Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘For’ Charter Amendments On Nov. 4 Ballot

(Civil Engineering, with experience managing facilities and utilities organizations)
Los Alamos

A few letter writers have opposed approval of the Charter Amendments to be voted on in the Nov. 4 general election, essentially arguing that the status quo should be preserved … because that’s the way things have always been. 

Let’s look at specific issues:

First, Los Alamos County government structure is unusual in that 40 percent of our community’s budget, public utilities, is controlled by an organization not explicitly under our council or county administration. Such disconnection is a likely source of costly confusion due to inadequate coordination of work between the utilities operation and the rest of county administration; e.g., planning, construction and maintenance projects. Would those arguing for continuing independence of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and Public Utilities Department similarly advocate having autonomous police and/or fire departments independent from an otherwise fully integrated county government; i.e., our elected county council and its subordinate county administration? 

Second, apparently the main component of opposition to the charter amendments has to do with formally establishing better means for ensuring that public utility functions are accountable to the our elected council and ensuring better coordination between the utilities functions and the rest of county administration. These are long-established goals for virtually any public organization. 

Third, a more specific source of opposition seems to be establishment of explicit means by which either the County Council or the Board of Public Utilities may remove an errant member of the BPU. Based on my experience over the past 30 years having been a member of county boards, such as Planning & Zoning Commission (Vice Chair), Transportation, Fuller Lodge & Historic District (Chair) and Arts in Public Places (Vice Chair), I have observed that conflicting agendas among board members are not uncommon. Sometimes such dissention relates to community-wide controversy; however, sometimes it is essentially a matter of contrariness.                                                                                                

Fourth, there exists a case pertinent to the present discussion, for which I refer readers to recent stories in the Los Alamos Monitor such as “BPU Chair Defies Board Directives” (Aug. 16, 2014) and “BPU Chair’s Actions Raise Additional  Questions” (Aug. 19, 2014). Essentially, the “my way or the highway” high-handedness of the current PBU chair provides unambiguous justification for our community’s elected leaders to have an explicit means for removing a BPU member who is not complying with established board procedures (see BPU Policies and Procedures Manual, May 21, 2014). In particular, the current BPU chair misused his authority to make a presentation to the County Council that was not in accord with a majority position of the BPU. 

Fifth, citizens should give careful consideration to a “For” vote on the Charter Amendments.