2017 County Council Leadership Shares Thoughts

The Los Alamos County Council elected its leadership for 2017 including re-election of Vice Chair Susan O’Leary and election of new Chair David Izraelevitz. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos County Council elected new leadership Tuesday evening in Council Chambers during its first meeting of the new year.

The Council unanimously elected David Izraelevitz as chair, and in a vote of 4-3, elected Susan O’Leary to remain as vice chair. Outgoing Chair Rick Reiss, Izraelevitz and Pete Sheehey cast their vote for Sheehey.  

Izraelevitz was nominated for the chairmanship position last year but the majority of council voted for Reiss at that time.

“I very much appreciate the vote Tuesday night,” Izraelevitz said. “Rick Reiss was an excellent chair this past year and I hope to build on his efforts building a collaborative and effective Council. Vice Chair Susan O’Leary and I have already discussed some items related to leadership so I expect we will hit the ground running. Our two new councilors will bring a fresh perspective and new energy, and I look forward to this as well.”

Izraelevitz predicts another busy year for the County Council.

“I expect our upcoming strategic planning session will set up an aggressive set of priorities that will require that we work well together and make good decisions,” he said. “I will work with Susan to facilitate discussion and decision-making during the meetings and good communication among the Council in general so we can achieve these goals.”

O’Leary said she is looking forward to another good year representing the people of Los Alamos County and serving the Council as vice chair.

“Let’s pass the recreation bond. Let’s increase our focus on diversifying our economy; and ensure that citizens have a voice in the process as we develop a long range economic development plan to leverage tourism,” O’Leary said. “As Council vice chair, I’ll work with the Council chair to facilitate a governing process that supports all Councilors as we pursue our top priorities; and help the County Council do its best job in representing citizen interests and supporting County staff in delivering exceptional service to our community.”

Councilor Rick Reiss

During Tuesday’s meeting, Reiss delivered a State of the County message in one of his final tasks before stepping down from his year as chair. He emphasized that the message was his alone – not the Council’s and not the County’s.

“I believe Los Alamos is a wonderful community with great amenities and beautiful surroundings,” Reiss said. “…I believe the state of the County is ‘outstanding’, with excellent County staff that addresses the strategic goals of the Council, operational excellence, which is the foundation of County government and comparable results that exceed our neighbors, the region and the state.”

Reiss explained the primary reason he was delivering a State of the County message. The Charter, amended in late 2014 with approval of the voters, states, ‘The Chair shall … present an annual state of county message …’.

“Since this has only been in place since the first of 2015, I am the first lucky chair to be able to share their perception of the state of the county,” Reiss said.

Citizens have had an “Annual Report” for the last five years from County Manager Harry Burgess, he said. At the beginning of each calendar year, Burgess details the status of projects and finances to the community. In fact, Burgess delivered this year’s State of the County Address at this morning’s Chamber Breakfast on the UNM-LA campus.

Below is the full content of Reiss’ message:

STATE OF THE COUNTY

JANUARY 10, 2017

This evening I would like to present a “State of the County” message. I believe Los Alamos is a wonderful community with great amenities and beautiful surroundings. In summary, I believe the state of the County is “Outstanding”, with excellent County Staff that addresses the strategic goals of the Council, operational excellence which is the foundation of County government and comparable results that exceed our neighbors, the region and/or the state.

But let’s step back for a moment and answer the question, “Why give a State of the County message?” The primary reason is that the Charter amended in late 2014 with the approval of the voters, states, “The Chair shall … present an annual state of county message … “. Since this has only been in place since the first of 2015, I am the first lucky chair to be able to share their perception of the state of the county.

Citizens have had an “Annual Report” for the last 5 years from our current County Manager, Harry Burgess. Each year he details the status of projects and finances to the community as we begin each calendar year. There are those who interpret the Charter to require the Chair to provide the message, given that the “Chair shall be recognized as the head of county government …” I believe the Charter is silent on the delegation of the task. I will also tell you the Charter is silent on when it should be presented, in which tense the message should be presented, past tense or future tense and silent on the perspective – political or operational.

Given that there has never been a State of the County message presented by a Council Chair, I wrestled with what I should present and how. To that end, I propose, and will deliver tonight’s message as outlined in my proposal. I propose Council split the duties. The Chair will present a summary of the state of the county from a high level. The County Manager will also provide a message that will likely dive deeper into the details of the operations of the County government. 

My example of this pair of messages would be the PAFR and the CAFR. The Popular Annual Financial Report is the summary; the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is the details. I believe the PAFR is popular because it is short but hits the high points, probably just as you hope I will.

Unlike the President’s State of the Union, where bold initiatives are presented as a path forward, the Council Chair works for the Council. There are no policies or strategies pronounced by a single Councilor, even the Chair. I propose and believe the Chair’s message should be presented in the past tense. I will discuss the accomplishments of the year while I was Chair. I think the Chair should be given an opportunity to reflect on the year at the end of the Chair’s term.  It will be from a political perspective, not from a detail operational perspective. After all, I am elected and therefore a politician. I believe the two messages will provide a rounded perspective. It will recognize the work of the staff as they implement the strategies and policies of the Council.

So why do I believe the state of Los Alamos County is “Outstanding”? I will revisit anecdotal comments and address a couple of measures that demonstrate how darn good Los Alamos is.

  1. My public reflection on accomplishments in Los Alamos
  2. The County met or exceeded our strategic goals
  3. Relative to our neighbors and the state we exceed most or all

Since elected Chair, I started most meetings with a comment on the County’s accomplishments. I ended each comment with a reminder to be “Mindful of our accomplishments as we address the opportunities of the future!” I believe we forget the good stuff when we address the bad stuff. I acknowledged the “why” we are outstanding with comments at each meeting such as the following.

Jan. 26 – I would like to take a moment to thank the citizens of Los Alamos for allowing me to serve as a councilor. I would also like to thank the staff who works so hard to provide our basic essential services including the well trained police and fire personnel. Collectively we have accomplished much.

Feb. 2 – Los Alamos is a great place with many organizations, volunteers and the County partnering for a better community. Parks and Recreation and Open Space recently teamed up with PEEC volunteers and Bandelier staff for an event at the nature center. It is a good example of the power of partnership and great accomplishments enjoyed by many.

Feb. 16 – Team work!  The National Park System was here. Our community team got us a place at the table! Council teams are impacting Federal and State legislation. A team of LAPS students Council members hosted 1,000 young people from all over the state at a Student Council conference in Los Alamos. Team work is an accomplishment that crosses many boundaries.

April 5 – As I drove down Central Ave today, I could not help thinking how pretty the white blossoms on the trees were. I also noted the wide sidewalks, benches, lighting and colored crosswalks. We accomplished a lot on that project. The County staff did a nice job!

May 17 – This evening it is appropriate to acknowledge our Police Department. Monday morning, the Department memorialized fallen Police Officers. Scott Mills, a former Los Alamos officer, was added to the plaque of officers who have gone before us. The police officers of Los Alamos are trusted. I personally trust them. I depend on them. Their efforts keep Los Alamos safe. And I am proud of their accomplishments.

Aug. 23 – Our work sessions allow Boards and Commissions and staff to update the Council and the Public on accomplishments, projects and opportunities. We appreciate the efforts of the Boards and County Staff.

Sept. 27 – Voter Registration Day! The only county in the state to proclaim a Voter Registration Day. A successful day with many registrations.

Oct. 25 – A gas leak was detected by an employee who smelled gas as work progressed on the eastern end of Central Ave. The gas leak was fixed with no interruption of service to nearby businesses. The same day around 5pm an accident took down a signal pole and lights at Conoco Hill, AKA Radio Hill. The county staff worked through the night and had it working before 8am the next day. Try to find that kind of service in other cities in New Mexico.

Nov. 14 – I would like to acknowledge Craig Martin who has been recognized by the Forest Service for his distinguished volunteer efforts. Craig continues to support this community and our trail systems. Craig is a wonderful example for all of us.

I have been giving a state of the county message all year. It was just in bits and pieces. Each of those comments addresses one or more of the Council goals for 2016.

I will focus on some of the Goals of Council:

  1. Economic Vitality – Tourism, take advantage of the new Manhattan Project National Historic Park
  2. Housing – increasing housing stock, maintain existing housing, develop workforce housing, in-fill housing
  3. Education – support LAPS and UNM-LA
  4. Quality Cultural and Recreation amenities – support all segments of the community
  5. Operational excellence – maintain quality essential services

How did we do? We met or exceeded our strategic goals. A few examples include:

Tourism

At the Council strategic planning meeting early in 2016, the Councilors unanimously agreed that the Manhattan Project National Historic Park was the best opportunity for economic diversity to come our way in a long time. It became the highest priority.

 The County took an active lead role in standing up the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. We provided space for a visitor center and assist with staffing using the Historical Society. With significant public input we undertook way finding, parking, transportation, other tourist amenities and have a seat at the table with the NPS.  We initiated a Tourism Plan to integrate the many elements of the tourism economy.

We are the Gateway to 3 National Parks! The staff of the National Park System is very appreciative of the County Involvement and I believe they think Los Alamos is Outstanding. Thousands of visitors came to Los Alamos to visit the Manhattan Project Park.

After a year of work, the Guest House /aka/ History Museum, grand reopening with new displays prepared and installed by the historical society was a huge

success.  Combined with the Bethe House to create a Museum campus, Los Alamos is the center of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park.

Housing

Housing initiatives were passed by Council to address nuisance properties, unhitched trailers, vacant homes and out of town or out of state owners. The County implemented a home renewal program that was well received by home owners at or below median income levels. A-19 in White Rock remains an open project and new properties including A-8 are scheduled for infrastructure improvements to facilitate new housing. The County, to quote a former councilor, must “Aggressively” pursue housing options and we are!

Education

A crown jewel in our community, the Public Schools is strongly supported by the County. Stepping up to assist with Duane Smith improvements to the tune of $1.2 million enhancing cultural amenities for a facility used principally by private versus school events. The modifications, which begin in May, will be “Outstanding”!

UNM-LA and their career training include the EMS program. UNM-LA worked with the LA Fire Department, which is the best fire department in the state and one of only 1,000 International recognized fire departments, demonstrated a community partnership that is meeting a pressing need for paramedics in our community and the region.

Recreation

Recreational amenities include the completion of Phase 2 of the Canyon Rim Trail. Inspired by Craig Martin, the communities trail system is Outstanding! Council funded a pilot project “Flow” mountain bike trail that will run from the North Mesa Roundabout to the “Y”.

The list of accomplishments is long and impressive, —- and now, after a year of study, public impost and user group support, the opportunity of a CIP list of recreation projects is ready for approval by the citizens of Los Alamos.

Operational Excellence

This is the very foundation of many, if not all, of the reasons the state of the County is Outstanding.

Consider the management of the County. Harry burgess celebrated 5 years of service on November 7 last year. He doubled the average tenure of the previous 4 administrations. He has stabilized the County human resources by acknowledging staffs accomplishments and quality service. Stability at the County Manager level frees the Council to focus on policy and strategic directions. Because of a stable staff the Council was able to address the long outstanding task of rewriting the 30 year old Comprehensive Plan. It was my pleasure to sign the adopted Comp Plan.

Staff acknowledges Mr. Burgess’s impact on the County as illustrated by a news article about retiring Charlie Kalegoros-Chattan. She says (Los Alamos Daily Post link) and I quote ”The last 5 years working with County Manager Harry Burgess have been incredible!” Council hears this day in and day out as the high quality staff provide outstanding services.

Consider the financial well being of the County. Our finances and accounting records are impeccable. For over 20 years we have been acknowledged for our award winning CAFR. We have timely audits and reports. Our controls and procedures provide dependable financial information, which is open to inspection by the public. We also have maintained significant reserves for that rainy day!

There is a saying “you don’t miss the water until the well runs dry”. Sometimes it is helpful to remind ourselves of the basic essential services that we many times take for granted. Basic essential services are the main job of the county.

Consider these facts:

  • 106.5 street miles maintained
  • 18,319 service calls by the Police
  • 1,804 fire protections service responses
  • 38,212 Nature Center Participants
  • 53,478 Historical Society Museum visits
  • 194,946 Aquatic Center visits
  • 29,777 Golf rounds
  • 27,228 Ice Rink visits
  • 48% of waste diverted from the landfill
  • 973 megawatts of solar power
  • 1,777 megawatts of hydro power
  • 944 acres of park land maintained
  • And Speaking of Water …1.176 billion gallons of water produced!

It is no small feat to be operationally excellent and provide high levels of services.

And finally another measure is how Los Alamos is very fortunate relative to our neighboring communities, the region or the state as a whole.

The gross receipts tax rate is lower than Espanola, Santa Fe, Taos, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.

Property taxes are comparable with our neighbors, Santa Fe and Espanola but significantly less than Albuquerque. More notable is the commercial property tax rates that are lower than our neighbors. Los Alamos commercial rates are only 3 mils higher than residential rates. Compare that to Santa Fe and Espanola where the difference in rates is 10 mil. Our rates are favorable to encourage new business growth.

Utility rates are lower for electricity, water and gas than our neighbors. Our SADI or system average interruption duration index was down to 19 minutes in September. That is a vast improvement from 300 minutes in 2008 and 2009. It also betters much of the state’s other electric utilities.

We were honored by the Utah Associated Municipal Power System, of which the DPU is a member, with the System Improvement Award.

Our schools are functioning at the highest levels in the region and the state. Excellent support from UNM-LA provides dual credit classes giving Los Alamos students a head start in college or their career choice. Improving facilities, providing safety officers, sharing infrastructure like warehouses are all partnerships to enhance the excellent work of teachers and administrators.

Los Alamos enjoys a transit system that provides free local transportation and interconnections with Park & Ride and the Northern New Mexico Regional Transit System. Los Alamos helped establish the NNM RTD through our “Progress through Partnership” program and continues to do so today.

Los Alamos is fortunate and the State of the County is truly OUTSTANDING!

Thank you.

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