Denise Derkacs: A Different Perspective

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Democratic Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council

In a letter to the editor on August 2, Aaron Walker, current chair of the Community Development Advisory Board (CDAB), expressed his concerns over his recent presentation to Los Alamos County Council and the response from Council. 

Mr. Walker and I both have been members of the CDAB since its inception in summer 2018, and we both are running for County Council this year. I was one of two other CDAB members who were allowed to speak at the Council meeting.

I was given the opportunity to inform Council of the division and frustration within the CDAB and of the two factions within the Board, the faction of three who have chaired and co-chaired the Board for two years and the faction of four members at large. I mentioned the frustration of having to start nuisance code discussions at ground zero when one member stated that residents should be able to do whatever they want on their properties. I noted that the high level of frustration among the members at large ultimately led to one member quitting midterm, one member not reapplying last year (and unwilling to stay on the Board until a replacement was named), and another member not reapplying this year. That’s three of the seven original Board members who have left the Board in frustration in a two-year period. That, to me, suggests a need for change.

As for Mr. Walker’s presentation to Council, he opened with a criticism of Council for a lack of clear direction for CDAB and an accusation of a double standard in Council’s appointment of CDAB members. His confrontational presentation, not surprisingly, elicited a negative response.

Instead, he could have (1) acknowledged the high-level guidance already provided by Council and then asked for more specific direction to help move the Board forward productively, and (2) acknowledged objectively that Council delayed some Board appointments last year and then asked Council to expedite appointments this year so the Board would be fully staffed. Such an approach would have established a non-adversarial rapport with Council and would likely have elicited an entirely different response.

As volunteer Board members, we are appointed by Council, we serve at the will of Council, and we are tasked by County Code to make policy recommendations to Council. We are not tasked as Board members to criticize and accuse Council for perceived shortcomings.

Furthermore, as Board members, we are expected to distinguish between our personal opinions and the opinions of the collective Board. Mr. Walker has, in the past, misrepresented his personal opinion as that of the Board’s. For example in an opinion piece published in the Reporter on June 15, Mr. Walker stated that CDAB had “determined that several of the processes that CDD [Community Development Department] were following were either unethical or potentially illegal.” I objected in writing to that statement as the CDAB collectively had never made any such determination in its discussions about County code enforcement.

As a candidate for County Council, Mr. Walker is free to accuse and attack Council as he pleases. As chair of a County Board, his accusations and attacks are, in my opinion, inappropriate and counterproductive. And importantly, they do not represent the collective opinion of the CDAB, as Mr. Walker did not solicit input from the Board on his presentation to Council.

I have been attending County Council meetings since 2018, listening to Council discussions and to each Councilor’s rationale explaining his or her position on different issues. I have observed that respectful and factual discussions are far more productive than adversarial and accusatory ones.