BY MAIRE O’NEILL
When the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board meets Friday afternoon by Zoom phone conferencing, the board is expected to approve invoices for executive director services from CPLC for March for more than $15,000 as well as accounting and legal services for the board.
The agenda also includes three items postponed at the March meeting: A review of five years of audits (completed by contracted auditors Kubiak Melton) by the RCLC’s contracted attorney Nancy Long; a presentation on a proposed Los Alamos County Regional Capital Investment Fund by Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz; and a report on an RCLC Retreat held in February with discussion and possible action on “RCLC Initiatives”.
Conspicuously not on the agenda are discussion of the status of the annual grant of $100,000 from the Department of Energy to the RCLC, which has not been awarded for the last two fiscal years, the status of the CPLC contract for executive director services, which expires June 30, and finalization of the Joint Powers Agreement for the RCLC which was sent to the nine member communities in March 2019 for signature.
The RCLC board has sought the help of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation to solicit information from DOE on the future of the $100,000 per year grant. DOE has declined to comment on the grant to date and as of Thursday afternoon, the status of the grant remained unknown.
The contract for executive director services was discussed at the last RCLC meeting but board members were unable to reach agreement on an evaluation of the current contract performance and whether or not the contract should be re-bid.
To date only some of the member communities have signed the new JPA and several communities have not contributed funds to the RCLC for their memberships. Some member communities have not had representation at board meetings for several months. Also, Los Alamos County Council voted in November 2018 to have the County’s representative to the RCLC board pursue the County’s removal as fiscal agent. This has not yet happened because the JPA has not been finalized.
A report on the Feb. 9 RCLC Retreat is on the agenda for review.
Last month’s meeting, also held via Zoom, drew public comment from Suzie Schwartz of Taos County, particularly on the RCLC Retreat which is also on Friday’s agenda.
Schwartz told the board she was unable to attend the retreat but that from reading the report prepared by QB LLC, the company that facilitated the retreat, nine of the attendees were board members or alternates, four were from DOE or DOE contractors and the remainder were either local government staff or presenters.
“I fully intended to attend but my husband was diagnosed with cancer in January and we had to seek immediate treatment. However, even if I had been able to attend, apparently I would have been the only member of the public present at the retreat,” she said. “This is symptomatic of the lack of communication between the RCLC and the communities it claims to represent. Publicity about the retreat was almost non-existent. There was no information available about the presenters or the format beforehand and the executive director has not presented the list of invitees when requested.”
Schwartz said sending the executive director (Eric Vasquez) to meet with community activists is not what she thinks the RCLC had in mind when it drafted the bylaws. She read from Article 7. “The Regional Coalition is interested in working with the public and will seek the input of the local community and other interested parties. As necessary, and to the extent practicable, the Regional Coalition will seek the input of the local community and other interested parties by establishing ad hoc committees and task forces, and by holding public meetings, workshops, special meetings, or other forms of public involvement, from time to time as may be deemed appropriate by the Board.”
Schwartz discussed a meeting she had with Vasquez on Dec. 18 where she asked on behalf of herself and other Taosenos for the RCLC to host “independent expert presentations” on legacy waste cleanup and the 2016 Consent Order. She said she specifically at that time asked for Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s presentation possibly at the retreat or at a board meeting in the future.
“We have no reliable way of knowing if the board is even aware of what the director says to members of the public when representing the board at such meetings as the one I had,” Schwartz said. “I am also curious to know what happens to correspondence that is sent to the board and the executive director by members of the public. My experience has been that there is no response and that the questions raised are never addressed by the board.”
She asked if the board could possibly add a spot on the agenda for correspondence received between meetings.
“Perhaps board members could at least acknowledge emails they individually receive from concerned members of the public who take the time to contact them,” Schwartz said. “There must be a way for public stakeholders to communicate with and hold interactive discussions with RCLC board members. We shouldn’t have to pay for a facilitator to run meetings in our community. Otherwise, how can you say you are representing our interests?”
She said the board may feel it is getting “great service for its communities for $14,000 a month” but that “something must be done to engage the communities, some of whom are not paying into the RCLC and are never represented at meetings”.
“I am asking that the two letters I wrote on behalf of many Taosenos, one from June 2019 and one from Feb. 7, 2020 the day before the retreat, be submitted for the record, that they be posted on the website and that we the people are given an opportunity to have a discussion to address the growing list of questions and comments coming from the public in regard to RCLC transparency, activities and effectiveness.”
RCLC Chair Henry Roybal in responding to Schwartz said he thinks the board wants to hear from and interact with its constituents. He agreed that there is a need for a community meeting where the board can listen and go back and forth with the public. He said he would be open to having something like that later on in the year when hopefully the pandemic has passed, maybe towards the end of summer.
“We typically don’t interact and I know that’s a concern. I’ve had some phone calls relative to that. I just wanted to express that concern and say that in the future we would be willing to have another meeting where we can involve the communities to have interaction back and forth. I would love to see more participation from our constituents,” Roybal said. He added that he was hoping participation in the retreat would have been better.
The RCLC board normally restricts comments by the public to three minutes at their meetings and does not usually respond to comments made.
Details for attending Friday’s meeting which commences at 1:30 p.m. are as follows:
Join Zoom Meeting: https://zoom.us/j/7487396057, Meeting ID: 748 739 6057
Zoom dial in: (748) 739 6057 Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/ab9QKihTg5
Conference Call dial in: (605) 313-5545, Access Code: 606547#