BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Members of the public were notified 10 minutes after the scheduled start of a Regional Coalition of LANL Communities executive committee Zoom meeting that they would not be allowed to attend the meeting, despite the fact that an agenda had been issued that publicized the meeting and provided access information.
When the members of the public were allowed access to the Zoom meeting, RCLC board and Santa Fe County Commission Chair Henry Roybal said he wanted to make a comment to the public.
“This is an executive board meeting. Executive board meetings are not open to the public. This board meeting will only discuss items that will be brought to the full board and there will not be any decisions made today, only comments and I guess direction that we feel might be appropriate for the board,” Roybal said. “I apologize that we do have quite a few members of the public that are here today, but this is a closed meeting for the executive board.”
He noted that there were four RCLC board members in attendance which is not a quorum of the board and asked Deputy Los Alamos County Manager Steve Lynne to only allow executive committee members to participate.
The last two executive committee meetings were held in July 2019 and February 2020. Decisions were made at both those meetings and minutes were later approved by the board. The Los Alamos Reporter attended the February 2020 meeting and was surprised not to be allowed to attend Friday’s meeting.
The full board of the RCLC has some serious issues to face, some of which could be called “the elephants in the room” as there has been no comprehensive discussion of them on the agenda during regular RCLC board meetings. One of those is the revised Joint Powers Agreement which was sent to all nine member communities for signature in early 2019. Although the revision of the JPA has been cited as one of the reasons the RCLC should again be considered for the $100,000 annual Department of Energy, the City of Santa Fe has not yet signed the new JPA and the revision has not been sent to the state.
In addition, no grant application has been submitted to the Department of Energy since the 2017 and RCLC members have not been able to determine which member entity would submit such an application. There has also been a question of who is going to take over as fiscal agent for the RCLC since Los Alamos County Council voted unanimously in November 2018 to have the County’s representative to the RCLC pursue the County’s removal as fiscal agent. To this date, this has not been discussed under an agenda item. There was speculation that Santa Fe County was willing to undertake the fiscal agent’s duties, but nothing has come to fruition and the issue remains unsolved. Although Los Alamos County at this point is still the fiscal agent, the County has agreed to assist Santa Fe County with preparation of the grant application but will not agree to submit it.
On top of all this, the RCLC has been without executive director services since August 2020 and a request for proposals with a Jan. 14 deadline drew no applications. Without the DOE grant, the executive director services provided would be at half their previous level which in the prior two-year contract with Chicanos Por La Causa amounted to $15,000 a month.
For the last six months, the RCLC board has met and has primarily approved invoices for legal counsel and accounting services, but has struggled with maintaining a quorum. There have been calls from members of the public in Taos County and Santa Fe for the disbanding of the organization.
At the full board’s Jan. 29 meeting, Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez recommended that the RCLC find a way for the Coalition itself to become fiscally responsible for the DOE grant and not have that responsibility go to an individual member entity. In terms of the RCLC moving forward, Sanchez said the RCLC gives a great opportunity for so many elected officials on one board to decide how they will leverage collective weight to ask for some of the things that he thinks the RCLC needs to be doing. He noted that the boar is “at the precipice of an organization that has the ability to make some effective changes and be a really effective voice”.
RCLC Treasurer Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz said Los Alamos County had received the application paperwork for submitting the DOE grant.
“No action has been taken pursuant to deciding how it is that we’re going to structure the application and manage the grant once it is applied for. That’s where we are really at this point,” he said.
Noting that Santa Fe County had agreed to help with technical support of the grant application, Chair Roybal asked if the application had been filled out. Izraelevitz responded that Los Alamos County has the application, historical information and prior applications but that the application has not been completed. It should be noted that questions have been raised about who would be responsible for submitting the application since before the end of the executive director’s contract in August.
Izraelevitz wondered if there might be some “privileged conversations” with the RCLC’s retained legal counsel Nancy Long and suggested holding an executive committee meeting with her to “map out alternative paths forward, refine them and then bring them back to the full board for discussion and approval”. He said that might be more productive than just asking Ms Long to participate in an open ended discussion. It was at that point that the board decided to hold the Friday’s executive committee meeting.
Although membership of the RCLC has not been discussed by Los Alamos County Council under an agenda item since 2018, Los Alamos County has been contributing $60,000 to the RCLC annually. The other eight member communities are invoiced for amounts ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. For 2020, Los Alamos County, the City of Santa Fe, the City of Espanola and the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh contributed, however Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe County, the Town of Taos, the County of Taos and the Jemez Pueblo did not. Typically Ohkay Owingeh and Jemez Pueblo are not represented at board meetings and Taos County has had a representative attend just a handful of meetings since 2018.
During a recent Council meeting, Izraelevitz reported that during the last two years, the RCLC has been in the process of restructuring our organization in terms of having a new joint powers agreement that controls its interactions. He said for example, at this point the current structure mandates for Los Alamos County to be the fiscal agent and that one of the changes the RCLC is looking at is “the possibility to have broader involvement by other communities in the financial running of the organization”.
“There were some issues some years ago that I’d rather not go into that led to the Department of Energy not renewing a grant. We’re in the process now of resubmitting the grant application. We have been encouraged to do so in my estimation. We’re still trying to decide how that application should be made. At this time we do not have the historical Department of Energy support that we had in the past,” Izraelevitz said.
He said the RCLC is in the process of advertising for a new executive director.
“Our executive decided not to bid for a renewal and again, because without an executive director and other uncertainties, it took us a while to send out a request for proposals that closed in early January. Unfortunately, we did not get responses so there are several important questions that the organization is trying to address. At our last meeting, we decided to have an executive committee meeting with our legal counsel to see what are our options to move forward,” he said. “I am currently the treasurer of the organization so I participate in the executive committee decisions. We have a meeting later in this month but hopefully these discussions among the executive committee will provide some guidance as to where to move forward.”
He said it’s “kind of an uncertain time for the organization”.
“I’m sorry to have to report that. I think in its history it’s been very useful to provide a unified front to our delegation and to our legislative representatives on different items ranging from increased environmental cleanup to maintenance of the taxability of the Laboratory, to other large and small projects, but again I think this is a time of transition for the organization and I hope to be able to provide some positive news at a future meeting. It has been a while since I reported on this organization but I’d be glad to answer any questions,” Izraelevitz said.