Fuller Lodge was filled to the rafters for Thursday’s County Council Candidates Forum sponsored by the County and conducted by the Los Alamos League of Women Voters. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
League of Women Voters President Barbara Calef introduces Council candidates from left, Republicans James Chrobocinski, John Bliss, Bill McKerley and Rick Reiss and Democrats Michael Redondo, David Izraelevitz, Andrea Cunningham and Susan O’Leary. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
The Los Alamos League of Women Voters conducted an election forum Thursday evening at Fuller Lodge with the eight candidates vying for four seats on the Los Alamos County Council.
A large crowd of potential voters listened to the four Democrats and four Republicans share their ideas for making Los Alamos a better place.
League President Babara Calef moderated the event with assistance from League members and members of the Los Alamos Hilltalkers speech and debate team. Unopposed candidates Christine Chandler (probate judge) and Karyl Ann Armbruster (public education commission) also made statements at the forum.
The evening began with an election overview from County Clerk Sharon Stover. Stover explained that the newly purchased voting machines the County is using for the first time in this election scan the ballots. It’s important for voters to remember the slogan “listen for the bell and all is well,” as a reminder that even though the ballot has disappeared into the machine, the vote is not recorded until it is completely scanned and the bell sounds.
The Council forum got underway with opening statements by Council candidates done in order of appearance on the ballot, with the Republicans going first. Questions were posed by the League and then by the audience. Closing statements were in reverse order of ballot position.
James Chrobocinski led off by saying he is running for Council because of his son JJ. Making Los Alamos a better place for youth is one of Chrobocinski’s chief goals, he said.
“I think the County needs to make more effort here,” he said.
Chrobocinski stressed his ties to Los Alamos. His grandfather came to town in 1944 and both he and his mother were raised here. Many family members live in town and “I came home as soon as I could,” Chrobocinski said.
Chrobocinski is the owner of Zia Realty Group, which he opened on his return to town a few years ago. He also is a registered nurse and works part-time at Los Alamos Medical Center.
“I combine the experience of a business person with the compassion of a nurse,” he said.
Making things easier for businesses to come to Los Alamos and do business here is Chrobocinski’s second major goal, he said. Chrobocinski related his own problems with getting a sign installed at his business due to the complexity of the permit process.
John Bliss, a Los Alamos resident for 17 years, said he believes the County has a lot of potential for a broader economic base, which can be enhanced by allocating public dollars effectively.
“I bring leadership to the Council, but also “followership,” Bliss said. “I’ll work toward consensus. I’ll ask questions, especially on the County budget and the costs to tax payers.”
The role of the Council is to lead and the role of County staff is to manage, Bliss said.
“We need to stop doing what doesn’t work and make it easy to do the right things” Bliss said.
Billy McCerley said he believes public service is a patriotic duty.
“I’m a conservative,” he said. “My political views come from the founding fathers … I will offer dignity, honesty and respect to my constituants.”
Rick Reiss has served on Council since September 2012. Reiss stressed his decision-making ability and experience, as well as his willingness to devote the necessary time and energy to study the issues the Council must decide.
“I’ve worked with the County as a business owner,” Reiss said. “I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve been in the office. I’ve been in the weeds. I’ve even been in the trash,” he said, referring to his experience with solid waste management.
Michael Redondo led off for the Democratic candidates. Redondo came to Los Alamos at age 3 and returned to town for good after getting a Master of Community and Regional Planning and Natural Resources Planning degree.
“This is an absolutely amazing place. I was lucky to grow up here and I feel a responsibility to give back,” Redondo said.
Redondo stressed his experience on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the board of the Los Alamos Historical Society.
“I have skills and viewpoints that are different and important,” he said.
David Izraelevitz was appointed to the Council three years ago to fill a vacancy and is seeking re-election.
“I’m proud of my record as a good steward of tax dollars,” he said.
Izraelevitz pointed to the success of the Trinity Site project (Smith’s Marketplae), which he believes will keep shoppers on the Hill, the upcoming new Teen Center, and the new White Rock Library and Senior Center as some of his accomplishments.
“I’m a realist,” Izraelevitz said. “I’ll ask tough questions of County staff as well as support them.”
Andrea Cunningham stressed her experiences as a woman, a mom and as a medical professional (Cunningham is a public health nurse) as bringing needed diversity to the Council. It is important to have varying skill sets and voices in the Council, she said. She says she wants to be a spokesperson for families.
“Volunteerism is the hub on which our community is based,” Cunningham said. “We’re all here to make a difference.”
Susan O’Leary said her MBA and experience as vice president of the Washington Post Advertising Department have provided her with skills that will be useful in solving problems within the County. She stressed the importance of planning and cost analysis in making informed decisions for the future of the County.
“When I do something, I jump in with both feet,” O’Leary said. “I’ll work to make Los Alamos a place where special things happen.”
Questions from the League and from the audience stressed economic and business issues and environmental sustainability.
In the area of sustainability and environmental stewardship, the group agreed that it is important to balance costs with effective solutions. Redondo said that, as an example the County could have forgone the snazzy entrance to the Municipal Building and put solar panels on the roof instead. Chrobocinski pointed to a program he spearheaded in Corpus Christi, in which roll carts measured the amount of recycling and gave residents credits for recycling based on the amounts.
With regards to questions about the economy, the would-be County Councilors provided a broad range of answers.
O’Leary said the number one goal of the County should be to support Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“The Lab is the golden goose. We should be helping the Lab with recruitment and retention by making Los Alamos a great place to live,” she said.
O’Leary said she does not see drastic decreases in Lab funding on the horizon, and she also supports helping other businesses to thrive.
“Small business owners feel like they are not valued,” she said.
O’Leary suggested creating a scorecard of key metrics that illustrate how interactions with small businesses and County staff are being handled. O’Leary said enforcing regulations uniformly and consistently, as well as being reasonable and willing to learn will improve and strengthen the business climate.
Cunningham stressed the importance of attracting new families to Los Alamos to sustain business growth.
“Our community is aging. We need to bring people in to diversify economically,” she said.
She said both increased tourism and attracting new citizens can aid this goal. Cunningham said the Council and County staff should ask companies that decided not to locate here why they made that decision.
“Housing that’s affordable will draw employees to this area,” Cunningham said, adding that it’s important to look at how land transfers from LANL are used and how the County brings essential services, such as utilities to areas being developed.
In the regulatory realm, Cunningham suggested an ordinance requiring registration of vacant property and fines imposed if property becomes derelict.
“If it becomes unprofitable to leave property vacant, perhaps rents will go down,” she said.
Izraelevitz said he feels LANL is why Los Alamos will continue to succeed.
“We need to make sure the community is a positive attractor,” he said.
Los Alamos competes with places such as the Bay Area for consideration by potential Lab employees, he said. One way to improve the schools is to get more kids in them by bringing new residents to town, Izraelevitz said. He said that the success of Los Alamos National Bank was one of the things that convinced him the town was here to stay.
“We are positioned to move forward,” he said. “We need to get past the idea the Lab is closing.”
Izraelevitz said getting foot traffic into downtown is paramount to supporting small retail and service businesses. High speed Internet is also key to improving the business climate, he said. In the regulatory area, Izraelevitz said the development code needs to be updated and recommended looking at codes used in other municipalities.
Redondo stressed affordable housing as an economic driver.
“Businesses need employees who can afford to live here,” he said adding that tourism is also important.
“We need to work on ways to attract people and get them to stay here. A couple thousand more people would be a huge boon to our businesses,” he said. “We should take a look at the development code … It was written in the late ‘60s and technology has changed. We need to make the code more flexible.”
Reiss said essential services and infrastructure, such as high speed Internet were key to attracting more people to Los Alamos. Developing available land in White Rock and streamlining the development process are goals he thinks are important.
Reiss said it is important to rebuild County reserves because, “we are not in control of the Lab.” He pointed to high altitude sports as an attractor to the community for visitors and residents alike. He pointed to businesses such as the Co+op Market, which were started with local private investment as a model. Reiss stressed the importance of balancing regulation with being business friendly. He said steps are being taken to improve the permitting process and to make the attitude at the County more business friendly.
McKerley said better communication with LANL is important. He said that reaching out to the younger members of the population about what they want is essential. One suggestion he thinks bears investigating is building a zip line.
“We need to let the free market get busy and make things happen, while the County supports it with infrastructure,” McKerley said. “We need to pull back on rules and regulations by 10 percent.”
McKerley stressed listening to small business owners.
“We need to work better with small businesses,” he said. “We could benefit from high tech and from Taco Bell.”
Bliss also pointed to supporting business with infrastructure and diversifying the economy. High speed Internet is especially essential, he said.
“We need to capture people who come to town and then leave,” Bliss said.
People commuting from LANL through White Rock need to become consumers of local businesses, he said. Because of the aging state of housing in the County, it’s important to help people through the code process, which he called “a nightmare.”
Chrobocinski said small businesses could benefit from a “one-stop shop,” where a project manager assigned to them guides them through the processes.
“We need rules, but we need government to help people understand and achieve them,” he said.
“The number one thing the County can do for businesses is get the heck out of the way,” Chrobocinski said. “We can be the technological capitol of the world. We need to capitalize on the brilliant minds that are here.”
Chrobocinski suggested seeking the assistance of small business owners in planning for the future.
“They are the ones who have the answers,” he said.
The evening ended with thank yous and handshakes all around, with the candidates congratulating each other on their performances.
Citizens packed Fuller Lodge for Thursday’s Council candidates forum. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
League of Women Voters President Barbara Calef explains the forum ground rules. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Probate Judge Christine Chandler is running unopposed in her bid for reelction. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos resident Skip Dunn questions Council candidates about their stand on the environment. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Public Education Commission candidate Karyl Ann Armbruster addresses the crowd. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers volunteered at the forum. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers kept the forum on time. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com