Santa Fe Army veterans got a boost when the city announced that banners honoring veterans were to descend from streetlights on Cerrillos Road.
But the controversy may not end there, with program leaders and a city councilman expressing anger over the city’s handling of the Hometown Heroes program, launched in 2019 as a way to show the sacrifices Santa Fe veterans have made for their country.
The city sent out a press release late Tuesday afternoon announcing the decision.
“Unfortunately, the manufacturer (Hapco Poles Products) has provided data indicating that it is not safe to mount banners on these particular streetlights along Cerrillos Road,” City Manager John Blair said in a press release. , adding that the city would start looking for other ways. honor its veterans.
Later that evening, Blair sat down with members of the American Legion Post 12 to discuss the latest twist in a saga that began with the kind of pomp and circumstance one would associate with military events before that recent events put the program in jeopardy. More than 300 banners emblazoned with photos of Santa Fe’s veteran community are up for grabs, some dating back to World War II.
Banners in recent years have been attached to lamp posts along Cerrillos Road from Memorial Day to Veterans Day.
Blair told the veterans’ group that the city is still supportive of the project and wants to “find a way to display the banners…let it continue, but [it] just can’t continue on Cerrillos Road.
He said city officials plan to meet with veterans groups and others on Thursday in hopes of finding a solution.
But Blair’s words did little to help some veterans and City Councilman Michael Garcia, the banner program’s sponsor of the resolution.
City councilors approved a plan to install Hometown Heroes banners in 2019 after members of local veterans groups, including American Legion Post 12, asked for help getting the program off the ground. This initial resolution made it clear that the city was responsible for the costs—reported to be $10,000 at the time—for the installation and removal of the banners.
After a seemingly flawless start, the program faced a number of unexpected challenges this year.
In what some veterans and their supporters said was a surprise move, in February the council voted to change some terms of the plan, shifting financial and settlement responsibility to local Post 12.
Mayor Alan Webber said, among other issues, the deal violated anti-donation clause statutes that could leave the city vulnerable to having to also financially support other community organizations with free labor or financial assistance.
As the American Legion Post struggled to raise funds to ensure the banners were raised before Memorial Day, Councilwoman Signe Lindell, at a council meeting, informed her colleagues that the Public Service Company of New Mexico said it would donate the time and staff to hang the banners this year.
Although PNM work crews began installations in May, the project was halted when a lineman raised safety concerns regarding the installation of three banners on each light pole. If high winds turned those banners into sails, there could be enough force to dislodge the masts, according to a PNM spokesperson.
As a result, only about 20 banners were unfurled ahead of Memorial Day, and they will soon drop.
Donald Christy, a U.S. Air Force veteran who helped run the Hometown Heroes program, said Tuesday night that the program’s management had “turned into chaos.”
He said that never in his discussions with city hall officials over the years had they told him, “You’ll have to install them yourself.” He said the city should take full responsibility for maintaining the program.
The question of who is now in charge of the problem is unanswered.
Although Garcia was one of the councilors who introduced the new resolution transferring financial responsibility to Post 12 in February, he said Tuesday night that he was “taken aback” by the press release announcing the position of the city.
“It is unfortunate that a matter as important as this, and as the sponsor of the current resolution supporting the veterans banner, has been notified by press release,” he said during a telephone interview before Tuesday’s meeting.
At the meeting, Garcia said that every time he tried to work with city officials to find a way to put up and maintain the banners, he ran into roadblocks — including various excuses explaining why the city couldn’t do it.
He said he’s seen a pattern of “challenge after challenge after challenge” preventing the city from taking action to keep the program going.
The emotions generated by the meeting led to a testy exchange between Blair and Garcia, a noted critic of Webber’s administration.
Blair disputed Garcia’s comments, saying they were “lies…conspiracy theories.”
“Nothing I said was a lie,” Garcia shot back.
Christy said at the meeting that councilors and officials never informed Post 12 management of the change in the resolution. Garcia apologized for this oversight during the meeting.
Some attendees at Tuesday’s meeting asked Blair if other banners placed around the city, unrelated to the Hometown Heroes program, should also be taken down. Blair said that if these banners are attached to poles like the Hapco poles, “they will fall off.”
The original resolution notes that the city’s public works department said the banner plan complied with all “applicable requirements and restrictions.”
In a May email obtained by The New Mexicanwrote director of public works Regina Wheeler after it became clear the intention was to place three to four banners on each pole, she contacted Hapco and was told the poles were not designed to hold “safe” banners.
“They indicated that high winds could knock down a lamppost,” she wrote.
“However, for the past two years, 2 banners have been put up on lampposts without incident,” she added. “This was done based on NMDOT’s approval to put up to two banners per pole.”
Garcia also said he was told the city had discussions with Hapco regarding the poles, but he never received any data or study outside of the manufacturer’s recommendations.
“An official report has not been made to my knowledge,” he said.
Asked by some attendees if the city had conducted an initial study or report on whether the poles would hold the banners in 2019, Blair said he was unaware.
The city, Blair pointed out, does not want the program to end. He said it’s possible Hometown Heroes could be moved to a city park or the Railyard or a more centralized area on poles that will support their weight without endangering others.
Many cities across the country have similar Hometown Heroes banner programs that ask for donations to pay for the creation and installation of the banners, which feature an image of the former’s face, rank, branch, and years of service. fighter.
In Santa Fe, people wishing to sponsor a banner for a family member or loved one pay $156 for materials, but the costs associated with installing the banners are not covered by the fee.
Christy wrote in an email that he has received many calls from “angry” families about the situation, but no one has asked for a refund and people seem open to seeing how the meeting goes. city and veterans groups.
It is unclear how much it has cost the city to install the banners in recent years.
Meanwhile, PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval said the utility is ready to provide the labor and money needed to install the banners once the city and veterans groups will understand what to do with it.
“We made a commitment; we will fulfill that promise,” Sandoval said.