Open Letter To Taos County Commission, Town Council On Membership Of Regional Coalition

Norteños for Peaceful and Sustainable Futures
El Prado

Dear Commissioners, Town Council, and Mayor:

As you know, the City of Santa Fe rejected the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities’ legally binding governing document, the Restated and Amended Joint Powers Agreement.

The Council received many letters urging it to reject the Amended JPA and subsequently resolve to withdraw from the RCLC. This article provides some background and context that might be useful as you consider whether to remain in the Coalition in FY 2021-22.

From the March 31 article above, of possible interest as Taos FY2021/22 budget discussions commence, is a comment made by Santa Fe City Attorney Erin McSherry in an email to the City Council members in which she noted that a vote against the amended JPA would not remove the city from membership: “. . . a negative vote would reject the proposed amendments to the existing JPA and the previously adopted JPA would continue in place . . . .”

All the member governments must vote to approve the amended version of the JPA before it can be submitted to the State Department of Finance and Administration for approval, in order to become legally binding. Even though the Town of Taos and Taos County both voted back in 2019 to adopt the amended JPA, following revelations of illegal fiscal conduct in 2018, the RCLC is still operating under its original governing document. The original JPA mandated Los Alamos County as the RCLC fiscal agent. The main amendment changed that to allow for any member to become the agent. 

There have been many attempts by Board representatives, nuclear watchdog groups, and citizen stakeholders over the years to reform the RCLC in order for it to be able to represent the best interests of its member communities. The Town and County adopted the amended JPA in 2019 with very little scrutiny, especially when compared to the SF City Council’s in-depth discussion. Then executive director Eric Vasquez traveled to Taos to meet the town council and mayor to push for the JPA’s adoption, similar to Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz and Mayor Javier Sanchez attending the City of Santa Fe’s Finance, Quality of Life and regular meetings to sell the amended JPA.

The town council held one public workshop meeting at which members of the public were forced to sit next to Director Vasquez in order to give their testimony, while the Director Vasquez was allowed by the Council and Mayor to interrupt, which was very intimidating.

When the amended JPA was brought to the County, involved members of the public weren’t notified as a courtesy by the Taos County RCLC Board member or the alternate that the Amended JPA was on the agenda for discussion and possible action. A citizen incidentally noticed it on the agenda when looking for another matter the night before the meeting. Two citizen stakeholders attended the meeting the next morning and asked under public comment for the item to be postponed until there could be a public hearing. These requests were ignored. Director Vasquez gave his presentation, Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell, to her credit, questioned the still pending results of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General investigation, and the Commission very quickly voted to adopt the JPA with a four to one vote. 

Over the years there have been many calls for the disbandment of the RCLC from many different points of view. I have, in good faith, representing many fellow Taos citizens, attended many meetings, made public comments, expressed deep concern over the JPA’s language under its legal Authorities, and begged for transparency and openness, to no avail. A mention was made at the March 19 meeting about public outreach, but at this point many believe the RCLC has had more than enough time to reform itself. Especially given its recent even stronger advocacy for LANL’s nuclear weapons missions and its recruitment of our children into its nuclear workforce development pipelines, I must join those who are calling for the disbandment of the RCLC.

The RCLC’s voice and unified seat at the table is the table of DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and LANL, not our communities’ voices or seat, with perhaps the exception of Los Alamos County. Santa Fe Councilwoman Renee Villareal referred to a statement made by former Mayor of Santa Fe and RCLC Chair David Coss in the SF City Council discussion of the Amended JPA: “Mayor Coss said that in the case of the RCLC, we’re actually sitting at the kiddie table, not the main table . . . .”

At this time, as one of many hundreds if not thousands of people in the Northern New Mexico region who oppose nuclear weapons production and support nuclear disarmament, I respectfully urge Taos County and the Town of Taos to withdraw from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

If they wish, local governments can and should advocate with citizen participation to protect their communities from the impacts of the nuclear weapons enterprise’s activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and work creatively to achieve the sustainable and resilient economy that is necessary for the future of all our children and all life on earth.

Let’s let many voices be heard!