RCLC Executive Director Eric Vasquez speaks to the Los Alamos County Council during its regular meeting Oct. 30 at the White Rock Fire Station. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
The Los Alamos County Council began reshaping and redefining its role in the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) Oct. 30 during its regular meeting in the White Rock Fire Station.
Councilor Susan O’Leary requested the item be put on the agenda and several motions were presented for council’s consideration.
Council agreed to the following:
Affirmed the County’s support for the RCLC and direct staff to assist RCLC in its efforts to effect the changes recommended in the State Auditor’s report;
Task the Los Alamos representative on the RCLC to pursue ending the County’s role as the RCLC fiscal agent;
Investigate the RCLC expense reimbursement made to County employees and elected officials since the RCLC’s inception. At its conclusion, the County Manger will contact any employee or official who received a reimbursement not consistent with the County’s travel policy and seek to recover the money. Additionally, the County Manager will provide Council with a status report every month with the individuals’ names and the amounts due until all funds are recovered; and
Develop and adopt policies outlining the roles of both employees and elected officials regarding their participation in boards and committees outside regular County operations. Council also directed the County Manager to develop materials specific to each of these external boards/committees that will inform the assigned personnel as to the history of the parent organization, any agreements that exist between the organization and the County, the organization’s administrative policies, and any additional relevant information.
The motion for County Manager Harry Burgess to investigate the RCLC expense reimbursement made to County employees and elected officials passed 5-2, with Council Chair David Izraelevitz and Councilor Rick Reiss opposed.
Two motions failed for a lack of a second. The first was for the County to adopt the state’s travel, mileage and per diem policies. The second was that the County Council Rules Subcommittee recommend modifications to the rules to clarify the communication and other responsibilities of any councilor who obtains information about County business; with particular focus on requirements regarding communication to all other County Councilors.
Regarding the final motion, Council Vice Chair Christine Chandler supported the recommendation to educate the County staff and councilors about their roles on external boards and committees.
“I think one of the root causes for some of the issues that arose for the RCLC and the County were that people did not understand their roles and policies were not clear to individuals … so I think getting our arms around what is our function when we are acting on boards outside the County, what policy should we be applying … are very important,” she said.
In a written statement to the Los Alamos Daily Post, O’Leary said, “The Council took a couple of small steps in the right direction Tuesday night, agreeing that we should stop acting as the fiscal agent for the RCLC and by at least holding open the hope that some of the money misspent by County officials and employees might be recovered at some point. The big disappointment was that I couldn’t even get a second for my motion to adopt the very reasonable travel reimbursement policy that all other public bodies in the State of New Mexico use. Los Alamos has a special ‘home rule’ charter, that was intended to give the County special authority to serve the citizens, but the County has used that authority to create a travel and entertainment expense policy that is vastly more generous than the policy used by any other city, town, or state agency in New Mexico, or by the federal government. The RCLC scandal highlighted this problem, and it’s disappointing that not even one other Councilor would join me in trying to correct it. This should be a top priority for a new County Council, hopefully with fresh faces on it.”
In addition to passing several motions regarding the RCLC, council also heard an update from RCLC Executive Director Eric Vasquez about the organization.
“The RCLC has faced a lot of issues over the last year. It has gone through a difficult time culminating with the final state auditor’s report that came out this summer followed by the County’s own report,” he said.
However, Vasquez said the RCLC is going through the list of recommendations from the state auditor’s office and making sure it complies with them. During its last meeting Oct. 19 in Los Alamos, the RCLC board adopted three motions, which, Vasquez said, were to pursue hiring an independent accountant as well as an OSA approved auditor and create two separate bank accounts.
Additionally, Vasquez said support is strong for the RCLC.
“I can tell you outside Los Alamos, the interest in the organization is strong. I went before both Santa Fe County and the City of Espanola … there was a lot of questions, some concerns, especially in the area of Espanola (but) they believe RCLC is an entity that serves a purpose for their community … so they chose to continue membership,” Vasquez said. “I was there when the RCLC was created … I can tell you that this organization serves a purpose in our communities that we would not have otherwise.”
Chandler asked Vasquez if any efforts have been made to recoop some of the improper reimbursements. Vasquez said no, adding, “First, let’s meet the state auditor’s recommendations. Let’s get that done; one step at the time.”
O’Leary said she agreed RCLC has an important role in the region.
“I think the mission and the purpose of the organization is spot on,” she said. “It was a great idea back when it was created and … I think most people in Los Alamos would be happy to know that our community is working collaboratively with other Northern New Mexico communities for the betterment of all.”
O’Leary continued saying her concern is how much the organization has cost the County since its inception. While it isn’t a lot annually, she said over the last eight years the County has given nearly $1 million. If staff’s time is added, it would be more, O’Leary said.
As a result, she suggested the County consider not funding at its current level and RCLC continue as a working group of elected officials rather than an organization with paid staff. Furthermore, O’Leary pointed out the County pays for a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., the RCLC and sends its own delegation to Washington, D.C. The County is spending money to talk to legislators who are obligated to visit and speak with their constituents, she said.
Chandler said it is not just legislators the RCLC and others are speaking to but to high level officials such as deputies, undersecretaries and others in the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration. Oftentimes, she said local delegations are making these officials aware of what is going on in Los Alamos.
Sheehey pointed out funding for the RCLC will be discussed in April when the County looks at its entire budget and he preferred holding off discussions on how much money the County should give to the organization until then.