BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday evening to pull out of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities under an agenda item which also included the option to approve the RCLC’s amended and restate joint powers agreement. A letter from the Commission is to be sent to the chairs and mayors of the nine RCLC governmental entities.
County Attorney Greg Shaffer explained that the Commission approved the amended and restated JPA in April 2019 but that it was not presented to the Commission for signature and had not been presented to the Department of Finance & Administration. He noted that a “not insignificant passage of time” had gone by since then, that some Commissioners had voiced concerned about belonging to the RCLC and that other entities were moving towards withdrawing.
County Manager Katherine Miller noted that in 2018, Los Alamos County notified the RCLC that it would only deposit and disperse funds.
“The restated JPA would allow for the selection of a different JPA but to my knowledge none of the other members have really expressed and interest to do that. If the board were to stay in the RCLC, I would just caution that we don’t really have the structure of a fiscal agent that was intended by the original JPA and that would require some action by the RCLC to select a different fiscal agent to get all of those duties complete,” Miller said.
Commissioner Rudy Garcia asked if it was possible to go to executive session to discuss the issue however, County Attorney Shaffer said the basis to discuss the item in executive session was not readily apparent to him, that it was not on the agenda to be discussed in executive session and that in terms of the statutory basis that would allow its discussion, it was not readily apparent to him what that would be because there was no threatened litigation related to it and it.
Commissioner Garcia voiced concern as to whether the Commission needed to remain in the RCLC to get tax dollars from LANL. He appeared to believe that the agreement was with the legislature. Shaffer explained that the current JPA allows for any member to withdraw from the RCLC without penalty. Commissioner Garcia also seemed to believe that the RCLC is in charge of overseeing cleanup at LANL and wondered if the RCLC was dissolved who would take that role.
Commissioner Anna Hansen responded that the RCLC is not in charge of overseeing cleanup. She said that is the responsibility of the congressional delegation who can actually get more money for LANL cleanup. She said in the 11 years that the RCLC has existed she has not seen a real concentrated effort to diversify the (LANL) mission or to encourage more cleanup.
“I believe that we as the Santa Fe Commission have much more leverage than the RCLC has to advocate for more cleanup,” she said.
Hansen noted that she has not received one email asking for the County Commission to stay in the RCLC but has only received “tons and tons of emails over the last couple of years” asking for the Commission to remove itself from the RCLC.
Commission Chair Henry Roybal said the question is does he feel that a collaborative voice from elected officials in these communities is powerful and that, yes, he does.
“I asked for this item to be on our agenda to either ratify our approval of the amended and restated JPA or withdraw from the RCLC. It recently came to my attention that the approval of the restated JPA over two years ago that we approved wasn’t fully executed. I heard from other elected officials on this board that we had concerns. I felt it only right in light of the recent communication by my colleagues out of total respect, and other entities that felt that the RCLC did not quite meet the expectations that were set forth,” Roybal said.
He said he had been the chair of the RCLC for the last three years and until he stepped down he felt it was important to try to turn the organization around from the incidents that brought criticism to the RCLC board.
“The purpose of the RCLC was to have a collaborative voice for our communities affected by the Laboratory and for much of the last 10-12 years. I believe this organization has accomplished that with a regional dialog from all of our elected officials. We may all individually feel differently but I still feel we’ve accomplished what we needed to do from the voices from these communities. The issues brought forward three years ago were serious but I felt that if we could overcome this situation in the Coalition that we could regroup and accomplish this mission,” Roybal said.
He noted that in the past couple of years, the RCLC has contracted with legal counsel, an auditor and an accounting firm to “make sure those situations don’t happen again”.
“We’ve cleared the organization of any wrong-doing with the Inspector General, recovered misinterpreted funds, and we’ve paved our way to be eligible to reapply for federal grants,” Roybal.
He said the RCLC board sits on “unsteady ground” because of the fact that it has put out a request for proposals for the executive director position and Los Alamos County has indicated they won’t remain as the fiscal agent in the future.
“It’s totally unsteady. For every step that this organization has taken forward, it’s five steps backwards. The mission of the RCLC is admirable in everything that it stands for – looking out for our constituents. However, with the progress it does not seem that this vehicle, the RCLC, is the best avenue to express this collaborative voice. That’s how I feel at this point. There are so many things that just aren’t where they need to be and there are so many issues with where we’re going to be in the future,” Roybal said.
Commissioner Anna Hamilton said she could agree that the concept of having multiple regional counties and municipalities trying to work on what should be some laudable projects is a good concept, she is not convinced it is actually being fully realized.
“The stated intent of the RCLC is to help realize economic and environmental benefits to the surrounding communities. They don’t implement cleanup. Their existence or non-existence has no direct effect on the cleanup process that’s being done under the Consent Order,” she said. “I think partly what contributed to the problems with the Coalition is that the goals are vague and overlap with some other complex processes, and while we’ve talked about the problems with the Coalition since early in my career as a commissioner, we have attempted in thinking about this problem to have people come and address the Commission to explain what their perception of the Coalition goals and mandates are, I’ve gotten very vague input.”
Commissioner Hank Hughes said one of the things that concerns him the most is the fiscal problems with the agency because he has been down that road with other agencies in the housing world where once agencies get a reputation for mismanagement, the federal government starts asking for money back.
“It becomes really hard to rescue an agency at that point. I’ve seen two agencies that were really important to their communities go completely under when they got to that point and I think the Regional Coalition has been at that point for a while,” he said.
Hughes said the lack of a fiscal agent and the lack of a director are kind of indications that there’s not much confidence in the organization at the moment in our community,” Hughes said.
He said he would be really concerned about the Commission continuing in the RCLC.
“I agree with you that getting local officials together in some way to coordinate and collaborate around these issues is very important,” Hughes said.
All commissioners commended Commissioner Roybal for his efforts to reform the RCLC.