Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Human Resources Manager Denise Cassel has issued a decision to County Council on a complaint filed Aug. 18 by Anna Dillane alleging multiple violations of the County Municipal Code, Chapter by Councilor David Izraelevitz and certain members of the County Council.
Cassel’s decision is that Dillane’s complaint fails to state a claim under the Code. Dillane waived confidentiality to the complaint which was first reported in the Los Alamos Reporter. (See story: here)
Following a review of the complaint and consultation with legal counsel, Cassel said as a procedural matter, Dillane alleged that Izraelevitz and “certain members of Los Alamos County Council” had violated multiple sections of the Code of Conduct. She said the Code requires that a complainant make particular allegations against particular public officials. The only particular public official Dillane complained about was Izraelevitz so Cassel indicated that her response would be focused the allegations against him but should cover any those allegations against other councilors as well.
Cassel said Dillane’s allegation that there was something improper about the County Council requiring more applicants before making appointments to the Community Development Advisory Board (CDAB) is without merit. She said the County Code provides that regular members of boards or commissions shall be appointed by “a majority vote of Council in a manner determined by Council”. She said County Boards and Commissions Procedural Rules expressly allow this as the rules state that Council “may vote on the set of applicants; may remand the list to the interview committee for additional applicants, or take other action as deemed appropriate”. As such, Dillane’s allegation fails to state a claim under the Code of Conduct, Cassel said.
“(Dillane’s) allegations that a statement by Councilor Izraelevitz on this matter ‘seems disingenuous’ to her, is insufficient to state a claim under the Code of Conduct. Similarly, Councilor (Antonio) Maggiore allegedly accusing Councilor Izraelevitz of being ‘disingenuous with his remarks’ is also insufficient to state a claim under the Code of Conduct. If Councilor Izraelevitz or any other councilor accused another councilor or board member of being disingenuous about remarks they make, that too would also be insufficient to state a claim under the Code of Conduct,” Cassel’s letter states.
Cassel said Dillane’s allegation that not appointing the CDAB members in question left the board without a quorum and unable to do its job is mistaken. However, both the Code and the boards and commission rules indicate that the quorum applies to the existing board members and doesn’t take into account any board vacancies.
“As such, there has never been a time when CDAB has been unable to conduct business due to vacancies on the board,” Cassel said.
With regard to an allegation by Dillane that “something improper occurred at the July meeting where members of CDAB were invited and encouraged to address Mr. Walker’s presentation; that this appeared to be—in her opinion—‘a blatant attempt to get an opposing viewpoint from (CDAB Chair Aaron) Walker’s presentation’,” Cassel said assuming this is true, for the sake of discussion only, “there is nothing improper about that since the County Council has oversight authority over the boards they create”.
See story on July meeting here.
Cassel said that the fact that Dillane disagreed with how the elected members of the governing body exercise their oversight authority is insufficient to state a claim under the Code of Conduct. She said the Code of Conduct states that public officials shall not misrepresent a personal opinion to be the official position of the county, county administrator or utilities manager and that this obligation for board members is echoed in the board and commission rules. A board member when speaking publicly about board or county business is required to clarify whether they are expressing their personal opinion or that of the board.
“After review of the meeting in question, it appears that during Councilor Izraelevitz’ s questioning of Mr. Walker, Councilor Izraelevitz attempted to clarify whether Mr. Walker was presenting his personal opinion to be the official position of CDAB. This does not rise to a violation of the Code of Conduct,” Cassel said.
Cassel said Dillane accuses Izraelevitz as having some kind of “bias” in regard to CDAB, and claims that alleged “bias” was demonstrated by his questioning of Walker and statements he made in relation to this questioning, requires him to recuse himself on all matters in regard to CDAB going forward.
“Whether an elected official has a positive or negative view toward any particular matter before them is not grounds for recusal. Part of being an elected or appointed official is to inquire, form beliefs on matters, and take action as they deem fit. That (Dillane) disagrees with the opinions formed by an elected or appointed official and the actions they take based on those beliefs is not grounds for their recusal, nor is it a violation of the Code of Conduct,” Cassel said. “Finally, the Code of Conduct does not speak to ‘bias’ but speaks to ‘conflicts of interest’ which is defined as ‘a conflict between a public official’s private interests and a public official’s duty to act impartially in the public interest.”
Cassel said a conflict of interest generally occurs when an elected or appointed official or their direct family members will personally gain, typically financially, from a matter coming before the elected or appointed official. She said Dillane has failed to allege or provide facts to support a claim that Izraelevitz’s private interests are served by his actions as an elected official in this matter.
Councilor Izraelevitz told the Los Alamos Reporter Monday that the July meeting was a frank exchange between Walker and himself.
“I questioned some content in his presentation for several, valid reasons. As I had reviewed his presentation ahead of time, and having had discussions with multiple board members at various times, and also having attended and reviewed past board meetings, I knew that some of the serious representations planned for his talk did not reflect the view of the board, but was a personal interpretation,” Izraelevitz said. “I see this as a serious matter, as the annual presentation by a board to Council is the time for the presentation of board consensus or formal opinion and to solicit Council feedback. I was concerned that the personal view of Chair Walker was being presented as the view of the board as a whole and wanted a clear differentiation, which he eventually provided.”
He said Dillane objected to his invitation of fellow CDAB member Denise Derkacs to attend the Council meeting, yet Derkacs had attended and participated in the prior annual presentation by Walker and that he knew she represented a segment of the board with a very different view. Derkacs and Walker are both candidates for seats on the Council in the November election.
“It was only fair that this alternative view be available to Council as well. A third board member asked to speak, and she was subsequently invited as well,” Izraelevitz said.
He said it is ironic that Dillane did not have any objections to a part of the ethics ordinance that he feels is very relevant and is actually referenced in the report that states that public officials and members of County boards should not misrepresent their private opinion as that of the body that they represent.
“I hope that the board at this point moves forward with its FY21 Work Plan, and uses the procedures that every other board uses to discuss differences, come to a consensus, and if necessary take a vote that clearly determines its direction,” Izraelevitz said.
Dillane told the Reporter she is disheartened by the response she received to her complaint.
“Whether Councilor Israelevitz’s behavior rose to the level of violation of the code of conduct or not, I don’t think anybody can deny that he often treats members of the public with condescension and even outright animosity. To have his repeated condescension recorded during County Council meetings gave us the perfect opportunity to hold him accountable,” she said. “When he accused board members of impropriety based solely on disagreeing with their findings, when he (allegedly) invited dissenting members of the board to speak before the full Council, when he spoke to a member of the community who has volunteered hundreds upon hundreds of hours to try to make this town a better place with disdain, accusations, and arguing his every point; he showed himself to be biased at the very least.”
Dillane said she is disheartened that the investigation in no way held Izraelevitz accountable for his behavior.
“Sadly, I am not surprised by it. I have seen over and over how some members of the County Council treat members of the public. Five years ago, when I attempted to get my sign installed on for Boomerang, I experienced misinformation and condescension from members of the staff. This is not new – when the CDD rolled out the new ‘weed ordinances’, hundreds of people came forward to complain of overreach, inconsistent enforcement, and even trespassing by officers.”
Dillane said at that time County Manager Harry Burgess and members of Council “made it clear that their agenda was all that mattered.
“When two community members, Heather Ortega and Helen Milenski, took it upon themselves to try to address citizen concerns- they were treated with animosity, disdain and even threats,” she said. “We have a problem in this town. When public servants don’t understand that they are there to serve the public, we have a problem. When County managers, County councilors, and CDD staff treat the public with disdain over and over, we have a problem. The only way we can ever hope to change it is for the County to start policing itself. This was an opportunity for them to do just that and they have failed.”
Dillane said she volunteered to serve on the CDAB so that she might have an opportunity to help fix a system that has been seen by the public to be abusive.
“I still hope that I can continue to do that. If members of the public would like to voice their concerns, please reach out to me or any members of the CDAB,” she said.