BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Two Los Alamos County residents are raising issues with Los Alamos County Council concerning an agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting regarding the appointment of Steven Lynne as County Manager and approval of an employment agreement with Lynne.
Brandi Engeman has announced in letters to local media that she has submitted an Inspection of Public Records Request (IPRA) to the County for all documents from closed sessions of Council held during the hiring process. Grant Harding has also written to Council asking that the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting be revised to include the resumes of all three finalists for the position and that the discussion on who to select for the position be held in public.
Engeman told the Los Alamos Reporter on Sunday that she became interested in the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the County’s compliance with it most recently during a County formed task force meeting.
“I found it odd that after deciding to hold their volunteer boards and commissions to rigid standards under the OMA, they themselves decided not to be more transparent in the hiring process of the County Manager,” she said.
Engeman said when the agenda was published it was clear that a decision was made in closed sessions to hire a candidate, rather than voting on their selections in an open session as per the OMA.
“I think it’s important for elected officials to hold themselves to a higher standard of transparency in our current political climate. My letter to local media was a reflection of my belief that we have the greatest impact on political changes at the local level,” she said.
Engeman said it has been noted that a citizen panel was consulted for input representing the community during the hiring process, but that the community does not have a clear understanding of how that panel influenced the final decision to hire Council’s preferred candidate.
Harding told the Los Alamos Reporter Saturday evening that he noticed in the published agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting that an offer had been made to Lynne for the County Manager position. He said the packet states that alternative actions the Council could take are to alter the packet or reject it which he presumed would mean that the search would start again.
Harding said he believes that because the Council will be voting for or against Lynne as County Manager and not choosing among all three finalists in a public meeting, it appears that Council decided in a closed session to offer Lynne the position. Harding said he told Councilors in an email that while it’s technically a non-binding decision, when the alternative is to restart a multi-week search process, he doesn’t see how doing that would be “a realistic choice”.
Harding said he wants to know what questions were asked and how the three finalists responded as well as what input the citizen panel gave on the final three. He said the criteria Council used to make their decision to hire Lynne was not made public.
Harding also expressed concern that the end portion of the hiring process circumvents the OMA and is adverse to the County’s expressed strategic goal of increased transparency. He said he recommended in an email to Council that transparency be improved by including the resumes of all three finalists in Tuesday’s agenda packet and then voting for the person who was to get the job and then approving a contract for that person.
“The public should be told the general results of the citizen and County management staff team panel and how those were factored into Council’s decision,” Harding said.
Council also conducted a survey of the community to determine what factors should be considered in hiring a County Manager. The results of that survey have not been made public.
“Of course, I am not asking that personal information or even the totality of the interviews be made public, but I think the decision is, as laid out in the agenda packet, to select Mr. Lynne or start the process over, then it is a decision under duress. I believe the public deseves and has a right to know what the factors were that contributed to the selection of a final candidate for County Manager,” Harding said.
Harding said in response to an email, Council Chair Randy Ryti had sent him an excerpt from the New Mexico Attorney General’s OMA guide on limited personnel matters which Ryti hoped would help him understand the how the hiring process comports with the law. He said Ryti told him limited personnal matters may be discussed in a closed session, but the vote occurs in an open meeting. Ryti told Harding he had asked that staff include the process Council used as well as the questions posed by each panel in the agenda package.
“Comments from the panels likely include opinion and as far as records are concerned those are in a special category. I have included the public in the process. First, by laying out the process and discussing in open session, getting public input on manager attributes, holding an open house for the finalists, and including a public panel. When it comes to next week, Council could decide to pull the item from the agenda, or as you indicate in your email start the process over. I’m sure we can always work on being more transparent and I would appreciate any suggestions you have on that objective,” Ryti’s email to Harding said.
The other two candidates for the position who made it to the final three were Erin Reinders, City Manager of Unalaska, Alaska, and Leandro Cordova who is currently the Finance Director of the New Mexico Association of Counties. It is not known whether or not Reinders and Cordova were notified prior to the agenda being made public Friday, that the appointment and employment agreement in Lynne’s name were on the agenda.