rule municipality) has already instituted their own high-value transfer tax. Could Home Rule Taos implement rent controls? That answer is no. Section 47 Chapter 8A states, “no political subdivision or any home rule municipality shall enact an ordinance or resolution that controls or would have the effect of controlling rental rates for privately owned real property.” Home Rule isn’t the answer to all of our problems, but it allows a municipality to apply creative solutions to local issues. One of those issues is the balance and separation of powers in local government.
Right now, the mayor of a non-home-rule municipality can cast the deciding vote in the case of a council tie (this power is defined by Chapter 3 in the state statutes). In cases of a split council, a mayor effectively becomes both the executive and legislative branches of government. Some Home Rule municipalities have fixed this problem with an odd number of council members to prevent tie votes; or by limiting the power of the mayor to act more like a president with the power to sign or veto, but with no legislative vote.
A Home Rule charter could allow us to fix another issue in Taos: voting rights. If you live just outside of the town limits, you likely shop in town, pay your bills in town, and work in town. Despite major contributions to the Town of Taos’ tax base when you pay sales tax, you don’t get to vote for how your tax dollars are spent. This is taxation without representation.
In the past, when Town and County had a better working relationship, the Extraterritorial Zone (ETZ) helped to coordinate planning efforts in the area extending three miles outside of the town limits. Former Town Planner and County Planning Director Alan Vigil was quoted in a Taos News article dated August 22, 2009, describing the time of the ETZ as “an era of cooperation between Town and County.”
As Mayor, I would work to reestablish the ETZ and recommend a Home Rule charter that permits voting privileges to those living within the ETZ which would include most of Ranchos, Las Colonias, El Prado, Cañon, and Talpa. For the first time in history, residents of these neighborhoods whose families have contributed to the history of Taos, to the tax base of the Town, and to the culture of the community will have an opportunity to have their voices heard in Town elections.
As a Town Councilor, I have fought for transparency in local government. My first battle came early in my term when I made a motion to record and stream Monday Workshop meetings of the Town. At the time, the Council met on the Monday prior to Tuesday Council meetings for a workshop. During the workshop, the Council would discuss and ask questions regarding the following day’s agenda. It was a time when details and decisions were narrowed down, and while the workshops were open to the public, only people in attendance could voice their opinion. The following day, the Council meeting felt more like a formality when decisions only needed official approval or denial. That didn’t feel right to me. I made a motion to record and stream all meetings and workshops of the Council. It was voted down, but with public pressure, the administration later gave in.
During my run for office, I had campaigned on making Council meetings more accessible through technology and giving citizens the opportunity to participate from home. Once elected, I was told that the idea was “not feasible” or that citizen participation would create too much distraction. The pandemic has shown otherwise. Meetings all over the world have transitioned to digital platforms demonstrating that it is not only possible, but easy! When transparency and citizen participation are priorities, then creative ideas overcome barriers.
As Mayor, I would usher in an era of unparalleled transparency. This means going beyond the minimum requirements to meet Open Meetings Act laws.
- Give public access to tentative meeting agendas (finalized 72 hours prior to regular meetings) to allow everyone to see what is being planned. Right now, meeting agendas are published before the 72 hour deadline, but no information about agenda items prior to this deadline is released to the public.
- Establish regular “Coffee with the Mayor” sessions and an open-door policy in the Mayor’s office
- Keep a hybrid meeting format to allow citizens the opportunity to either participate in meetings either in person or from the comfort of their own home
- Publish videos that help constituents learn how to navigate BoardDocs, request public documents, and understand the budget
- Publish regular monthly columns in the Taos News, frequent updates on social media, and written explanations for potentially controversial votes
- Return Citizens’ Forum to five minutes from the current three minutes to give concerned citizens the full time to express their opinions.
Taos is a small community, and solving local issues will require cooperation and collaboration between all of our cornerstone institutions. As Mayor, I would leverage partnerships to move the community together in a common direction.
The two largest local government entities must find common purpose in order to move Taos forward. For too long, division and animosity have characterized the relationship between Town and County. I am the right candidate to bring both governments together. I have served with Taos County Commissioner AnJanette Brush on the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Board of Directors since 2017. I was asked by AnJanette to serve as her campaign treasurer during her successful campaign for County Commissioner in 2020. She is not just a colleague, but a friend. We currently serve together on the Taos County Economic Development Corporation (TCEDC) Board of Directors with Commissioner Darlene Vigil. Commissioner Vigil and I are able to be honest and open with each other in our discussions. She is someone I trust, and I know she has the community’s best interest in mind in her decision making. Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell and I have worked together to collaborate on projects affecting locals. First, we co-authored a joint Town/County resolution in support of greater safety measures to be installed on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. We also collaborated on developing a plan to reopen the Taos Recycle Center.
As the original stewards of the land we call Taos, I will strengthen and maintain the relationship between Taos Pueblo and the Town of Taos. This will include real financial support for Taos Pueblo’s proposed cultural and events center on the former Lineberry property by dedicating a portion of the Lodger’s Tax fund to its operation.
Taos Municipal Schools
As a former mathematics and economics teacher at Taos High School and as a member of the Taos Municipal School Board, I have developed strong working relationships with Superintendent Torrez and the other members of the School Board.. There is a direct link between educational outcomes and economic development. It is vital that community educational institutions work collaboratively with local government and business to ensure a qualified and healthy workforce.
Taos Municipal School Board members also serve as the UNM-Taos Advisory Board. The opportunities provided by institutions of higher learning directly influence the types of economic opportunities that are available in a community. A skilled workforce will attract businesses to Taos, and the programs of study offered by our local university must be in alignment with the community’s needs, strengths, and resources. Local government must collaborate to provide economic opportunities to UNM-Taos graduates, and UNM-Taos must collaborate to provide the training programs that local government needs to attract business development.
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative
Energy and communications provide the backbone to any community and economy. KCEC provides both to Taos as well as surrounding areas. In 2018, CEO Luis Reyes invited me to the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN) conference at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). There I had the opportunity to learn about our local electric cooperative’s unique position in the world of renewable energy. The computer model KCEC was helping to develop would be used across the country to plan two-way energy flows across transmission lines. During my last semester studying economics and public utility regulation and policy at NMSU, I interned at KCEC and helped to develop an electric vehicle rate study as well as a cost/benefit analysis tool that showed significant savings of electric vehicles over time. As Mayor, I will continue to work with KCEC to promote renewable energy, electric vehicle fleet adoption, and fulfillment of the needs of local people and local businesses.
I got my professional start in Taos with local non-profits including Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, DreamTree Project, and Taos Alive. I know and value the services that our local non-profits provide for our community members and businesses. As Mayor, I will include non-profits in decision making and find ways to support the organizations and the clientele they serve. One such idea is coordinating with foundations and non-profits to establish a grant-writing and data hub. This hub would support grant writing, coordination of funds, and a central database for Taos-specific data to help make applying for federal and state grants easier and more successful.
From my blog
As I prepared for this election, I decided to review some of my published pieces in the Taos News. When I announced my run for Town Council in 2018, I wrote a piece titled "Honesty Means More than Simply not Lying." Reading this again, I see that the direction in Taos...