County Council Candidates Address Various Issues During Los Alamos Kiwanis Forum

Five candidates for Los Alamos County Council spoke recently at Kiwanis. Near the close of the meeting, they posed for a group phot0, from left. Antonio Maggiore (D), Steven Girrens (R), Patrick Brenner (R), Peter Sheehey (D, and Chris Chandler (D). The sixth, candidate, Jaret McDonald (R), was unable to attend but sent a written statement. Photo by Don Casperson 

 

By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
Los Alamos Kiwanis Club

Many of the faces were very familiar recently when the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos held a forum for the six candidates running for County Council.

Five of the six candidates came to the forum. Democrats Chris Chandler, Antonio Maggiore and Pete Sheehey, and Republicans Steve Girrens and Patrick Brenner all spoke. Republican Jaret McDonald was unable to attend because of an obligation at work, but he sent a detailed written statement.

All six candidates either grew up in Los Alamos County or have lived and worked here for many years. Sheehey and Girrens are incumbents seeking re-election, and Chandler is a former member, vice chairwoman and chairwoman of the County Council.

Each candidate was given four minutes to provide information about his or her background and motivation, and to discuss issues they believe to be of major importance and what should be done about them. The candidates were also invited to leave their campaign literature on a special table set up for the occasion.

The Issue of a Sheriff…

Each candidate was asked to say “yes” or “no” to the question on the ballot proposing that the county “abolish the office of sheriff.” Each was also allowed one sentence to defend the stand he or she chose.

The candidates split on the question.

Brenner, Sheehey, Maggiore and Girrens said they would vote no, opposing elimination of the office. Brenner said the Sheriff’s Office provides a necessary “check and balance in local government.” Sheehey said an elected sheriff can be helpful in certain situations. Maggiore commented that he didn’t think the issue was the most serious before the voters, but said that he would vote no. And Girrens, said he had opposed even putting the question on the ballot.

Chandler said she would vote yes, and McDonald also said yes in his written statement. Chandler said the existence of a sheriff (in a town that also has a local police department) “creates confusion,” and the sheriff “has no law-enforcement authority.” McDonald, a candidate for sheriff in a past election, said, “The current sheriff, Marco Lucero, has consistently tried to increase the role of the office beyond what the Charter established,” placing residents “in a dangerous position when it comes to potential law suits concerning deputies who don’t have the same training or insurance as other law enforcement officers….”

The candidates’ four-minute speeches revealed an interesting range of experiences and interests. Names were drawn out of a cup to decide speaking order.

Chandler

Chris Chandler noted that she has lived in Los Alamos for 23 years. Before moving here, she lived in Santa Fe. For many years, she was an attorney for Los Alamos National Laboratory. She is now retired from the laboratory and has a private law practice. She noted, “I have a flexible schedule,” which, she said, is important in meeting the busy council schedule.

“I’m interested in public service,” she said, adding, “I have spoken to hundreds of people … soliciting their views” during the campaign. “I think it’s important to reach out,” she said, adding that she believes reaching out will make her a better councilor.

She noted the importance of the Charter and the Comprehensive Plan, and she said the over-arching goal of the council should be “preserving our character while we are adapting to changes at the laboratory.” She feels that this means providing housing for people who are moving within the community and for new people who are moving to Los Alamos. She would like to see revitalized downtown areas in both Los Alamos and Santa Fe.

In her literature, she listed priorities that also include “preserving and protecting our neighborhoods, supporting our local schools, and sensible economic development.” She noted that she “has an in-depth understanding of the county’s unique structure,” and she said that, “Her experience as a lab attorney gives her first-hand knowledge of the complex issues that arise from the county’s relationship with the federal government.”

Girrens

Steven Girrens has been a Los Alamos County resident for 37 years. He has been an employee of the laboratory for much of that time. He is married to County Clerk Sharon Stover, who is running for the District 43 position in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Because he is running for re-election, Girrens said, he didn’t accept any campaign donations. He has a long record of community service, and, he said, he wants to stay on the council for another term because “some exciting things are happening,” and they will take several more years to play out.

His priorities, he said, are the same that he had when he ran the first time:

  • “I believe we have a safe place to live, and I want to keep it that way,” he said.
  • He noted that we have “good schools.”
  • And he said we have a strong, positive culture. “There is no better place to raise a family.”

He said that during his first term, the county has completed “a lot of capital improvement projects,” and he listed the Teen Center, the new library in White Rock, and the Senior Center (now under construction) in White Rock.

He said he is “very pleased” about the coming of the Manhattan Project National Park to Los Alamos, and he believes it will stimulate “economic activity for us.”

He is also pleased with the latest ideas in housing development and would be willing to put more money into these projects.

Maggiore

Antonio Maggiore is a relatively new face in Los Alamos politics, but the public has been looking at his work all summer. He planted the flower garden on the berm on the northwest side of the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge.

Maggiore, a young man who is making his first General Election run for office, was born and raised in Los Alamos.

He told Kiwanis, “This county is a wonderful town, and I want it to be even better … I want it to be more inclusive.” Broad representation, he said, is the “basis for good government.”

Turning to his list of important issues, he said, “I want to really improve our (use of) renewable energy.”

He said he wants to take a somewhat different approach to housing, working to make Los Alamos County “an inclusive community.” He would like to see more houses sized and priced to be available for people such as teachers so that they can feel more a part of the community.

And he is committed to fixing the irrigation system at the Golf Course.

In his literature, he lists priorities that also include: “supporting existing small business, implementation of a quality comprehensive plan, sensible and sustainable development/redevelopment, creating a thriving and diverse local economy, development of locally produced green energy, and expanded public transportation.”

Sheehey

Peter Sheehey, an incumbent councilor seeking re-election, has a doctorate in physics and spent 30 years as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. At first, he was single; then he was married; and now he is retired from the lab and “working” as a member of the council.

He said that when he first ran for office, his potential constituents told him to go ahead and make the best possible investments— but “don’t spend too much.” They still feel that way, he has found.

He’s proud of the new Teen Center and the new White Rock library.

He said he is focused now on making a better future for Los Alamos County, and that means growing the economy.

He wants to have a “healthy and beautiful environment,” good jobs, good schools, and a good culture in Los Alamos County.

How do we “find consensus” on which way to go? He believes it is by listening and prioritizing. “The more you listen to everyone,” he said, the better chance you have of finding solutions that will be well accepted.

He also believes that sustainability and fiscal responsibility can work together. He said that on occasion, he has asked the county staff to go back and come up with a smaller budget to serve the same purposes—and the staff has done it.

“The county government must continually work to improve,” he concluded.

Brenner

Patrick Brenner is a relatively new voice in local politics. Although he was born in the Washington, D.C., area, his family moved to Los Alamos when he was young. He is a 2010 graduate of Los Alamos High School. He attended the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, then moved to the main campus in Albuquerque, where he met his wife and worked for a printing firm in his spare time. They now have two children, and he is the owner of a Los Alamos printing business, EDJ ink.

“Starting a business in Los Alamos is no easy thing,” he said. For one thing, he added, the sign code here is “too rigidly enforced.” This community should be a “more friendly place for small business,” he said. He would like to “see a business in every empty downtown location.” He noted that his entire income depends on his own, successful printing business. He said he hopes to bring “good business” to the council.

He would also like to see more diversity in the community and on the council. (He’s 22.)

He added, “I am NOT a career politician.”

His literature describes his “back-to-basics” plan as follows: “…Let’s make it easier for businesses to do business,” let’s provide a county policy of accountability and transparency, and let’s preserve a “great community.” “We have a great community,” he said, “Let’s keep it that way: (encourage) small business development, increase substance abuse awareness, continue to provide great education. We provide our young people with a great place to grow up; let’s keep it great so that they come home.”

McDonald

Jaret McDonald (who was unable to attend the meeting) said, in a written statement, that he has lived in Los Alamos for 45 years. He has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Adjustment, and he is a small business owner and a member of Rotary.

In his written document, he listed his top three issues as public safety, County Charter education, and “empowering the less fortunate by collaborating with local resources.”

Elaborating on these three issues, he said:

He supports local law enforcement and wants to ensure that officers “have the tools that they need to help keep us safe. This includes making sure the officers have avenues for the best training and the most modern equipment and technology.” He wants “to engage the community” in anti-drug and anti-drunk-driving efforts, making good use of the programs that exist and those that can be developed. And he “would like to see all of our officers carry Narcan.”

He would like to educate the entire community, including school children, on the content of the County Charter and the meaning of being a “Class H County.” He suggested “some type of video/audio … on the county web page that describes what a Class H county is and how our government works. This is something that would also be brought in to our schools. I would like to make sure our Charter is easier to access.”

And, he said, “I would like to work to end hunger and food insecurity in our county/community.”

Questions and Answers

Once the views of all six candidates had been presented, several people asked questions from the floor. Two questions drew lively response.

Kiwanis member Kristy Ortega, the executive director of the United Way of Northern New Mexico, asked what could be done to engage the laboratory in more discussion on mutually important issues.

Maggiore said the lab should be positive, not negative when it puts out media information about the town.

Sheehey noted that he is a lab retiree and is proud of the work he once did at the lab, but, he said, the Department of Energy can, sometimes, “be a little tone deaf to local concerns,” and sometimes, the county must “push back.” The lab’s success, he said, depends on the town’s success. He added that if the town is to provide more moderately priced housing for potential laboratory employees, the town needs prompt transfer of the land that the lab has promised.

Chandler suggested a lab-wide survey to find out just what kind of housing (and how much) the town needs to provide. She added, “I think we should try to get them to celebrate the town’s history.” The Manhattan Project-era houses that still exist, for example, should be promoted, not denigrated, she said.

Ann Hayes said “we’ve heard for years” about the need to enforce the laws and clean up neighborhoods.

Chandler agreed, adding, “There are businesses in town that do not maintain (their property).” She said the Comprehensive Plan actually deals with this need. It should be enforced; the town should provide assistance for the elderly and handicapped who cannot clean up their yards; and the community should keep a list of providers who do such work, she said.

Sheehey said, “We are trying to enforce the codes. (However) some feel that they are unequally enforced.”

And Brenner said, that he is “not particularly a fan of more control of houses or small businesses.” He expressed concern about “gross over-reaction.”

Editor’s note: Kiwanis will continue its series of General Election forums Tuesday, Oct. 11, (noon to 1 p.m. in Kelly Hall at Trinity-on-the-Hill Episcopal Church) with remarks by candidates from the County Clerk and Probate Judge races. State candidates who wish to participate also will be welcome.

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