The eight candidates for Los Alamos County Council all stressed their love for the community and their desire to serve it.
Four Democrats, incumbent David Izraelevitz, Sara Scott, James Robinson and Randall Ryti, Libertarian Helen Milenski and three Republicans, Brady Burke, Dawn Trujillo Voss and John Bliss expressed their views and highlighted their qualifications at a Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Thursday at UNM-Los Alamos.
Izraelevitz said he is proud of his record during the seven years he has served on County Council. He pointed to such achievements as the Ashley Pond Park refurbishment project and the overhaul of the County’s computer system and improvements to basic infrastructure as testaments to his stewardship. He said he has achieved the goals he set for himself as a councilor: communicate with and advocate for citizens, oversee County services and practice strategic thinking to achieve County goals.
“The community has helped to raise my family,” Izraelevitz said. “It’s been an honor to serve.”
First-time candidate Scott said one of her goals is to increase communication with citizens, a process she began with her “Let’s Chat” sessions, eight so far, during her campaign. Scott said her strengths include leadership of a large group during her years at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), good communication skills, and her “passion to make a real difference.”
Scott said Los Alamos needs to increase its economic base by nurturing existing businesses as well as attracting new ones. She emphasized the importance of making Los Alamos an attractive place to live, including providing recreational opportunities and serving and embracing the town’s changing demographics, as retirees choose to remain, as well as new people arriving.
“I will work respectfully and hard for you and continue to listen and learn from you,” Scott said.
Like Scott, Robinson has been a Los Alamos resident for 30 years, however he got here through a different route. He was born here. Robinson is a third-generation LANL employee. Robinson stressed his public service as chair of the County Environmental Sustainability Board and UNM-LA mil levy campaign, as well as his work with wildlife rescue.
Promising “an open ear to all our citizens,” Robinson said his goals include expanding environmental protection and developing the town’s recreation and tourism opportunities. Teamwork and forming partnerships would be his path to success on the Council, Robinson said.
Ryti, another first-time candidate, has lived in Los Alamos since 1992 and is co-founder of Neptune and Company. His community service includes six years on the board of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, 10 years helping to organize the Los Alamos Public Schools Science Fair and four years on the County Transportation Board. Ryti said “getting out and talking to people is the most important key to success for a councilor.
He said lack of housing was one issue at the top of his agenda.
“We need a broad array of housing,” Ryti said. “If UNM-LA students could live here, they could also work here and provide businesses with employees.”
Redevelopment of existing properties should not be overlooked, in addition to new housing options, he said.
“I’m optimistic about our future,” Ryti said. “We’ll get through this [possible GRT funds crisis].”
Milenski, the lone Libertarian in the race said people should give her party a try! A Los Alamos High School graduate and longtime resident, Milenski is probably best known for her recent involvement with the code enforcement and creation of the Community Development Advisory Board.
The County needs to “get out of the way” of businesses, Milenski said. She said the County should seek to attract a diversity of businesses. Also, on her list is improving County infrastructure.
“I’ll put you first,” Milenski said. “Let me serve you.”
Another first-time candidate, Republican Dawn Trujillo Voss said she believes in change and maximizing opportunities. She promised to be a coalition-builder and “reach across to both sides”. She thanked the two other women candidates in the race for “stepping up,” as women are too seldom on the ballot, she said. Trujillo Voss has a degree in project management and works at LANL.
Trujillo Voss stressed her strength and tenacity.
“I don’t take no as the final answer,” she said. “No one can take away my voice and I’ll make sure no one takes away yours.”
Republican and first-time candidate Brady Burke came out swinging at the current state of County government. He said the Council was too cozy with the County and its staff.
“Government has grown so large and the Council so detached, they are not serving the citizens,” he said.
Burke said County residents voted to retain the sheriff position and against the Recreation Bond and their wishes were not respected by the Council.
“We need to bring back town hall meetings,” Burke said.
Burke wants to slow down the fast tracking of public projects. He said the County needs to “stop spending at high speed.” Burke was clear that he will not support tax increases. Issues important to Burke include housing that is affordable for working families and more investment in White Rock.
Bliss, chair of the Republican Party of Los Alamos, said he’d been talking about economic development and its importance for years, and it remains an important issue.
“We need to make it easy to do the right thing,” Bliss said of County regulation.
Bliss said his four grandchildren who live in Los Alamos are his motivator for making the town a better place to live. He said during his years in the U.S. Army and then at LANL, he has been known for his leadership abilities and ability to complete complex tasks on time.
“We don’t know what the issues will be in the future,” Bliss said. “We need leadership to do it all.”
The question period was dominated by the Flow Trail Project and the possible loss of gross receipts tax if the new consortium managing LANL is shown to be a non-profit.
Issues over the use of the trail by both mountain bikers and equestrians have caused controversy. Burke said he is opposed to the project because of the cost and the environmental impact. He said we should not displace those already using the trail, the equestrian community and hikers.
Bliss said the County should find a place for the trail that everyone is happy with. He’s currently opposed to the trail location, but might be convinced it is workable, Bliss said.
Trujillo Voss said she is concerned about the cost. Milenski and Robinson agreed that horses and bikes don’t mix well. Both also were concerned about environmental impact and want the County to look at alternatives to the Bayo Canyon site.
“There are concerns you can’t engineer away,” Milenski said.
Both Izraelevitz and Scott support exploring more options. They urged people to hear the final proposal, as there are other sites under consideration. Both supports increasing biking opportunities. If this site is chosen, Robinson said other options for equestrians need to be found as well.
“Both equestrians and bikers want the same thing—more recreational opportunities,” Izraelevitz said.
Ryti agreed with looking at the values behind the move to create the bike trail and looking at more alternatives.
On the GRT issue, Trujillo Voss said the Council needs to look at how other communities build revenue. She suggested tapping tourism and small business as a start. She also recommended a “vacancy tax” on empty business property to encourage making more space available and lowering rents.
Burke said prioritizing would be key to his approach to the possible crisis but scaling back would be necessary.
“We’ve taken on the responsibility of making the town perfect,” he said. “We should make the case to Triad (the new consortium) that improving the town benefits them.”
Milenski said we’ve been frittering away our money and need to show we can be lean.
“Infrastructure is the most important,” she said. “We need someone who can make the hard decisions.”
Bliss said business development is the long-term solution. He advocates talking to the National Nuclear Security Agency about taking on expenses such as the fire department.
“An IRS loophole lets a billion-dollar business be taxed like a church or a food bank,” Izraelevitz said. He favors working with the State Legislature to remedy the situation.
Scott agreed about working with the Legislature and said expenditures should be put on hold while the Council determines impacts and identifies strategies. She advocates working with NNSA on solutions.
Robinson also said scaling back would be necessary and that the County should work with NNSA, as did Ryti.
In their closing statements, the candidates reiterated their top points and asked audience members for their vote on Nov. 6.
Council Candidates Speak At Los Alamos Kiwanis
All eight County Council candidates attended the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos Oct. 2 meeting to participate in a forum showcasing their views on major issues facing the county. At the end of the meeting, they posed for a photo together. From left, Republicans Brady W. Burke, John L. Bliss and Dawn C. Trujillo Voss; Democrats David Izraelevitz, Sara C. Scott and Randall T. Ryti; Libertarian Helen M. Milenski and Democrat James N. Robinson. Four will be elected in the November General Election. Photo by Don Casperson
By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
For Los Alamos Kiwanis
All eight of the candidates for County Council attended Los Alamos Kiwanis Oct. 2 to present their views on three important questions.
The eight are Democrats David Izraelevitz, James N. Robinson, Randall T. Ryti, and Sara C. Scott; Libertarian Helen M. Milenski; and Republicans Brady W. Burke, Dawn C. Trujillo Voss and John L. Bliss.
Rules and Questions
The questions, provided to the candidates in advance, were:
1) What are your views on the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Department, its budget, its responsibilities, and its relationship with the County Council?
2) How should the council handle the contract turnover at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the questions about the new contractor’s tax responsibilities to the county?
3) And what do you see as the single biggest issue facing the county, and how would you deal with it?
Kiwanis drew names to determine the order in which the candidates would speak. Each candidate had a total of four minutes to speak, answering all of the questions within that time.
When all eight had answered the questions, Kiwanis members had a brief opportunity to ask them other questions, and even after the meeting had ended, both candidates and their potential incumbents lingered to continue their discussions.
Dealing with the first question, Scott said, “The community voted NOT to abolish the office of sheriff. I support that.”
She said the Sheriff’s office should handle the registration of sex offenders and serve notices. Funding should be provided at the appropriate level for those tasks.
In response to Question 2, she said the contract turnover “is an opportunity to invigorate the county-laboratory relationship.” Economic development and education are among the issues that could be discussed in such a relationship.
The county must make certain of its long-term tax standing, she said.
In the meantime, the county should identify options for reducing costs, talk with the federal authorities about the possibility of assistance payments for Los Alamos County, and talk with the state about ways it might assist the county.
Turning to Question 3, Scott said the “big challenge” facing Los Alamos County is housing. She proposed a housing study that would cover the need for housing, the types of housing needed, and what Los Alamos County can do to accommodate potential developers.
She would also like to see the county explore redevelopment possibilities.
In answering Question 1, Izraelevitz, the only incumbent among the eight, said he wasn’t present for the votes that reduced the Sheriff’s Department’s budget and responsibilities, but he voted yes when the council considered whether to put to the voters the issue of whether the department should be abolished. He said he felt that because the council had removed most of the department’s responsibilities, the public should consider whether the department should be eliminated.
Izraelevitz said it seemed to him that Los Alamos County is incorporated for the express purpose of doing things efficiently. (Questions had been raised about whether it is efficient to have both a Police Department and a Sheriff’s Department in the county.)
He noted that for many years, the Sheriff’s Department had a cooperative approach to the county, the council, and the police.
He said the Sheriff’s Department has no enforcement duties. It has worked instead in public safety and education.
The public, however, voted to retain the Sheriff’s Department.
As it stands now, he said, once the questions in court are answered, if the Sheriff’s Department continues to exist, then when questions on its budget and responsibilities arise, “The (County) Charter rules.”
Turning to Question 2, Izraelevitz said that Los Alamos County and TRIAD, the new management team for Los Alamos National Laboratory, should be on the same team. The community should strive to provide an environment “that attracts the best and the brightest to Los Alamos.”
The council must fight hard to continue to receive gross receipts taxes from the laboratory, he said, reaching out to the State of New Mexico and the Internal Revenue Service to close what he considers a huge loophole. If that approach doesn’t work, he said, then the council will have to cut spending.
In answer to Question 3, he said that the council must make the county an asset to the laboratory, providing excellent schools, adequate housing for all, and increased financial support from tourism.
In answer to Question No. 1, Burke said, “I voted (in the public election) to retain the Sheriff’s Department. I assumed (that if the public voted to retain the department) things would remain as they were.”
However, he said, the council cut funding for the department, and, “Others turned it into a little bit of a fray.”
“I’m in favor of putting the Sheriff’s Department back the way it was before all this started,” he concluded.
Responding to Questions 2, Burke said that he finds it “nearsighted” to contend that taxing the lab is the only way to meet county needs.
“We need to negotiate with TRIAD,” he said, “to convince them that investing in the community is good for them as well as for us.”
His answer to Question 3 was that the biggest problem the county is facing right now is the division between the county staff and the council (on one side) and the Sheriff’s Department and the voters on the other side.
Responding to Question 1, Robinson said that he voted (in the public election) to eliminate the office of sheriff because he didn’t believe the county needed to have two law-enforcement agencies.
However, when the results came in, the voters had said they wanted to keep the Sheriff’s Department.
As a result, he said, he now believes that the council should reach out to the person who is elected sheriff and start establishing a relationship, working out a list of duties, and providing an appropriate budget for the department.
Question 2? Robinson said he appreciates the current council’s effort to keep gross receipts taxes flowing in from the laboratory. “It takes up so much of our space,” he said, and places demands on us as well.
Building a good relationship with TRIAD is “key,” he said.
Turning to Question 3, he said, “We have a county that was built relatively quickly a long time ago.” As a result, everything from school buildings to water lines is wearing out—at about the same time. It is vital, he said, that we keep up with necessary repairs and replacements.
In response to Question 1, Ryti said, “I support having a sheriff.”
The roles and responsibilities of the office must be defined, he said, and the council should work with the person the community elects as sheriff to provide appropriate funding for the department.
Responding to Question 2, he said that the council must continue to communicate to TRIAD just what is funded by the taxes the lab is being asked to pay. Provision of this information amounts to “an important education for them,” he said.
He added that TRIAD might come to understand the importance of the tax money in providing some amenities and
services that are important for recruiting good employees.
At the same time, the county should discuss a possible reduction in taxes and seek ways to prioritize its spending. It is important, he said, that the county know “what we’re spending money on and why.”
In answering Question 3, he said that he has learned, while campaigning door-to- door, that for people new to the community, a perceived lack of housing is an important issue.
“I think that housing is an important issue,” he said, noting that University of New Mexico-Los Alamos students are among those who need local housing.
He commented that, “redevelopment of vacant properties” might produce good opportunities for housing.
Responding to Question 1, Milenski commented that the Sheriff’s Department has existed “for decades.” Only recently has its existence become “contentious.” She said she voted to keep the position of sheriff.
The person elected sheriff, she said, must honor the court’s decisions on the duties of the office, and the council must fund the position accordingly.
Answering Question 2, she said, “We should be cutting our spending back” regardless of the outcome of the debate about the laboratory and gross receipts taxes. The county must “reprioritize, regardless of what we get and when we get it,” she said.
In answering Question 3, she said, “We grow or we die.”
“We are a small town,” she said. She grew up in Los Alamos, and she loves is small-town feeling, but the lab plans to expand, and, “We need to respond.”
She noted the vacant buildings and properties in town and said that perhaps the county should “levy a fee for leaving a property vacant” for more than a specified period of time. Such a fee might increase the likelihood that owners would reduce rents and attract new tenants, she said.
Housing is a big issue, she said, and so is “aging infrastructure.” She noted that growth affects infrastructure. The more people, the more stress on old infrastructure, she said.
She also called for diversity in business.
In answering Question 1, Bliss pointed out that both the council and the Sheriff’s Department will have new people in office as of Jan. 1, and new people might be able to work out a new relationship.
“It’s clear that the county wants a sheriff,” he said.
There should be “a conversation” about the sheriff’s role, he said, and, “The funding needs to follow.”
In answering Question 2, Bliss said that if the county doesn’t succeed in getting the tax income it is hoping to preserve, it will have to cut costs—perhaps
including some costs related to responsibilities at the laboratory, notably fire protection and police assistance.
“I believe they understand,” he said, “that we’re linked at the hip.”
He answered Question 3 by saying that what the county needs most is “leadership.” Look back over the last 20 years, he said, and, “You see these same issues” coming up over and over again— housing, economic development, etc.
“Leadership is the problem,” he said. “The council needs to build agreement on a way forward, and then go to the community and say, ‘This is what we need to do.’”
He also commented, “We’re going to grow … but people don’t want to lose the community feel.”
In commenting on the Sheriff’s Department (Question 1), Trujillo Voss said, “It’s been discussed; it’s been voted on.”
She voted to keep the sheriff. She commented, “There are very strong feelings….”
She believes that, “We need to have a check and balance” in local law enforcement. The Los Alamos Police Department works for county government, she said. We need a sheriff who is elected by the people.
Once the election is over, she said, the council and the Sheriff’s Department can sit down together and work out a way to
move forward. They must not “stay stuck.”
In answer to Question 2, she said that people were asking the same questions about the laboratory and gross receipts taxes in 2012. We must take the question seriously, she said, and discuss how to “become independent of gross receipts tax.”
“Let’s face it,” she said, “It could go away.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee had some of these same problems (vacant properties, etc.), she said, but now, “They’ve been revitalized.”
She said that on one point at least, she agrees with Bliss: “Like John said, it comes down to leadership.”
In response to Question 3, she said, “We need to look at our young people” and their needs. Not all of them want to go to college, she said. Some need vocational education.
Questions and Answers
Two major questions were raised in the last 10 minutes of the Kiwanis meeting.
The first questioner said the loss of taxes from the laboratory could mean a loss of 20% of the county’s income. He noted that Milenski wanted to cut the budget, and he asked her just how she would approach the need for such a large cut.
Milenski said she would “take a close look at what has expanded since we got the gross receipts tax.” She said she might put a halt to some of the new
projects that the county has taken on — especially if they were taken on without knowing what they would require in money for operations and maintenance.
The second question from the floor concerned locating a bicycle flow trail in Bayo Canyon.
The equestrian community—which has direct access to Bayo Canyon from the North Mesa Stables Area, and uses the canyon trail not only for frequent rides but also as the only direct route to many other trails—has responded with a petition opposing the idea for a bicycle flow trail in Bayo. Many of the petition signers believe that establishment of the flow trail would block horses from the canyon and leave horse owners locked into the Stables Area with nowhere to go.
One Kiwanis member asked for a definition of a “bicycle flow trail.” Those who answered the question mentioned the need for a trail with limited “ups and downs.” They also said it would be a place for family biking. However, some people in the room noted that the Bayo Canyon Trail is anything but flat. They also said that horses are afraid of bicycles.
Scott said that as she understands the issue, eight options were originally suggested for the bicycle flow trail, and the list has now been trimmed to four. She said she believes that safety will be a major consideration as discussion of a site continues. The “footprint” of the canyon, whether a bike trail there would “fit in with the rest of our trail system,” and the cost of the proposal all must be considered before the proposal should be considered final, she said.
Burke said, “I’m opposed.” Establishing a bicycle flow trail would amount to “adding another expenditure,” he said. “We’re creating a problem where there isn’t one … It should be left the way it is.”
Izraelevitz said that no one in an official position has ever said that horses would be banned from Bayo Canyon if the bicycle flow trail moved forward. That belief is a serious misconception, he said. (And two other candidates, Ryti and Robinson, agreed with him in a discussion after the formal meeting ended). Izraelevitz said he is sure that both safety and cost will be considered as discussion of a possible bicycle flow trail site continues.
Sara Scott Ready To Put Broad Experience And Perspective To Work For Los Alamos County
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Reporter (losalamosreporter.com)
Los Alamos County Council candidate Sara Scott began her talk at the recent candidates’ forum at the American Legion Post by taking the audience back with her to a meeting in the mid-90s at a nuclear facility in Siberia, Russia.
She said the facility was a real mystery because it was hidden in a granite mountain during the Cold War. Scott said she was leading a team of U.S. technical experts and they were there to identify and implement measures to protect weapons grade plutonium, which at that point was being produced at a rate of 1/2 ton per year.
“It was a three-day trip, away from our families and for me, small children, to get to this meeting room, which looked, felt and actually had a very unique smell different from anything I’d experienced before. As I sat at the table with my counterpart – the deputy chief engineer of this facility and his technical experts – we overcame cultural, language and technical challenges to hammer out a plan that identified the scope of what needed to be protected, the most important materials/locations to address first, and which approaches and technologies would be the most appropriate for this particular set of materials and facility,” Scott said.
She said as the meeting was wrapping up, she was asked for an interview that would appear on the local television station and that during the interview, she was asked about the shared vision they all had for improving the security of weapons grade materials, what it was like to be a woman leading the delegation, and the progress they had made towards our goals.
“It really drove home for me why all the hard work and challenges of the week’s work were so important, not just to the U.S. but for Russia and the citizens of this Siberian town as well,” Scott said. “So why do I tell this story? Because I learned a lot in this effort, and many other programs, initiatives, and organizations that I’ve contributed to over that past years, that I can put to work for Los Alamos County.”
She said what she has learned includes how to manage large and complex organizations, how to identify key priorities, how to develop and implement meaningful new initiatives and programs, and how to effectively communicate with folks from diverse views and backgrounds to achieve a common goal.
“I’ll also bring my broad perspective that comes from participating in this community as a parent, scientist, volunteer, and consumer, and my passion for using my energy and skills to make a real difference. I care deeply about Los Alamos and feel that in the coming years we’ll be facing changes that could provide challenges but most importantly opportunities for making us stronger,” Scott said.
To address this, she said she proposes to make change work for the County by supporting the growth and health of businesses and tourism to provide some economic diversification and help assure that Los Alamos and White Rock remain attractive places to live. She said she will work to protect the open spaces that are “held so dearly” and continue to advance the County’s environmental objectives such as the carbon neutral goal.
Scott said she will also work to address the range of housing and service needs with those coming to work in our community and the growing number of folks choosing to retire in Los Alamos County while not forgetting the growing number of those struggling and in need in the community.