By RANDALL RYTI
Los Alamos County Council
The thing I have most enjoyed about my first campaign for public office is getting to meet citizens and hear firsthand their concerns about County government as well as areas where they think the County excels. I have talked to most people at their homes while walking the neighborhoods, but I have also met some folks for coffee and had a chance for longer conversations.
A conversation on an issue is a good way to more fully understand the problem and to have a dialogue on possible solutions. My opinion is that anyone running for elected office should spend more time listening to people than talking. We can certainly do that while we campaign, and it should be a goal for elected officials as well.
Here are the topics areas with the most comments from my experience listening to voters:
- Code enforcement (notice of violations [NOVs])
While a majority of people had concerns, many had no immediate issues to bring up at the time. I would not assume these latter people had no concerns whatsoever, however, because issues would frequently arise during conversations.
Regarding code enforcement, I got more comments during the primary season than over the summer and fall. Most people thought we needed some codes to ensure health and safety but were concerned about the level and equity of enforcement. Receiving fewer comments more recently might be related to the actions that the Council took to establish a new Community Development Board. This board is reviewing the NOVs to recommend to Council possible changes to the Charter or code enforcement.
Development is a general topic that really touches upon other key concerns such as adequate funding for infrastructure, having excellent schools, and maintaining a small town atmosphere. Most people recognize that certain prominent vacant commercial properties represent current eyesores and potential opportunities for the future. Even with agreement on some development issues, opinions varied on how to manage or promote development.
A variety of social issues were also of concern to voters. Some were related to access to public health services and mental health support services in particular. A lack of counselors is an issue for Los Alamos and also regionally. We should look to develop a solution in partnership with our neighbors. I also heard concerns about the management of the County-run animal shelter; alternate models for running an animal shelter that may address these concerns were presented at a Council work session earlier this year.
Spending, and in particular good fiscal management, has continued to be a topic of interest to many voters. To a large degree, spending influences the other topics that concern citizens. Spending also ties into revenue and the continuing uncertainty regarding Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) revenue. Ultimately, and regardless of the amount of GRT, voters expect Council to make sound financial decisions. While some decisions, such as to fund capital projects, can be put off, we cannot put all decisions on hold (such as those related to public safety) and we must take appropriate actions to minimize our risk if the GRT revenues are reduced.
I would like to hear your thoughts on how the Council can better communicate with the community with the goal of understanding and solving our problems.