Skip directly to content

Council Tightens Confidentiality Rules

on September 25, 2012 - 4:31pm

Los Alamos County Councilor Vincent Chiravalle voted in favor of an amendment proposed by Councilor Michael Wismer following Chiravalle's disclosure of information discussed in a closed door session earlier this month. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Councilor Michael Wismer spoke of Councilor Vincent Chiravalle's "breach of confidentiaility" recently and requested that staff place an item on this evening's agenda so that Council could consider amending its procedural rules to more clearly define its members' responsibilities concerning closed sessions. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Staff Report

Los Alamos County Councilor Vincent Chiravalle's disclosure during a radio interview earlier this month of NADG's pullout from the Trinty Site project, spurred Council to unanamously amend its 2012 Council Procedural Rules.

Councilor Michael Wismer proposed the amendment during this evening's Council meeting. Councilor David Izraelevitz was absent but submitted a letter of his support for the amendment.

Amendment to the 2012 Council Procedural Rules:

Recognize the importance of County business being open to public scrutiny and that the business of the Council is generally public as required by law. However, the law also allows closed meetings when the public conduct of governmental business could put the public’s interest at risk by jeopardizing sensitive negotiations or chilling the necessarily frank discussion needed to reach certain decisions. The Statutes provide carefully defined instances in which Council may conduct its business in closed session. In order to protect the information provided during closed sessions and to facilitate the collegiality in which the Council must function to do the best job it can for the public, individual councilors are expected to respect the confidential nature of all information and discussion taking place during closed sessions and further are expected to refrain from public comment about closed sessions.

Wismer asserted at the Sept. 18 County Council meeting that Chiravalle has twice breached the confidentiality of issues discussed by Council in closed meetings - including the recent disclosure that NADG is pulling out of the Trinity Site project.

Chiravalle, who is running for re-election, issued a statement to the Los Alamos Daily Post Saturday Sept. 22, responding to Wismer's claims that he has spoken publicly about confidential Council matters.

Chiravalle announced the pullout by the developer during a Sept. 11 interview with KRSN Morning Show Co-host Nancy Coombs.

Chiravalle's statement:

"I have never broken the confidentiality of closed session discussions. Councilor Wismer’s allegation is unfounded and absurd. It is a political cheap shot.

I was not present at the closed session on Sept. 11 when the Trinity site was discussed. During the regular public session that followed the council chair announced to the public that there would be a special public meeting on Sept. 24 to discuss the Trinity site.

A staff member informed me about the subject of the special public meeting. No one told me that this subject was a secret. Why was it a secret?

When a special public meeting is scheduled our community has a right to know the subject of the meeting so that citizens can be engaged in the process.

The council needs to be more transparent with its agenda, especially concerning an issue as important as the Trinity Site development."

Wismer reponded Saturday to Chiravalle's statement as follows:

I read in today's Los Alamos Daily Post, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle’s response to my concern over his decision to disclose information discussed in closed session. 

I must say that I am deeply disappointed in his response, both on a personal and a professional level. 

He says the allegation is “unfounded and absurd;” I had hoped he would admit his mistake and take responsibility for his actions. Obviously I misjudged him.

The issue of the NADG assignment of developer responsibilities was discussed over the course of a number of closed sessions, covering the last few months. 

Councilor Chiravalle has participated in many of those sessions and was well aware of the details, especially given the specificity he provided when discussing the issue on KRSN. 

Councilor Chiravalle claims the public has a right to know. As Councilor Chiravalle and all the members of Council know, we are guided by the Open Meetings Act, NMSA 1978, Chapter 10, Article 15. 

When I need clarification of the Act, I often refer to the “Open Meetings Act Compliance Guide” provided by the Office of New Mexico Attorney General Gary K. King.  

The Act clearly states that, in general, “the formation of public policy or the conduct of business by vote shall not be conducted in closed meetings.”  

Subsection H of the Act provides for exceptions and the clear rationale for those exceptions is for confidentiality. 

The closed sessions, which Chiravalle participated in, were held under the exception that speaks to the discussion of the purchase, acquisition or disposal of real property. 

The Council discussions regarding NADG’s decision to allow Smith’s to assume the development rights have been difficult. 

There were real expectations by all parties involved those discussions would be held in confidence, as per the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Act’s exceptions. 

The Council’s credibility was put at risk when the substance of those discussions was disclosed prematurely by Councilor Chiravalle. 

As a case in point, prior to his disclosure, there was a local small business owner who had been in negotiations with NADG to lease retail space.

Once the disclosure was made prematurely, the negotiations with NADG ceased and the small business owner lost $4,000 that the person had spent in legal fees.

I am deeply disappointed in Councilor Chiravalle, a man I had come to respect during the three years I have been on Council with him. 

While we may have disagreed on policy matters, I never suspected he would do something like this.

He and I have sat through many closed sessions and I know he is aware of the constraints. More importantly, we as a Council had come to trust one another. 

That is a unique component of this Council. I have lost my trust in Councilor Chiravalle.

During the Council meeting on Tuesday, I will propose a change to the Council rules that would mandate confidentiality with respect to items discussed in closed session with the hope this does not occur again and with the intent to comply with both the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Act.

The Trinity Site Development path has been a difficult one. Months ago, I suggested this development model crafted in 2005 was no longer relevant given the current economic times. 

It appears as though I was right, especially since we have tried to give NADG the freedom to push forward with various development options, none of which turned out to be economically feasible. 

Lack of trust in the dealings with the municipal government was not a component I thought would appear. I hope we can prevent it from happening again. 

I leave it to the public to decide if my opposition to this type of behavior is “a political cheap shot.”

 

 


Advertisements