Government in the village of Cuba is especially fraternal.
Mayor Richard Velarde recently recommended that his brother, Brian, be hired for two public jobs.
Village councilors who bothered to show up for their regular meeting last week reacted favorably to the mayor’s idea.
They voted 2-0 to hire Brian Velarde as a part-time assistant librarian and as a part-time clerk in the Motor Vehicle Division office in Cuba. Two other councilors did not attend the meeting.
Residents of Cuba, population 730, say neither job opening was made public until Brian Velarde had become the one and only contender.
Residents learned of the mayor’s intention to hire his brother when the plan was listed on the agenda of the village council meeting.
No mention was made during the meeting of how much the jobs will pay Brian Velarde. The agenda item on his hiring was a single sentence devoid of any financial information.
Village Councilor Sandra Weippert told me she didn’t know offhand how much Brian Velarde would be paid.
Mayor Richard Velarde did not return messages regarding his brother’s hiring and salaries.
Weippert said Brian Velarde was the only applicant for the two government jobs.
Residents were not surprised by this. Some told me neither job opening was posted on bulletin boards in the village or publicized in any other way. If almost no one knew the jobs existed, the pool of applicants was sure to be small.
Weippert said she believed notices of the job openings had been placed on community bulletin boards.
She seemed more certain of the reason she voted to hire Brian Velarde.
“Mr. Velarde is highly qualified,” Weippert said. “I’m going on the fact that he knows a lot about computers.”
What exactly is Brian Velarde’s background in computer technology?
Weippert said she didn’t know any details. She had not asked for or seen his résumé.
“I’m not really involved. Hiring is the mayor’s job,” Weippert said.
Brian Velarde previously worked for the Cuba Soil and Water Conservation District. He did not respond to messages requesting an interview.
His hiring by the village comes as it prepares to spend $140,000 on books and equipment to upgrade the library.
By Weippert’s account, the mayor received complaints about nepotism in the hiring of his brother. Weippert said she had not fielded any such objections.
Cuba, about two hours northwest of Santa Fe, sits atop the Continental Divide. The village slogan is “Naturally Wonderful.”
The Continental Divide Trail Coalition offers another inviting description of the village: “Cuba — home to starry skies and stunning mesas.”
Several people who live in Cuba don’t have such glowing assessments of their government.
One night in July, officials locked the doors of the village office, where they were supposed to be holding a public meeting.
Residents who wanted to attend the meeting stood outside, ignored by their elected representatives.
Only the first page of the council’s agenda was visible behind a window of the village office. It made no mention of why the council was meeting in secrecy.
If the coronavirus pandemic was the reason for locking people out, no one said so. In fact, the village council had met the previous month in front of a live, masked audience.
Vandora Casados, the village clerk, initially told me residents could follow the closed meeting by telephone. Pressed for details, Casados backtracked.
“The number wasn’t listed on the agenda. We just set it up like 10 minutes before the meeting,” she said.
Worse, no government employee or elected official opened the locked door to tell residents how to call in.
Wired jobs, secrecy, cronyism and inefficiency occur in city governments far larger than Cuba’s. Most of the offenders are smoother in covering their deal-making.
But Cuba is better positioned to fend off complaints. The village is so small many of its residents are skittish about criticizing government officials publicly.
In a place where everyone knows everyone else, people worry about alienating those responsible for delivering village services.
Cuba might be in the midst of an idyllic setting, but the little place has its flaws.
For one, residents have learned it doesn’t take a village to hire the mayor’s brother.