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Singed Fringes

This year’s fire season is running as expected in the era of managing rather than extinguishing all wildfires

Local NewsTuesday, June 27, 2017 by Elizabeth Miller

That the forecast called for a relatively mild fire season in Northern New Mexico didn’t feel right at all when Bill Morse, public information officer on the Bonita Fire near El Rito, picked up his phone on June 23 for an interview.

“We’ve got fires everywhere. The whole Southwest is burning,” said the Arizona-based member of the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, an interagency firefighting team called to step in when fires threaten watersheds, timber, people and communities.

The Bonita, a 7,494-acre lightning-caused fire that’s been burning since June 3, was initially managed by wildland firefighters to play its part in restoring fire to the ecosystem, per fire science that dates to the 1930s. Then, strong winds on June 16 started pushing flames across the fire line, prompting the Carson National Forest to call for additional help and transition to suppressing the fire.

By the morning of the June 24, though, with a 100-foot-wide buffer around the fire’s edge and afternoon rain on the way, the timbre had shifted.

“There’s no surprises with this fire season,” Morse said. “It’s pretty much right on track.” The Bonita Fire was turning out, after all, to be a “good fire,” one that chews up dead brush and pine needles, but leaves trees alive, if scorched. Firefighters mopped up hot spots and worked to reduce troublesome smoke for area residents.

Aerial fire supression efforts help contain what remained of the fire on July 23.
Anson Stevens-Bollen
This time of year is the battle season for wildland fire fighters. Conditions shift quickly. But the long-term outlook that this winter’s snowpack and a wet, cool spring were going to make for a moderate fire season is bearing out, despite the recent smoky sunsets. The Southwest Coordination Center, an interagency logistics hub for wildland firefighting, examined drought, the amount of dead undergrowth, temperatures and precipitation, as well as projections for the monsoon, to make that call.

When the Cajete Fire started in the Jemez Mountains on June 15 and quickly grew to 1,400 acres, it was easy to wonder if the forecast might be due for revision.

“I know for myself, and I think this is true for many New Mexicans, we’re a little bit on a hair trigger. So you see some smoke and you know that, in the case of Las Conchas, it burned so far, so fast—that first day something like 40,000 acres,” says Zander Evans, the research director for the Forest Stewards Guild, with a doctorate from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “It’s not surprising for us, when we see Cajete, to think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s happening all over again.’ … And yet, it burned very differently in the end.”

The fire used an uphill slope and some wind to run through some timber stands and jump Highway 4. Then, it hit against areas that had been thinned, and was bracketed by burn scars, including from Las Conchas, says Denny McCarthy, the public information officer for the fire. Two weeks later, it remains at roughly 1,400 acres, and had for days been a site for crews to practice containment. The fire never hit the Jemez River, and McCarthy credits that to local crews who arrived on scene within 15 minutes. A team from California was called in as well, part of a nationwide shuffling of fire-fighting personnel and equipment hoped to both keep wildland firefighters busy and share resources for the Forest Service, which spent more than half its 2015 budget on managing wildfire. At peak, more than 400 people and some top-level crews were working the Cajete, which scored a high profile for its proximity to the Santa Fe and Albuquerque metro areas.

The read now is that the fire resulted from a collision of a few factors; after a few days of near record-setting heat and dry air, a poorly extinguished campfire was able to take advantage of a pocket of trees.

“It was just an unfortunate situation during a brief time frame when we were kind of on that warm and dry uptick,” says Rich Naden, a meteorologist with the Southwest Coordination Center.

After a cooler weekend, temperatures are expected to rollercoaster until, somewhere out there between July 5 and 15, the monsoon should arrive, delivering regular rain and higher humidity to curb fire potential.

“This is the battle we always have this time of year at the end of June, with the moisture trying to hold on and the dryness trying to take over,” Naden says. “We’re just in a period of rapid change.”

Those thresholds make the difference between whether a manageable surface fire, as the Bonita has been, transitions to an uncontrollable crown fire, says Chuck Maxwell, predictive services program manager with the coordination center. Seasonal predictions are based on dozens, if not hundreds of fires, and with the Cajete winding down, he declared, “When we have one fire that burned for three days because it started in the driest fuels … I don’t call that a miss. I call that a circumstance for management efforts.”

As in, an opportunity to allow fire to do its work through the ecosystem, while controlling it to protect assets including houses, roads and endangered species habitat.

That’s the approach in place at other fires burning around the state, most of them in the Gila National Forest. Part of what it means to live in a fire-adapted landscape, Maxwell argues—as in, one in which the aspen and ponderosa pine lifecycles have become accustomed to habitual fires, including those set by Native people a thousand years ago— means adjusting our expectations.

“We’ve got to get used to fire being out there every year,” Maxwell says.

What’s troubling, he says, is the ignition point. Half of wildfires are started by lightning, and half are caused by humans. The Bonita was a lightning strike. The Cajete ignited from a campfire. Even in a summer when the meadows look remarkably verdant, the forest can still burn. An extra gallon of water on the campfire to make sure it’s doused is still important and—a particularly salient point with Independence Day around the corner—it’s still not safe to light fireworks where they could send sparks into vegetation.

“If there’s a message that comes out of this,” says Evans, with the Forest Stewards Guild, “it’s that we all have to keep our guard up, even in a year where things all look good.”


Paper Genocide

Urban Native Americans in Santa Fe HURT by federalfunding for Indian health care are demanding reform

FeaturesWednesday, June 28, 2017 by Aaron Cantú

Delight Talawepi lives up to her name. She smiles often, loves Santa Fe, and extends a polite demeanor even to strangers. But she’s living in constant pain.

“All of a sudden, I have become fearful of getting sick,” she says. “And because I’m getting fearful, it seems I’m getting sick more often. I think a lot of it is fear that I cannot be served, so we sit and we wait and hope the pain goes away.”

Talawepi, a Hopi mother and assistant academic dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts, has been living for months with an intrauterine device that is displaced in her uterus. She had the IUD inserted five years ago at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital on Cerrillos Road. When she recently asked hospital staff to remove it, they told her they didn’t have the technical ability to do so, then referred her to Christus St. Vincent hospital.

If Talawepi were enrolled as a tribal member in one of the Pueblos that surround Santa Fe, she would likely have been able to have the procedure at St. Vincent and have the bill sent over to Indian Health Service—the federal agency that oversees the Santa Fe Indian Hospital—so that she would pay nothing out of pocket. But because she is Hopi, the Santa Fe Indian Hospital will not cover the costs of the outside referral. And her Medicaid plan won’t pay for enough of the procedure at a private hospital to make it affordable.

Her only real option for relief—aside from borrowing money to foot the bill—would be to take extended time off work to travel back to her tribal homelands in Arizona, where she could visit an IHS hospital for a free procedure. But she’s the main provider for her family. She can’t just take weeks off of work on short notice, even though a lost IUD could tear through the wall of her uterus or even damage other internal organs.

“I’m in a dire situation,” she tells SFR. “I have another doctor’s appointment on [June] 30, and I will tell them, ‘Why can’t you do this for me?’ And they’re probably going to send me out.”

Because of IHS rules that ration a chronically insufficient pot of money, and owing to Santa Fe’s relatively large population of urban Indians like Talawepi who live away from their tribal lands, a significant number of people here are eligible for treatment through IHS but cannot receive it at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital when they need it most.

It’s a core point in a new health impact assessment assembled by a community advisory board of Native Santa Feans and with the help of the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, a nonprofit organization that helps people analyze policy issues. Talawepi served as a member of the advisory board. Together with a small research team, they used surveys to investigate how deep structural problems within IHS, including chronic underfunding, uniquely affect Santa Fe’s Native community.

The federal government’s failure to provide easily accessible health services to Native people in Santa Fe amounts to an abrogation of its historical responsibility under various treaties. Although many people, including Talawepi, praise the culturally responsive treatment they’ve received at the local Indian Hospital, they say the IHS rationing arrangement that prioritizes local tribes over Native people from outside Northern New Mexico is unfairly fomenting tensions over care that should be guaranteed to everybody who qualifies for it.

Delight Talawepi helped organize a community survey about Native healthcare.
Aaron Cantú
“I hate to say this, but it’s the Pueblos versus the urban Native Americans,” Talawepi tells SFR. “When I hear from other people who are not Pueblo, that’s the biggest complaint: The Pueblos are the ones who have more control of the Indian Health Services in Santa Fe.”

She believes that the union between Pueblos and urban Native people can be strengthened if they organize to demand more from the federal government. But that will mean confronting over a century’s worth of neglect—or, as another urban Native person living in Santa Fe called it, an official policy of “paper genocide;” extermination through policy directives. With the feds in the process of cutting funding to IHS and related programs that support Native healthcare, the odds of success are stacked as high as they can be.

But Talawepi and others say reform is necessary to get the care they need.

The arrangement within IHS responsible for Talawepi’s dilemma, known as the Purchased/Referred Care program, allows those living within the pre-designated geographic parameters of their tribes to be referred to hospitals outside of IHS for complex procedures, such as heart surgery, and have the bill covered by IHS. But Native people living in Santa Fe who are not part of the nine local Pueblos (San Felipe, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambé, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh), have to travel to their tribe’s federally designated homeland if they want IHS to pick up the tab for speciality care.

That means there’s a sizable proportion of Native people living in Santa Fe who cannot access critical care guaranteed to them by the federal government unless they’re willing to travel hundreds to thousands of miles. Nationwide statistics indicate over two-thirds of American Indians and Alaskan Natives live away from their home reservation. This is primarily due to decades of federal policy meant to push them into cities.

Despite some increases in funds, IHS has never had the resources it needs to make good on its historical mandate to provide quality and convenient care for Native Americans. The agency was forced to operate on its 1998 budget from 2000 to 2008 because President George W Bush never ratified new funding. The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 removed presidential approval as a necessary requisite to alter the agency’s budget, but while the Obama administration raised the budget of IHS to historic levels, it was still underfunded by 59 percent in 2016, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

In the first century of US history, the federal government ratified more than 300 treaties guaranteeing it would provide for the welfare of Indian people in exchange for tribal land and natural resources. The 161 IHS hospitals and facilities operating today find their roots in facilities that were built around the Indian boarding schools in the late 19th century, during the first traumatizing push to assimilate Native people. Amid movements for liberation in the 1970s, President Richard Nixon signed a law that allowed local tribes to take control of IHS funds to build their own care centers. Legislation passed in later decades strengthened these laws, and by the end of 2016, approximately 60 percent of the IHS’s total appropriated budget was administered by tribes.

But greater autonomy over how the funds are distributed hasn’t meant that the federal government is placing a higher priority on Indian healthcare. Across different health agencies, including Veterans Affairs, Medicaid and Medicare, federal dollars spent on IHS are by far the lowest per patient, according to numbers from 2013 compiled by the National Congress of American Indians.

“A lot of urban Indians feel that we are being pushed out of the system,” says Cyndi Hall, a Cherokee woman living in Santa Fe. “It’s paper genocide. That’s what it is. It’s paper genocide. Not with weapons, it’s not rounding us up anymore, [but] on paper we don’t get the treatment we were guaranteed to get.”

Hall, who is married to a Navajo/Diné man, thinks she’s risking retaliation by speaking out. But she says she has to, because she believes her family’s membership in non-local tribes is a major reason why they have had poor experiences at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital.

Four years ago, she says, her husband rapidly began losing weight due to illness. When he visited the Santa Fe Indian Hospital, he was told he was having panic attacks and prescribed psychotropics. It wasn’t until he went to see a private doctor in Albuquerque that the family learned he had H pylori, a gut infection found more commonly in Native people.

“We’re still paying it off,” Hall tells SFR. In total, her husband’s diagnosis and treatment cost between $30,000 and $35,000, nearly forcing the family into bankruptcy.

Her son was also misdiagnosed at the Indian Hospital, she says, and it took an outside second opinion to address the real issue. But she believes she should have never had to seek out private doctors in the first place, considering the federal government’s historical obligation to provide care.

“Those federal funds should follow us wherever we go,” Hall says.

Cyndi Hall and her husband, Tsali, are among urban Indians from faraway tribes who have trouble getting services at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital due to a resource crunch.
Aaron Cantú
Hall got her chance to channel her grievances as a community advisory board member for what became “Indian Health Services Budget and Urban Indian Budgeting Decisions,” a 63-page health impact assessment about the Santa Fe Indian Hospital published in January.

An associate professor at the University of New Mexico’s College of Nursing named Emily Haozous convened Hall, Delight Talawepi and five others—nearly all of them Santa Feans who hail from tribes outside of Northern New Mexico—to oversee the direction of the report as a community advisory board. Together with a small research team, the group administered a 12-page survey to 165 Santa Feans who frequent the Indian Hospital. The majority of those surveyed were Pueblo, Navajo/Diné, or Northern Plains tribes and reported incomes of less than $49,000 a year.

“We learned that people see Santa Fe IHS as theirs,” says Haozous, a member of the Oklahoma-based Fort Sill Apache Tribe. “Given the choice, they go there because it’s a home for healthcare, culture, family and history. It still belongs to the community.”

The assessment examines with a wide scope how economic stability, education and food insecurity intersect with institutional problems at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital to create an ongoing crisis. The county’s disparity between rent and income is considered just as important as the historical integration of innutritious government rations like flour, sugar and lard into diet.

Among the Santa Feans Haozous and her team surveyed, diabetes, heart disease and obesity were the top three community health concerns. Lack of exercise and alcohol and drug use ranked highly as well. Respondents also named depression and stress as leading personal concerns, and almost 30 percent said healthy food was unaffordable for them.

Haozous says her team presented their report in April to the IHS tribal health board, which consists of representatives from the tribes it serves.

She says their reactions were positive. A few months earlier, in January, they unveiled their assessment to the general Native community at the Santa Fe Indian Center. Outreach efforts are ongoing.

“The [assessment] doesn’t just belong to the research team,” she says, “it belongs to everybody. So we encouraged the people who showed up [in January] to talk to their tribal leaders all around the country.”

While Haozous’ health impact assessment doesn’t dive deeply into the history of the Santa Fe Indian Hospital in particular, one of the hospital’s former medical directors, Dr. Ben Whitehill, describes the time he worked there from 1983 to 1993 as “the golden years.”

“We had a very comprehensive hospital in those days,” he says. “We had an emergency room, full obstetrical care, pediatric care, two operating rooms, a three-bed intensive care unit, as well as medical surgery and full dental services.”

In addition, he says, many local doctors conducted clinics and performed surgeries at the hospital. There was a full-time surgeon on staff. But even then, before the budget for IHS was frozen in 1998, conditions were far from ideal.

“It was beyond us,” he tells SFR. “We were aware that we didn’t have enough money to get all the work done, but we just had to knuckle under and do the best we could with what we did have.”

The hospital staff was close to the local tribes it served, Whitehill says. People who weren’t from those tribes tended not to get priority when it came to referrals for outside care.

“We tried to get the people from our own tribes to have a little precedent over the distant tribes,” Whitehill tells SFR. “Because that’s our main mission. So if you were Navajo or Choctaw, your chances of getting referred for outside care would be almost nil. Because we never could even satisfy all the needs of the tribes we were meant to serve.”

Officials at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital did not answer SFR’s emailed questions and did not consent to repeated requests for an interview. But the health impact assessment of the hospital confirms that the disparity Whitehill observed over two decades ago persists. Although 25 percent of respondents said their health care was covered through a private insurer, and 34 and 16.5 percent were insured, respectively, through Medicaid and Medicare, more than half said they had neglected to seek out care within a month of answering the survey because their condition couldn’t be treated at the local Indian Hospital.

The most common reason: They weren’t eligible to be referred for outside treatment under the Purchased/Referred Care program. Across the IHS bureaucracy, limited funds for the program are almost always reserved for emergency procedures, including trauma and neonatal care.

IHS funds allocated to the Albuquerque Service Area (estimated at around $81 million for this fiscal year) are divided up among federally administered facilities (like the Santa Fe Indian Hospital) and tribal-run facilities that serve 27 different tribes in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. This includes the Santa Fe Service Unit, which is mandated to serve members of nine Pueblos.

The Santa Fe Service Unit has dedicated $5.7 million of its budget for Purchased/Referred Care every year since 2015, although the Santo Domingo Pueblo has managed its own Purchased/Referred Care program since 2014. Tribal and hospital leaders decide who qualifies. It’s a pie that’s likely to shrink in the coming years.

Rollbacks to Medicaid eligibility loom in Congress, and a $300 million cut to IHS is proposed by the Trump administration. Some tribal members refuse to enroll in Medicaid or Medicare in protest, citing the historical obligation to provide health care specifically for Indians. Nevertheless, the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) helped increase the number of Native people covered in New Mexico between 2011 and 2014.

“Medicaid expansion has really helped to offset Purchased/Referred Care funding because tribes have more patients who are able to go outside the system with Medicaid,” explains Caitrin Shuy, director of congressional relations at the National Indian Health Board. Supplements from Medicaid and Medicare bring in almost $1 billion a year in third-party revenue to IHS.

The National Indian Health Board has asked Congress keep American Indians and Alaska Natives out of plans to reduce eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Caps to state allotments, they say, could leave states to decide how to distribute dwindling Medicaid dollars for their populations, including Native Americans, whose health care is legally a federal responsibility, not a state one.

US Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) says protecting funding for IHS is among his priorities.

“Current federal funding covers less than half of IHS operational costs,” Udall tells SFR by phone. “Fortunately, increases in revenue from Medicaid expansion have offset those annual costs, but without that revenue, necessary services may no longer be available to Indian country.” There are currently 135,000 tribal members enrolled in Medicaid in New Mexico, he says, calling the potential rollback “unconscionable.”

Medicaid expansion was the reason that Sam Haozous, a music promoter in Santa Fe who has visited the Santa Fe Indian Hospital since the 1970s (and the older brother of Emily Haozous), was able to receive health insurance for the first time in his life at nearly 50 years old. He says the Indian Health Service enrolled him in the Medicaid program, though now he’s insured through his employer. If that falls through, and the federal government claws back funds for Medicaid, he might be off the rolls yet again.

“I personally feel like we’re all gonna get screwed,” Sam says. “But maybe the Republicans will grow a heart or something.”

At a recent arts and crafts fair on a small dusty lot between Cerrillos Road and the parking lot of the Santa Fe Indian Hospital, 30-year hospital employee Cindy Trujillo helps her daughter and sister-in-law prepare trays of raw frybread and other ingredients underneath a vendor’s tent. She helped convene about a dozen vendors to raise money for the Santa Fe Indian Hospital Employee Association, which puts on events for hospital employees.

“We’re going to have a barbecue for the entire hospital staff, we’ve gotten them Isotopes tickets—just activities for the staff to enjoy, since the morale can be kind of low,” she says.

A family prepares oil for frybread at an employee event outside the Santa Fe Indian Hospital. Cynthia Trujillo, a secretary there who helped organize it, says “morale can be kind of low.”
Aaron Cantú
Across the agency, retaining staff is a serious problem, according to a 2016 Department of Health and Human Services survey of the nation’s 28 IHS acute care hospitals. Tightening budgets have meant longer hours and less pay for staff, and at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital, it’s also meant that essential services once offered are gone, including obstetric care and same-day surgery.

People who completed the health impact assessment for the hospital listed these two services among their top needs, as well as dental specialists, colonoscopy procedures, mammograms, substance abuse detox and other services.

Chief among the four main demands of the assessment’s authors were funding IHS at 100 percent of need—estimated by the National Congress of American Indians to cost about $29 billion over the next dozen years—and eliminate Purchased/Referred Care eligibility by tribal enrollment. That way, funds would be pegged to each patient instead of geographic areas. Emily Haozous believes the latter demand was the most radical recommendation in the assessment.

“It would cost IHS more money,” she says, because most Native people don’t live in their tribal area. Furthermore, she explains, tribal leaders are reluctant to let go of direct funding for tribes.

Not all of the recommendations in the assessment are unattainably large; another is that local organizations offer a food bank and nutrition education services at the hospital. But David Gaussoin, a communications and marketing associate at the New Mexico Health Equity Partnership, says his organization chose to support Haozous’ proposal for an assessment of the Santa Fe Indian Hospital in part because of its large ambition.

“It’s the first report that really puts everything in perspective,” he tells SFR. “It helps start the conversation, because if we don’t start having those hard conversations we’ll never be able to get that pie in the sky.”



How do Santa Fe advocates want to improve federal health services for Native Americans?

A health impact assessment investigating the health profile of patients at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital recommended four ways that the facility could better service the city’s unique Native population. The hospital treats approximately 3,400 patients a year. Around 30 percent of urban Native Americans treated there have no medical insurance coverage, and most are not eligible for Purchased/Referred Care health services.

The recommendations put forward by the assessment include:

Federal

  • Fund the federal Indian Health Service (IHS) agency at 100 percent of need.
  • Increase IHS funding to improve mental and behavioral health programs.
  • Eliminate the Purchased/Referred Care eligibility by area service unit and replace with funding that follows the patient.

Local/State

  • Create a food bank and expand nutrition services for the Santa Fe Indian Hospital community.


MetroGlyphs

06.28.17

MetroGlyphsWednesday, June 28, 2017 by SFR
Russ Thornton is a Santa Fe local who has replaced his first passion, cooking, with a new love interest, the weekly SFR comic he's created called MetroGlyphs. Reach him at santafechef@hotmail.com

7 Days

06.28.17

7 DaysWednesday, June 28, 2017 by SFR
1

SPACEPORT TO RECEIVE LIMITED USE OF TAX BUCKS

And yet not a single one of us has been to space yet!

2

2017 ZOZOBRA TO OFFER VIP TICKETING

Light your money on fire at the Pagan cleansing ritual!

3

FLYING J TRUCKSTOP TOWNHALL MEETING DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN AS ATTENDEES HECKLE ORGANIZERS, WALK OUT

If you don’t want this business to open, we suggest you immediately stop buying anything that ever rode in a truck.

4

FENN TREASURE SURE SEEMS TO CAUSE AN AWFUL LOT OF DEATHS

Especially since the treasure was love this whole time.

5

New Mexico 34th IN STUDENT SPENDING

But first in treasure-hunter deaths!

6

LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABS IMPROPERLY SHIPS NUCLEAR MATERIALS

Turns out unsealed envelopes don’t really cut it.

7

SFR BEST OF SANTA FE PARTY TO INCLUDE DUNK TANK

Wait’ll you see who’s signed up to get dunked…


Santa Fe County Commission raises taxes

Additional tax on goods and services to fund sheriff, fire department and behavioral health center

Local NewsTuesday, June 27, 2017 by Matt Grubs

A crowd of more than 100 people in the Santa Fe County Commission chambers on Tuesday night had high hopes for higher taxes. They got them. And the taxes could go even higher. 

One by one, allowed two minutes to address the commission, roughly two dozen people stepped to a lectern and told their stories of mental illness. Lawyers, businesswomen, educators and others talked about family members—and in some cases, about themselves—and the challenge of living with mental illness.

“I am very lucky that in the years of my mental illness, I have never had to spend time in jail,” Anne Albrink, a local attorney, told commissioners. “People like me can be productive members of society, and taxpayers, if they have the right help at the right time.”

County commissioners unanimously approved a 1/8 percent tax increase that’s expected to generate $4.6 million a year. Voters gave the nod to the increase in a nonbinding vote last November. The measure will go into effect next January and add $12.50 worth of taxes to every $1,000 purchased.The county estimates it will gain $1.5 million for the budget year that starts next month, though, since it won’t actually start seeing revenue from the tax until early 2018.

The board also decided to ask voters about another 1/16 tax increment in a special election that could take place in September. That vote came after Commissioners Henry Roybal, Anna Hansen and Ed Moreno opposed the idea of levying the second tax without an election.

Both taxes would be targeted toward the same needs, though the county isn’t bound to use the money for behavioral health and public safety in perpetuity. For example, the county could use a larger chunk of the money to pay down existing debt.

Mental health advocates in the county are hoping to create a behavioral health crisis center with $1.6 million from the increase approved Tuesday. The center would provide timely help to mental illness survivors and ease the caseload of the county jail, which many argue has become a de facto treatment center for behavioral health care. The money will also fund a behavioral health manager’s position.

While the mental health component of the money raised by the tax has garnered attention—including SFR’s profile of former commissioner and city councilor Miguel Chavez and his son, Manuel—money from the tax would also fund more public safety positions. When it’s fully flowing into county accounts, the tax will fund 20 new positions at the fire department, nine jobs at the sheriff’s office and 14 other positions across county government. It will also fund a 1 percent raise for all county employees.

For Laura Lee Weiss, the new positions will come too late. Weiss was about 30 seconds into her comments when she broke down. The Edgewood woman’s home caught fire 10 days ago. Santa Fe County firefighters weren’t able to save it.

Weiss tearfully recalled not understanding why only five firefighters could respond, and why they had to take breaks—for safety—while her home burned. That night, Weiss said, she asked the crew what she could do to help. They told her to drive to Santa Fe to share her story.

Commissioners Robert Anaya and Anna Hamilton favored both increases.

“The additional 1/16 gets us to where we need to be,” Hamilton urged her colleagues. County staff estimates that increment, which would add $6.25 to every $1,000 of purchases, would generate another $2.3 million every year for the county. Ultimately, Hamilton and Anaya convinced Roybal that voters could decide the matter.

Santa Fe County Republican Party Chair Yvonne Chicoine pleaded with commissioners to find a different way of funding important issues.

“Few families, these are your constituents, have had eight pay increases in the last 15 years,” Chicoine told commissioners, citing the county’s funding of an equestrian center in Stanley and pay raises for employees regardless of merit as examples of budget flexibility the county hadn’t fully exercised.

“We must stop holding taxpayers hostage to pay for critical needs,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last possible meeting at which the county could have decided on the 1/16 increase without sending it to voters. State law set timelines for counties to claw back some of the tax that the state took to help pay for rising Medicaid costs.

At the commission’s last meeting on May 30, it reluctantly agreed to put off a vote on the two measures until Tuesday. While every commissioner reasserted the county’s right to impose a tax on goods and services, they also recognized the fact that most of the money that comes from such a tax comes from purchases within the city limits. With a joint study session with the City Council planned for June 15, the County Commission opted to hear what the city had to say.

Less than two months ago, city voters roundly rejected a proposed tax on sugary beverages, and at the study session, Mayor Javier Gonzales, himself a former commissioner, issued a sort of mea culpa. Gonzales said he hadn’t anticipated the kind of response voters dished out at the polls. He cautioned the commission against further tax increases, saying the city vote served as a signpost.

Buoyed by the nonbinding voted in November, though, even Moreno and Hansen felt comfortable giving the 1/8 percent increase the thumbs up. “It was a no-brainer,” Hansen told SFR. 

Letters to the Editor

06.28.17

Letters to the EditorWednesday, June 28, 2017 by SFR

Cover, June 21: “Permanent Collection”


Take Care of Your Peeps

I enjoyed reading “Permanent Collection.” The tattoo world does tend to have colorful characters, and, at 72, I am planning on finally indulging. When I got to “Tattoo Etiquette,” though, the idea of a confraternity carrying on a multi-millennial tradition began to seriously fray. “These people 100 percent have your best interests in mind.” Unless you want a “zia symbol” (new here. I had to look it up). How arrogant! How crass and prissy. Aboriginal body art almost always has a repeated tribal theme. Why would an aboriginal sun symbol not qualify?

I think that $150 per hour is not unreasonable, and how wonderful it must be to get that kind of money for doing what you love. But tips! Seriously! Maybe I’m remiss, but I don’t tip my doctor, or my lawyer, or even the guy who does a decent job on my taxes. How many artists do you know that expect a tip when they sell a painting? Save your money for the poor souls lugging heavy trays of hash and beans, for minimum wage.

Rick Vail
Santa Fe


Letters, May 31 and June 7


Local Gadflies

I’d like to see the Reporter perform at least a cursory level of research into the assertions of “Letter to the Editor” writers before their views are published. Arthur Firstenberg’s “Woodsy Propaganda,” for example, advances numerous theories on forest management that are at odds with scientific consensus and historical fact. It is worth noting that Firstenberg ... to my knowledge, has no training or experience in public lands or wildfire management (I do).

Likewise, Cate Moses—who is quoted in Firstenberg’s letter and has written a number of her own—has appeared at numerous Forest Service meetings to make outlandish claims, including the bizzare assertion that controlled burns cause women to miscarry pregnancies.

The rationale for conducting some elementary level of fact-checking should be obvious: You’re journalists. We live in a world of “alternative facts” and false equivalency (see: the climate change “debate”) that necessitates a more vigilant approach to journalism to ensure the public is given accurate information. While it may be easy to write off Mr. Firstenberg and Ms. Moses as local gadflies, it’s just this type of carelessness that helped put another fact-averse gadfly in the Oval Office.

And for Chrissakes, if you’re gonna publish this, at least Google me to verify I know what I’m talking about.

Jonathan Hayden
Santa Fe

Editor’s Note: Yes, we are journalists; but our letter-writers are not. Letters to the editor are not presented as reported pieces of journalism from our staff, and—believe it or not—the most harmful and the craziest of the crazy do not make it into print.



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Mail letters to PO Box 2306, Santa Fe, NM 87504, deliver to 132 E Marcy St., or email them to editor@sfreporter.com. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.


Eavesdropper

06.28.17

EavesdropperWednesday, June 28, 2017 by SFR

“You can get your aura balanced, have your nails done, and buy a machine gun! This place has everything.”

—Overheard at the DeVargas Center



Send your Overheard in Santa Fe tidbits to: eavesdropper@sfreporter.com

Still in the Dark

Halfway through his term, attorney general’s transparency enforcement pattern shows long wait—but he has a plan

Local NewsWednesday, June 28, 2017 by Jeff Proctor

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says the state is in a “transparency crisis.” He’s right.

It seems a near-weekly occurrence that another journalist or citizen has lawyered up and filed suit against some secrecy-happy state, county or city government entity for violating the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, known as IPRA.

Judges have slapped governments around the state with the paltry fines allowed for breaking the law, which is supposed to serve as the public’s open, sunshine-filled window onto how elected and appointed officials do business on paper.

But should it ever get to that point?

Balderas is New Mexico’s top law enforcement officer. That means he must enforce IPRA—and every other state law. As such, his office offers an avenue to IPRA requesters who feel they’ve been wrongly stonewalled: File a complaint.

Last July, I did just that after Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration refused to turn over records showing how much taxpayer money had been spent on a private attorney to—ironically enough and among other things—help the governor keep public records hidden from news organizations and others who had sued for them.

Five months passed before Balderas’ Open Government Division ruled on my complaint. An analysis by SFR shows that’s exactly the average amount of time it’s taken a lawyer in the division to determine whether an agency broke the law after 89 total complaints since Balderas took office in 2015. Dozens of other complaints remain open.

“On the surface, that appears to be” too long, says Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the nonprofit New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG). “We’d like to see it done faster since the information provided might not be of much use to citizens” five months down the track.

The AG’s office has found IPRA violations in 20 of the 89 closed complaints, SFR’s analysis shows. Mine was one of the 20, but despite an admonishment from the AG’s staff, the Martinez administration still refused to turn over most of the records I requested.

I had to get my own lawyer and file a lawsuit for the records. The case is pending.

When Balderas was running for office in 2014, SFR Editor Julie Ann Grimm asked him in an endorsement interview: “Will you go to court to enforce the penalties in IPRA?”

“Absolutely,” the would-be attorney general replied. “We will be.”

He’s done that once in the two and a half years since he took over as AG. Balderas sued the Española public school district under IPRA after officials withheld records he asked for. That case is also pending.

Balderas says the problem is not of his making.

He says he’s frustrated with the slow pace of resolving complaints, but blames recalcitrant government agencies for the delays. And in a recent interview, he tells SFR that litigating IPRA cases is a long, difficult proposition with little return on the back end.

Successful IPRA lawsuits only earn plaintiffs a maximum of $100 for each day public records weren’t turned over, plus attorney’s fees. And even then, the state’s high court has balked at imposing the penalties. Balderas says the state budget crunch means he has to “self-fund” nearly half the cases he takes to court.

“I have to be very particular which litigation I bring, whether it’s water litigation or child abuse cases,” he says. “What I was surprised with when I inherited the office is that [the Open Meetings Act] and IPRA, the system, both in penalties and resources, has been really set up to fail on behalf of taxpayers. And that’s really the dirty secret that has not been uncovered and why we really have a transparency crisis in New Mexico.”

Balderas, who announced this spring that he plans to run for a second term in 2018, is floating a pair of new ideas he says could create a more transparent New Mexico.

The first is an independent agency that would certify and oversee all records custodians—government employees who are responsible for fielding and filling IPRA requests—around the state. Balderas says “professionalizing” the custodians and making them accountable to an entity that doesn’t have a vested interest in secrecy would open some doors.

Presently, many custodians are “moonlighting” in those jobs while performing other duties.

“I don’t think agencies should be allowed to voluntarily comply with assigning a custodian of records or how much professional training they should get,” Balderas says.

The second idea: “Put real teeth in the law so that I can enforce civil and criminal penalties,” he tells SFR. For example: “In the event that OMA and IPRA are abused to advance other criminal activity, it would be a fourth-degree felony.”

The latter would be accompanied by an increase in funding for more prosecutors under Balderas’ plan. He figures both ideas could be revenue-neutral if the Legislature reallocated one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall state budget. That’s about $6 million.

It would be worth it, Balderas says, adding: “I do think there is a direct correlation between transparency and mitigating criminal activity.”

St. Cyr says NMFOG supports Balderas’ idea for an independent entity to oversee the custodians as long as it is has “real oversight authority.”

The venerable transparency organization also is in favor of a budget increase for IPRA custodians—and for additional prosecutors to target serial IPRA violators, he adds. But NMFOG has a simpler idea for more sunshine in the state.

“Ultimately, more is needed to build online records storage capacity,” St. Cyr says. “Once that happens the public can search and download their own records.”

Reams of public records sitting under the bright lights of the internet would make it harder for the transparency crisis to persist.


Savage Love

The Music Box

Savage LoveWednesday, June 28, 2017 by Dan Savage

I had a great time at the live taping of the Savage Lovecast at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. Audience members submitted questions on cards, and I tackled as many questions as I could over two hours—with the welcome and hilarious assistance of comedian Kristen Toomey. Here are some of the questions we didn’t get to before they gave us the hook…


If your partner’s social media makes you uncomfortable—whether it’s the overly friendly comments they get on their photos or vice versa (their overly friendly comments on other people’s photos)—do you have the right to say something?

You have the right to say something—the First Amendment applies to relationships, too—but you have two additional rights and one responsibility: the right to refrain from reading the comments, the right to unfollow your partner’s social-media accounts, and the responsibility to get over your jealousy.


A couple invited me to go on a trip as their third and to have threesomes. I am friends with the guy, and there is chemistry. But I have not met the girl. I’m worried that there may not be chemistry with her. Is there anything I can do to build chemistry or at least get us all comfortable enough to jump into it?

Get this woman’s phone number, exchange a few photos and flirty texts, and relax. Remember: You’re the very special guest star here—it’s their job to seduce you, not the other way around.


Incest porn—what is the reason behind why it’s so hot?

I reject the premise of your question. There’s nothing hot about incest porn.


My partner really wants an open relationship; I really don’t. He isn’t the jealous type; I am. We compromised, and I agreed to a threesome. I want to meet him in the middle, but I really hate the idea of even a threesome and can’t stop stressing about it. What should I do?

You should end this relationship yourself or you can let an ill-advised, sure-to-be-disastrous threesome end it for you.


Any dating advice for people who are gay and disabled?

Move on all fronts: Go places and do things—as much as your disability and budget allow—join gay dating sites, be open about your disability, be open to dating other disabled people. And take the advice of an amputee I interviewed for a column a long, long time ago: “So long as they don’t see me as a fetish object, I’m willing to date people who may be attracted to me initially because of my disability, not despite it.”


Why do I say yes to dates if I love being alone?

Because we’re constantly told—by our families, our entertainments, our faith traditions—that there’s something wrong with being alone. The healthiest loners shrug it off and don’t search for mates, the complicit loners play along and go through the motions of searching for mates, and the oblivious loners make themselves and others miserable by searching for and landing mates they never wanted.


My boyfriend keeps talking about how much he would like for me to peg him. (I’m female.) Should I wait for him to buy a contraption or surprise him myself? We’ve been dating only three months.

Traditionally, straight couples exchange strap-on dildos to mark their six-month anniversary.


Gay guy, late 20s. What’s the best timing—relative to meals and bowel movements—to have anal sex?

Butts shouldn’t be fucked too soon after a meal or too soon before a bowel movement. For more info, read the late, great Dr. Jack Morin’s Anal Pleasure and Health: A Guide for Men, Women, and Couples—which can be read before, during, and after meals and/or bowel movements.


My girlfriend and I are having a debate. Which is more intimate: vanilla sex or sharing a whirlpool bath with someone? Can you settle this?

No.


Three great dates followed by a micropenis. What do I do? Him: six-foot-four, giant belly. Me: five-foot-five, normal proportions. Great guy, but the sex sucked.

If you require an average-to-large penis to enjoy sex, don’t keep seeing this guy. He needs to find someone who thinks—or someone who knows—tongues, fingers, brains, kinks, etc., can add up to great sex.


As a trauma/rape survivor, I found myself attracted to girls afterward. Is this because I’m scared of men or am I genuinely attracted to girls? Is this a thing that happens after trauma?

People react to trauma in all sorts of ways—some of them unpredictable. And trauma has the power to unlock truths or obscure them. I’m sorry you were raped, and I would encourage you to explore these issues with a counselor. Rape Victim Advocates (rapevictimadvocates.org) can help you find a qualified counselor.


Do you think a relationship in this day and age can last forever?

Some relationships last forever and should, some last forever and shouldn’t. “Forever,” here defined as “until one or both partners are dead,” isn’t the sole measure of relationship quality or success.


My boyfriend refuses to finish inside me. When he’s about to come, he pulls out and comes on my chest. Every time. I told him I have an IUD and there’s no risk of pregnancy. How do I remain a feminist when my boyfriend comes on my chest every night? I know he loves me, but I feel very objectified.

A woman who enjoys having someone come on her chest doesn’t have to surrender her feminist card for letting someone come on her chest. But you don’t enjoy it—it makes you feel objectified in the wrong way. (Most of us, feminists included, enjoy being appreciated for our parts and our smarts.) Use your words: “I don’t like it when you come on my chest. So that’s over.” He’ll have to respect that limit or he’ll have to go. If he doesn’t feel comfortable coming inside you, IUD or no IUD, you’ll have to respect his choice. He can pull out and come somewhere else—in his own hand, on his own belly, or in a condom.


My boyfriend wants me to talk more in bed. I am not a shy person, but making sentences during sex doesn’t come naturally to me—though I am very uninhibited with my vocals! What’s a good way to get more comfortable talking during sex?

Tell him what you’re gonna do (“I’m gonna suck that dick”), tell him what you’re doing (“I’m sucking that dmmffhm”), tell him what you just did (“I sucked that dick”).


Hey, Dan! I’m 27 and I just lost my virginity. Thanks for all the help!

You’re welcome!



On the Lovecast, Dan chats with the author of Everybody Lies:  savagelovecast.com


mail@savagelove.net
@fakedansavage on Twitter
ITMFA.org

Screw This

Pour VidaWednesday, June 28, 2017 by Mary Francis Cheeseman

“Which is better: screw cap or cork?” someone recently asked me. Immediately I knew what was on the line. My entire job revolves around opening wine; I have probably opened thousands of bottles for strangers, friends and customers. If all wine bottles were as easy to open as a can of Coca-Cola, you wouldn’t really need a sommelier standing at your table.

Many wine drinkers are afraid of threatening the ritual, of making the sacred ordinary, as if we’re one bottle of Caymus or Meiomi or Beringer white zinfandel away from ruining the world of wine forever and preventing people from drinking all the “good” wines in the world—as if those wines are somehow lesser because they are more dependent on brand identity than on terroir.

Thousands of years ago, wine wasn’t stored in bottles, but in amphorae that weren’t sealed. Even if you were a slave in ancient Rome, you were allocated wine. And sure, it was grape pomace that had already been pressed multiple times and mixed with water—but wine was still your right. Most people in human history didn’t drink wine that was expensive and aged for many years. They drank wine because it was safer than water.

Fast-forward a few centuries after Roman slaves slaked their thirst, English coal-fired glass bottles changed wine into something that could be stored and shipped and aged for much longer. And when the British began sealing wine with cork stoppers from Portugal (as many containers for medicine were also sealed), they realized they could age it for decades, and wine became more than just trade or medicine or something to drink because water was diseased. It could be a treasured work of art.

In some ways, cork is uniquely perfect for sealing wine. Cork is made of a honeycomb of cells and wax that can be compressed but remain flexible—perfect for forming a tight seal in a bottle neck. It also allows a slight amount of oxygen into the wine, which, over a long period of time, helps the aging process. If wine is exposed to too much oxygen, it oxidizes rapidly; too little oxygen and it becomes reductive. Oxidized wine tastes tired and loses its structure. Reductive wine tastes like rotten eggs. A sulfide fingerprint, created by yeasts post-fermentation, gets trapped in the bottle without the presence of oxygen—a common potential flaw in screw cap (or Stelvin) seals. Both closures have advantages, and both can cause flaws.

Stelvin will probably never eliminate cork. The right wines aged under cork will age beautifully and develop both a structural integration and a complex bouquet that was not present in youth. But not all wines need to be aged for decades. Some only need a few years, because they’ll be sitting on the shelves of a restaurant or grocery store. Some only need a few hours, because you have a dinner party or you need a housewarming gift or you’re going on a picnic in a small town somewhere new and you didn’t pack a corkscrew and you’ll be able to get to it that much faster with a simple twist.

Here are a few of my favorite Stelvin-sealed wines:

Nikolaihof, Grüner Veltliner, “Federspiel,” Wachau 2013

This biodynamic wine is produced from grapes that were left to ripen on the vine longer before being fermented to an impressive level of total dryness. It’s a labor of love from nose to finish. Drink if you love small family-owned wineries with an unwavering commitment to sustainability.

Schlossgut Diel, Pinot Noir, “Rosé de Diel,” Nahe 2016

This historic winery, in possession of many great vineyard sites, is managed with care and attention by Caroline Diel, and is probably in the middle of its best vintage yet of rosé. The 2016 Diel is not to be missed. It is a fabulous, mineral-tinged, charmingly summery rosé, yet has structure and substance. Drink if you love flawless style and meticulous craftsmanship.

Chehalem, Pinot Noir, “Three Vineyard,” Willamette Valley 2013

Normally I wouldn’t recommend the same grape twice, but the Diel is delicious. If you are genuinely curious about screw caps, Chehalem has long been committed to research and education regarding the effects of Stelvin on wine. Winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry has been studying screw caps for 22 years, and his “Three Vineyard” pinot noir is far from an amateur effort. Drink if you love empowering wine drinkers through education.

Two Hands, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Sexy Beast,” McLaren Vale 2014

Wines of all varieties and sizes can perform admirably under screw cap, and this cabernet sauvignon is no exception. A nod must be made to the Southern Hemisphere’s role both in popularizing the closure (thanks to the 2001 New Zealand screw cap initiative which sought to use the screw cap and educate wine drinkers to its benefits) and in fact creating it in the first place (an Australian winemaker named Peter Wall, of Yalumba, contracted a French company to produce it for him in 1964). Drink if you love a historical precedent for innovation and quality control.


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