By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
The County’s newly formed Racial Equity and Inclusivity Task Force (REI) held its first meeting Tuesday via Zoom.
They discussed how the task force should operate and agreed to ask the Los Alamos County Council for clarification on what it can and cannot do. More specifically, task force member Lisabeth Lueninghoener, who served as chair during the first part of Tuesday’s meeting, said the group would like clarification on whether it is subject to the Open Meetings Act and needs to follow the boards and commission handbook.
There was discussion on whether a task force was subject to the Open Meetings Act since it is not making policy. Los Alamos Assistant County Attorney Katie Thwaites said the task force is subject to the Open Meetings Act. Others were not so sure.
“It seems to me that the language provided in the charter is similar but not exact to the Open Meetings Act,” task force member Erin Green said. “In reading that it specifically references boards and commissions, so I don’t understand why a task force is subject to the Open Meetings Act.”
Thwaites explained, “The Open Meeting Act is for any public body policy making or any public body that has decided to be subject to it. By virtue of the charter and the way it is written (it) is clear … that council wanted it subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.”
Task force member Kenneth Lee wondered what the restrictions were for the group. If someone approached him in the grocery store and asked him what happened at a meeting, could he answer? He also wondered if task force members could gather if no public meeting had been announced.
Lueninghoener said task force members can discuss meetings with the public but need to be cautious about meeting with other task force members due to quorum rules.
Additionally, the task force agreed to request that council approve moving the task force’s sunset date to one year from its first meeting of June 1, rather than dismantle it one year from the March approval of its charter.
Also, the task force agreed to ask council to allow the task force to present its midterm progress report six months from its first meeting rather than in June, as stated in the charter.
The task force’s charter as well as the board and commissions handbook were placed on the agenda to discuss and gather questions members might have, Council Liaison Sara Scott said.
“What we had talked about in pulling this draft agenda together was providing an opportunity for folks to do a couple of things: Take a look at the charter and see if there were any questions or items that might need updating … and then also making folks aware of the board and commission handbook,” Scott said.
During Tuesday’s meeting Green shared concerns regarding the task force’s safety. She pointed out that being a public entity there is always the possibility of tension, disagreement and conflict with the public. She asked whether there were measures available to the task force to ensure protection from public scrutiny, Green asked.
“I am very curious; being a person of color, I do not want my children to feel vulnerable and I do not want to be exposed,” Green said.
Twaites said everyone is covered by the First Amendment; however, if it became a safety issue – measures would be taken.
Green said the idea that a harmful event must occur before action is taken isn’t necessarily comforting.
Police Chief Dino Sgambellone said he would provide all the task force members with his cell phone number and if any uncomfortable situation arose or if any task force member wanted to discuss safety, he encouraged them to call him. Green said she appreciated it.
Scott confirmed that the council supports the task force. She pointed out that the charter was unanimously approved, and the council encouraged the public to participate on the task force.
“We did take this seriously and are taking it seriously … and we are looking forward to results and recommendations from this task force,” Scott said.
Regarding the discussion on the boards and commissions handbook, one question was whether council directs the task force to follow it. Thwaites said the handbook was given as a reference on how the County works with boards and commissions. The task force is subject to the handbook’s rules, which provide a baseline, but the task force can be creative and control how to do that. For example, if the task force chooses not to use Robert’s Rules of Order, another protocol for running effective meetings could be used.
During the meeting Green was elected chair and Ashley Naughton was elected vice chair of the task force.
The group determined that its next meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 30 and identified multiple agenda items for that meeting. These include creation of subcommittees, discussion of a student liaison position, and using the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) as a potential source of information and training resource.