BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members voted Thursday to extend the contract for executive director services with Chicanos Por La Causa for just four weeks, leaving the RCLC without an executive director at from the end of August until a new contract is issued.
The decision took board members a while as board members discussed a list of items submitted by executive director Eric Vasquez to board members by email just an hour before the meeting which CPLC wanted included in a contract extension. The original CPLC contract expired July 31 and RCLC board members had looked at perhaps a two-month extension which CPLC had indicated was the longest they would accept.
Among the CPLC requests was that CPLC to be paid the full amount of approximately $15,000 a month as they have been paid for the last two years, for July, August and September. The board had voted to reduce the funding for executive director services by 50 percent under the budget that was approved for FY2021.
The list also required that all efforts to prepare for possible renewal of the annual $100,000 grant from the Department of Energy be handled by fiscal agent Los Alamos County or another member community. Due to the timeline of the RFP for the new executive director, CPLC asked that the RFP be administered by a member entity or other contractor.
Of biggest concern to CPLC seemed to be the issue of the board’s proposed handling of the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research economic study of the fiscal impacts of LANL on the RCLC communities. CPLC asked that the board sign a letter to LANL requesting that they authorize BBER to share their financial information “at a level sufficient to allow the RCLC to assess the study methodology and results”. CPLC also included a requirement that the RCLC contract with BBER or a similar group to review the study and/or “replicate with LANL data”.
Board member Rio Arriba County Commission chair Leo Jaramillo asked Vasquez if the contract extension would be at a halftime rate as approved in the budget or a fulltime rate and whether or not the RCLC would be able to fund that. Vasquez said he believed there were resources in the account to cover it but it depended on how much board members wanted to draw down the funds.
RCLC treasurer County Councilor David Izraelevitz said the RCLC’s budget is not distributed month by month so there is a certain total for director services which is 50 percent of last year’s amount. He said the board is already contractually obligated to pay CPLC the full rate for July even though that is the new fiscal year, so extending it for August and September would mean that the board would have expended three months at the full rate which would be six months at the half rate. He expressed concern that the board would not have the funds to pay a new executive director through the end of the fiscal year without a budget adjustment.
Izraelevitz noted that he had only received the CPLC document in the last hour or so and hadn’t had much time to think about the ramifications.
“My first fundamental question of Mr. Vasquez is, if the board decides that it cannot accommodate your requests, it is the CPLC position that we will just end the contract tomorrow night? I want to make that clear,” he said.
Vasquez responded that CPLC would maintain its obligation as far as the transitional process for file transfer, an exit interview and making sure the RCLC website is properly transferred even though that would extend into August, but “yes the contract would end at this time”.
Izraelevitz said an extension of the contract could only be done under the same terms and condition as the existing contract.
“We cannot at this point add new terms and conditions and force our board to take certain actions that are not the same terms and conditions. We can take these items as suggestions but fundamentally Mr. Vasquez is under contract for August and September under the same terms and conditions as he was for the last two years,” he said. “Contractually we cannot hold ourselves to Mr. Vasquez saying that there are certain things that he will not do.”
Vasquez said he was not asking the board to amend the contract but just to commit to the actions listed. Later he said contractually CPLC understood that it was asking the board to “basically make an honorable agreement”.
“We do have recourse and it is in the contract – that we would give notice of 10 days and the contract would be terminated. It’s that simple. Both sides can do that per the contract,” Vasquez said. “I don’t want to beleaguer this issue or make this a hard fight for the board but I want the board to move forward in a direction that would be beneficial for the region.”
Board secretary Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez noted that CPLC and the board were going to part ways as CPLC had chosen not to continue its services with the RCLC.
“I’m just wondering if this is just the point at which we should perhaps end all of those discussions and just leave it as amicably as possible. Given the fact that we know that CPLC and Mr. Vasquez don’t wish to continue and have withdrawn their proposal for the new RFP and there are conditions even for the two-month extension that they wish to have and there are some on the Regional Coalition side, is this just the time to say thank you and maybe this is the time to just part our ways?” Sanchez asked.
Board vice chair Taos Town Councilor Darien Fernandez noted that having been on the board for more than four years, he had seen the previous executive director leave “under less than ideal conditions”.
“I’ve seen the struggles that the board must face in the absence of an executive director and a smooth transition and if we are willing to live up to the mission of this board in the representation of our communities, I think it’s in the best interest of this board to have as smooth a transition as possible into the next executive director contract. It’s easy to say we’re just going to walk away and end it amicably today but I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the organization for our communities,” Fernandez said. “I would caution us against walking away from this contract. Sure, CPLC has indicated that they do not want to continue with the contract and it was the decision of the subcommittee to seek a new RFP. In the interim I think it’s our responsibility to make sure all that happens smoothly.”
Fernandez said it did not make sense to him to end the contract immediately.
“Rather I think it’s in the best interest of the board to accept the two month extension work through, end the relationship as amicably and smoothly as possible so that we can continue to represent the best interest of all our communities,” he said.
City of Santa Fe Councilor Michael Garcia said he wanted to make sure whatever direction the board moved in that “they did it in a correct manner”. He said it was up to the body to look at not what’s best for their individual community but what’s best for the whole coalition.
“That’s the crux of the conversation that needs to be held right now,” Garcia said.
Chair Roybal said he could understand the concerns on both sides.
“I was here during the time when we lost our last executive director as well and it was difficult to keep it running at that time. I understand how it would be easier and better to have a smooth transition,” Roybal said before asking for a motion.
Councilor Izraelevitz said he thought it was time for the board to move forward.
“I do believe that we need the resources and the time to find a new executive director and I believe that if all we’re asking Mr. Vasquez to do to is close out his current efforts and to provide an end of contract transition. I think that two weeks is sufficient to do that. My motion is that we extend the CPLC contract for another two weeks and that the executive committee develop a set of exit tasks for Mr. Vasquez and then we can move forward and thank him for his service and move on to the next chapter of the RCLC,” he said.
Commissioner Jaramillo asked if Izraelevitz would amend his motion to four weeks instead of two weeks and Izraelevitz agreed. There was then discussion as to whether the four weeks would be under the original terms of the contract or would include the CPLC list of requests. Eventually, Vasquez said that looking over the list of extension conditions what it really came down to was the importance of looking at the BBER study.
“Considering that we had scheduled the director of BBER to make the presentation at the Aug. 21 board meeting, that’s really the one I’m not sure about,” Vasquez said.
He said he was concerned about the BBER issue and that the RCLC needs to take it seriously as an organization. Councilor Garcia asked for an amendment to the motion. Chair Roybal agreed saying he didn’t think four weeks was enough.
Councilor Izraelevitz noted that the four week transition was on the table.
“I appreciate the interest in the BBER study. I have that interest as well. My concern was making it a contractual item. Mr. Vasquez will not be there when the BBER study is extended or whatever so I really don’t see the issue. Let’s remember that the money clock is running as well. The longer we extend the current contract which is running at full payment, the less funds we have to offer to our new executive director under the same budget constraints that we have now,” Izraelevitz said. “At this point we don’t have any confirmation of when and how the new grant will be provided. If we think about other positions that we have left giving four weeks’ notice is actually sometimes quite generous.”
He noted that if everyone understands that the contract was finishing in four weeks, there would be some focus to make sure everything is tied up on time. The motion to end the contract in four weeks tied with Izraelevitz, Sanchez and Jaramillo voting in favor and Roybal, Fernandez and Garcia voting against.
Izraelevitz then made a motion to terminate the contract in four weeks and put on Aug. 21 agenda the request to LANL for additional information about their BBER report adding that he hoped the amendment was sufficient to allay some concerns. That motion passed unanimously.