Thursday, August 16, 2012

Land Rush

This is the surveyor's medallion that marks the northwest corner of the smallish lot across the street from the even smaller lot where we're now watching the finishing touches being put on our little cabin in Ruidoso NM.

We oriented our place along an east-west axis that points the west end of our place directly at Sierra Blanca, the stately mountain that looms over the village and is the object most worth looking at for many miles around.

The vacant lot sits directly between us and an inspirational view across Brady Canyon, the terrain rising steadily over some 10 miles of pine forest to the tree line where alpine meadow takes over the rest of the vista and caps the 12,000-foot peak.

For years we never thought of it as a "lot" at all, because it was so steep it didn't seem reasonable that anybody would try to build on it. It looked more like a cliff.

But then somebody did build a house on a lot just as difficult right next door. Extending that roof line in our minds' eyes across the space facing ours, we realized that the days of our unobstructed view of the mountain could be numbered.

We told ourselves we'd enjoy it while we could.

Then last year in Puerto Vallarta, somebody bought the small brick structure on the south side of our condo. As I write this, two additional floors are rising there. Last January we watched preparation for that construction begin from our bedroom window, which looks out on the iconic bell tower of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, framed by the Bahia de Banderas and the palm-forested Cabo de Corrientes in the distance. Within weeks, that romantic view will be gone forever.

So when a "for sale" sign sprouted on that empty lot in Ruidoso not long ago, we called the number. This week we signed a purchase agreement.

When we were placing our cabin, local people who know informed us that our mountain view would add value to our home in an amount roughly $10,000 higher than what we paid for our new hillside property. But that's not why we now feel we've enriched ourselves and our children and grandchildren.

Thank you, Pam.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to School

I'm submitting columns now and then to the local semi-weekly newspaper. Here's the latest:

Our youngest daughter is 32 years old, so it’s been a while since we worried much about the quality of our local public schools. But we just adopted our granddaughter and moved to Ruidoso to raise her, so now we’re worrying a lot.

We’ve been keeping up with the ongoing coverage of the dysfunctional school board and its superintendent-in-exile, sent home on paid leave for reasons that vary depending on who you ask.

We’ve also come into random social contact with a large number of people who say they have insider information and strong feelings about how the school district leadership may have gotten itself into its present fix. 

Some blame the board, especially recall targets Devin Marshall and Curt Temple. Others blame Superintendent Bea Harris.

I’m not yet sure where the lion’s share of the fault lies. But regardless, there are two things that are painfully obvious to anybody trying in spite of everything to feel good about sending their children to back to classes in Ruidoso schools this week.

The first is that the real reasons behind the controversy haven’t been publicly disclosed. Ruidoso taxpayers, including yours truly, don’t have more than a few clues that would help us understand what the fuss is actually about.

When Ms. Marshall and Mr. Temple first announced they were suspending Ms. Harris, they gave no grounds at all. They said only that her performance was under investigation. Newspaper readers like me were left to wonder what sort of terrible misconduct might have prompted such a drastic decision. It sounded as if it might lead to lawsuits or even criminal charges.

When the two board members finally made public statements to defend themselves against the widespread outrage from Ms. Harris’s supporters, the mystery only deepened. 

There were vague claims about violations of board policy, questionable personnel decisions, errors in handling of certain business matters. But there weren’t many facts, and what facts there were seemed to have been been spun to Ms. Harris’s disadvantage. 

Most puzzling of all, it appeared the board wasn’t investigating anything, that it had already concluded that Ms. Harris had done things that warranted removal. If that was the case, why was she still getting paid? She was their employee but no longer had their confidence. When would they just fire her? 

For her part, Ms. Harris hasn’t said a word. Silence may be the smart play for her personally. But it has helped keep the public in the dark about a corrosive dispute that has divided the community and left its school administration in serious disarray just when teachers need decisions and support as they prepare for the new school year.

The second and far more important obvious truth, one of the few things that all parties and their supporters agree on, is that the state of public education in Ruidoso is deplorable, and in the present impasse little is being done to fix it.

In the latest state reports, Ruidoso schools are among the lowest ranked in New Mexico, and of course New Mexico is near the bottom of the national heap. You can quibble over how fair or accurate such ranking systems are, but it would take a margin of error the size of Sierra Blanca for any reasonable person to believe Ruidoso schools might really not be that bad.

Reading between the lines, it’s starting to look as if this situation really boils down to a personal grudge between Ms. Harris and one or more board members, which none of them can talk about in public because Ms. Harris has a contract with the school district.

A board majority appears to want to fire Ms. Harris but may be afraid to because they can’t satisfy the contract requirements for termination. Ms. Harris can’t defend herself either because she still wants to try to save her job, Lord knows why, or at least to preserve her severance rights under her contract.

All of this is more than a little heartbreaking for us. We love Ruidoso, but we love our granddaughter more. Fortunately she’s just two years old, so we have a couple of years to decide whether we need to spend our school years somewhere else. 

I hope that’s enough time for real leaders to emerge at RMSD.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Too Much On My Plate

I nearly cried when the clerk at the local DMV handed over this plate and my freshly printed New Mexico title, and not because the package cost me nearly 500 bucks.

It was at least my sixth visit to the little office with its waiting room full of dispirited and grumbling patrons and the nonstop food channel everyone was apparently afraid to change.

None of this will surprise anyone who's had to license a car in a new state lately, but it's been many years since I owned a car in this country at all, and I was appalled at what government cutbacks and passive aggressive clerical behavior have done to the process.

We bought our car from a dealer in Alamogordo, about 45 miles from here. The salesman said the dealership would charge me a service fee of about $350 to title and register, and I'd be smart to just do it myself. Okay, I shouldn't have said, but did.

When I got to the DMV the clerk informed me on inspecting the dealer documents that I didn't have the car's former title. I had to return to Alamogordo and ask for it. It turned out the car's last owner was in Alaska.

Back at the DMV, I learned that a newly arrived taxpayer with an out-of-state car needs to prove his own identity and his New Mexico residency before anybody will even look at his vehicle particulars.

Identity wasn't a problem, but I had to go home to look for my Medicare and Social Security cards, and also a birth certificate. I needed Pam's papers too. Residency was tougher, because as Ruidoso newbies we haven't got much documentation with both our names on it, addressed to us in New Mexico.

I failed again at the DMV because the rental contract on our temporary residence didn't match with our actual new mailing address, and yet again when I arrived with an electric bill on which only Pam's name appeared. (Each take-a-number visit required at least an hour's wait, sometimes more.)

Once the identity and residency hurdles were behind me, I encountered VIN issues. An out-of-state car requires a physical inspection of the vehicle to verify that its ID number matches the paperwork. The number on the dash did indeed match, but when the clerk looked for the "nader sticker" on the driver's door she found it had been ripped off.

The number is also embossed above the radiator, first thing you see when you lift the hood. But the clerk maintained it was above her pay grade to look at it. Only a state trooper would do for that.

There's a Highway Patrol office here, but the guy who does VIN inspections only shows up by appointment once a month, and oops we had just missed his July date. But my temp registration was about to expire, so that meant another trip to Alamogordo to shame the dealer into issuing me a new one.

My VIN appointment finally came on Wednesday, and after making sure my vehicle wasn't stolen and shaking his head over the fecklessness of DMV clerks, the trooper gave me an affidavit stating that he had located the VIN number in two places.

I went back to the DMV the next day, but the line was so long I gave up. Yesterday, with my second temp expiration date looming, I went back determined to finish the job. But when I got to the window, the clerk shook her head mournfully and informed me that the trooper had transcribed an "L" in my VIN number with a bare vertical line that could also have been an "I" or a "1". It was above her pay grade to speculate as to what he meant, she said with ersatz regret. Only the trooper himself could clarify this.

Seething, I crumpled my take-a-number slip and left the office, considering whether to go home and modify the affidavit myself. But we did the right thing and drove back to Patrol office, where a different trooper had the time and humanity to inscribe the short horizontal line that removed all doubt.

So yes, I nearly cried when we returned to the office, waited another hour, and got our plate. I paid extra for a two-year registration so I don't have to darken DMV's door again any time soon.