Letter To The Editor: The White Elephant

By BRADY BURKE
Candidate For Los Alamos County Council

Last month, the Los Alamos County Council, through a sleight of hand process, as they are wont to do, unanimously accepted the Tourism Strategic Plan and requested a Tourism Implementation Task Force Charter. Yes, I said sleight of hand.

The County Council meetings follow a prescribed format, guided by Robert’s Rules of Order. Here are the main headings for the April 3, 2018 County Council Meeting:

1. OPENING/ROLL CALL

2. PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

3. PUBLIC COMMENT

4. APPROVAL OF AGENDA

5. PRESENTATIONS, PROCLAMATIONS AND RECOGNITIONS

6. PUBLIC COMMENT FOR ITEMS ON CONSENT AGENDA

7. CONSENT AGENDA

8. INTRODUCTION OF ORDINANCE(S)

9. PUBLIC HEARING(S)

10. BUSINESS

11. COUNCIL BUSINESS

12. COUNCILOR COMMENTS

13. PUBLIC COMMENT

14. ADJOURNMENT

Most of this is boiler plate stuff. Here’s where the sleight of hand comes in. The Acceptance of the Tourism Strategic Plan was listed as a Consent Agenda item.

A Consent Agenda is a way to consolidate necessary, but “non-controversial” elements into a single vote. Kind of like paying your utility bill. You have to pay it. So, assuming the bill is correct, there is not much point in discussing it. Voting against paying it only brings trouble. This is the kind of item that gets included on a Consent Agenda. Put all the required monthly bills on the Consent Agenda and approve the payment of monthly bills in one Unanimous Vote. Swell. Handle the small stuff on the Consent Agenda.

So where is the problem? Something that calls for taxing short-term rental properties, grows the size and cost of your County Government by establishing a new department and jobs and sets up the expectation that this million-dollar-plus project is a done deal, should not be casually approved as a Consent Agenda item, equivalent to paying your monthly bills. Everything builds on the approval of the Plan. It sets the County Government wheels in motion.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the voters and taxpayers have the right to approve/disapprove/challenge this plan before they become encumbered with the bill. When ‘non-controversial’ only applies to the seven seats of the County Council, then seven people have forgotten who they work for and it is easy to pass this stuff. As a voter and taxpayer, I’d like to see something more than a glossy flyer, like a Cost/Benefit analysis with real numbers, before it gets put before the voters for approval. Oh, that’s right, the Council did not put this before the voters.

But, now the train has left the station and is picking up speed. There is an agenda item for Tuesday night (4/3/2018) that calls for the approval of a Tourism Implementation Task Force Charter. Guess where that item is on the Agenda? You guessed it, Item F on the Consent Agenda. And what does it say?

“The Tourism Implementation Task Force (“Task Force”) was created through an action of the County Council on February 27, 2018 when the Council formally accepted the Los Alamos County Tourism Strategic Plan.”

I’ll tell you what, ‘Formally’ is not a term I would use to describe something approved on the Consent Agenda. It’s like putting the Tourism Strategic Plan approval with that of the bottled water funds for County Council meetings. But there you have it. The County Council approved a project that has been in development since May of 2017 with all the “formality” of upsizing your order of fries.

Again, we the voters do not get to review and approve this massive expenditure. Again, the County Council, most of which are either terming out, abandoning/leaving their Council seats at the end of the year, or are running for other offices within the State, already have their coat and hat on and are wishing us best of luck with this new White Elephant.

Why am I concerned?  In many areas, we’ve seen how an idea for something versus how it gets applied and enforced can be very different things. What the Council approves as a good idea, then gets turned over to the County for implementation. Any item that gets tied to this Plan gets justified by claiming the Council approved the Plan, therefore, they must approve the item.  Hire Rental Property Enforcers, like the Code Enforcers?  Sure, it supports the Plan.

So many of these Plans sound like good ideas, but the devil is in the details. We are not told how much it will cost or how much it will generate. I know that the term ‘million dollar plus’ is about as useful as not having any dollar scope defined and Tourism is not an exact science. But, there are no limits placed on how much we are willing to spend or recognition that the Plan is made up many pieces, some or all of which may not get implemented. Sadly, our County government doesn’t think that way. No one comes back and says ‘We’ve looked this over and don’t think this will work’. It is a mindset that focuses on completing a task, regardless of cost. And we get stuck with the bill, whether the completed task is good or bad. Now, we’ll be told that this is just a Plan, but the County government sees this as marching orders.

I’m not sure who is responsible for this wacky way of management, but I’m reasonably certain that if the citizenry didn’t feel so detached and helpless in how our County is governed, we’d have more and better successes. That is one of the perceptions I plan on changing when I get elected. Slow things down, think them through, present comprehensive solutions to the public and get buy-in from the majority, not just the vocal, before we approve significant changes.

I’ve had enough of our County Government and County Council assuming it’s ok to keep spending our money without bound. These people are supposed to work for us, yet, they pretty much look to be doing as they wish. This uncontrolled government growth and freewheel spending has got to stop.

We need to enforce transparency and accountability on both the County Government and the County Council.

Vote for Brady Burke for Council in June and November. www.brady4council.com.

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