Rick Reiss, who leaves his position of Los County Council Dec. 31, tells stories from his six years in office during an interview with the Los Alamos Reporter. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Outgoing Los Alamos County Councilor Rick Reiss sat down with the Los Alamos Reporter as he marked what jokingly called his 75th month anniversary on the Council.
Reiss, who has been on the Council since September 2012, noted he can’t honestly say he went in with an agenda.
“I went in with more of a perspective. I’m not a Lab employee. I don’t know anything about environmental management, but I had worked with almost every department in the County and I’ve put in roads, water lines, sewer lines. I’ve been down in the ditch with them. I’ve been there, done that and had to put up with the kind of stuff they had to put up with. I think it’s a different perspective. I thought having that perspective was important,” he said.
Reiss said the County has a bunch of good people and that the perspective he brought is remembering who they are and that they’re doing their best.
“Cut them some slack. Attacking all the time doesn’t do any good,” he said adding that he has been a strong supporter of the staff at the County.
“I love this County. I think this place is great and I keep reflecting on the stuff we’ve accomplished in the last six years and asking myself if I had anything to do with it. Well I made some decisions that I think helped make progress. We just made life in Los Alamos even better,” Reiss said.
He noted that he was actually in the bottom of Ashley Pond when it was re-done and that now when he looks back he remembers that there were people who wondering why the County was “messing with it”
“That pond is absolutely is absolutely beautiful”, Reiss said.
Reiss said he was also there for the the reopening of Central Avenue after the improvements were completed there.
“I remember when we dedicated it. I was out there and I talked in the middle of the street on a Saturday. They had closed off the street for just a little while. My mother was there and we reopened the thing and I was so proud of it and I reminded everyone this is really nice but you can’t even see half the work. It’s underneath,” Reiss recalled. “ I love to drive up and down Central Avenue in the spring when all the leaves are coming and in the winter when all the lights are on. I like our Central Avenue.”
He said he is really proud that in the last six years the County has made more progress on policy that in the previous 15 years.
“Quemazon was the last big development and now we have four of them. We’re finally putting some rooftops out there. We have been hearing for a long time that we need more places for people to live – people that want to work in something besides the Laboratory and look at how many houses may have coming on,” he said.
Reiss noted how safe the Los Alamos community is.
“I feel so secure here. There’s lots of things to do. We have some nice amenities and we have a natural environment on top of that. I’m glad to be a part of it and I want to do more in it that just has to do with me enjoying the outdoors and the community,” he said.
Reiss said five of his years on the Council were great.
“This last one’s been a real challenge. Aside from the sheriff issue, parks issues, in spite of all of those things and there were plenty more, we still accomplished some things so it wasn’t a total loss. It was just a lot more stressful and awkward sometimes. You can only do so much and then it’s time to move along. My first five years on Council were outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We had solid working relationships, we were making lots of progress, we could agree to disagree,” he said. “I really thought we made great progress – working with Steve Girrhens – we didn’t always agree but he always had a good opinion. I didn’t always agree with David (Izraelevitz) – he always looks at things from a different perspective.”
Reiss said some people study things that he doesn’t study.
“ I’m good on this and they’re good on that and that always helped me. I was willing to change if somebody came in and said ‘we didn’t think about this’. And the other part of it was I really enjoyed sitting down with councilors beforehand, not as a group, but sitting down and thinking ‘he’s going to have a different perspective and I need to hear it’. We were working amongst each other to make sure we knew all the perspectives,” he said. “But it kind of got where we couldn’t work amongst each other or our ability to work with others narrowed. That was a problem. It made it stressful.”
Communication is a two-way street, Reiss said, and a conversation is not one person talking – it’s two people talking, two people listening.
“It’s alright to disagree. I don’t have a problem with that. Some people want to do it one way and I want to do it another way. Everyone knows where I stand right after I vote. One of the things that made it more stressful was being blindsided by a question that could have been responded to in a phone call or in person and discussed where I could give my perspective or my side of the story. It was, ‘your motives or wrong’, or you’re just going to try and convince me to do something else’, whereas it was just, ‘I want you to hear my side of the story’.”
Reiss said he never thought he and Councilor Chris Chandler could be two peas in a pod.
“I like to jump in the middle of her and she likes to jump right back in the middle of me and then we’re off to the next item. I just turn to her and say, ‘No that isn’t right,’ she says, ‘No, you’re not right’, and then we move on. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d work as well with her as I do. The good news is that the heart was in the right place. We may not agree but we know we’re trying to make this better. More important is that we could have a conversation,” he said.
Reiss said his advice to councilors going forward is to always be willing to listen.
“And once a decision has been made, move on because it’s not personal. It’s like you think this and they think that and sometimes it’s six to one, sometimes it’s four to three, sometimes it’s seven with everybody going down the right path. But once that decision is made move on. Go to the next item. Get behind it and move on because the County can’t have multiple directions. That is a problem. When a decision is made if you don’t buy in – it’s not like someone can be king. Everybody’s got a spot. You just need to get on board and move on. It doesn’t do any good to argue about it. You can make a point about a different perspective without beating the tar out of someone about it,” he said.
Reiss said getting to sign the Los Alamos Comprehensive Plan was incredible. He said it had sat around languishing for a long time.
“I was not a big writer of the Comprehensive Plan. I contributed a little, not a lot but I contributed! More importantly we were moving along as a council. That was while I was chair and what an honor to sign the plan that will guide the community for many years,” he said. “There were disagreements about the Plan too. One of the things I learned when I first came to this town is we have 18,000 people and 18,000 opinions and more important, everybody is willing to share them in this community because they’re science-oriented and debating this topic is important to us. I think the Comprehensive Plan is a document that will live on.”
Reiss referred to other projects that meant a lot to him during his time on office such as the improvements to Fuller Lodge and the Historical Museum as well as working towards the Manhattan Project National Park. He also mentioned how much he enjoyed meeting President Truman’s grandson.
“We both spoke when they reopened Fuller Lodge and he as a hoot. I was glad I got my speech done before him. I really enjoyed that and meeting him. His stories were very interesting,” he said.
Reiss said traveling to Washington, DC, during his time in office was very meaningful for him Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Steve Pearce as well as Rep Ben Ray Lujan.
“Meeting Ben Ray on the steps of the Capitol on his way from one place to another. We all know that happens – we see it on the news but you know when you’re there it’s amazing. Every once in a while you want to go to the real ball game in the stadium and listen from way up in the cheap seats – that’s exactly what I was doing when I was there. I really enjoyed that and also it’s pretty easy to carry this community with pride and emotion and emphasis on we are out there and It’s not just that we’re Los Alamos, it’s that we are Los Alamos. It was really something,” Reiss said.
He said he enjoyed those trips because he learned so much about what the other labs were doing.
“So many people in town work at the Los Alamos National Lab and they’ve been to Hanford, and they’ve been to Oak Ridge. I think the Lab tries to get us involved but they know their business is their business. I think their partnerships are really important and holding community leadership meetings. Their perspective is we’re in Los Alamos but we’re Northern New Mexico so we’ve also got to reach out to Taos, Santa Fe, etc. I think that’s important and they need to do that,” Reiss said.
It doesn’t look like Reiss will be bored at all after the first of the year.
“My arm hurts from raising it already too many times,” he said. “I’m involved in the Los Alamos Community Foundation, Los Alamos Visiting Nurses, my Kiwanis group – all of those are big things for me and I expect I’ll do those.”
The Los Alamos Reporter suspects Reiss will stay connected and informed with what’s going on in the County for a long time to come.