BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Community Development Advisory Board (CDAB) members heard extensively from former County Councilor Antonio Maggiore at their December 20 meeting in the wake of a photo of Maggiore’s property being included in a code enforcement issued by the County. The survey was prepared by Polco in collaboration with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini (DPS) an Albuquerque architecture firm under contract with the County and the Community Development Department on numerous current projects including the rewriting of Codes 16 and 18 in the County Code.
At the beginning of the meeting Maggiore said he wanted to voice his displeasure at having his yard featured in the survey “without any sort of obfuscation or inability to show the entire yard”. The survey was initially sent to 5,000 residents and eventually opened up to anyone in the County who wished to respond.
“They are zoomed in photos. And again, this is a case of, if someone had knocked on my door, it was an easy explanation. But the current code enforcement as it is, has pitted neighbors against neighbors. I have been the recipient of several complaints and all my neighbor had to do was knock on my door and the complaint was solved in five minutes. A system that does not encourage neighbors talking to neighbors is a bad system and I think you guys need to be really careful to make sure the standards you share are not overly burdensome for those with less means than others in the community,” Maggiore said.
Later in the meeting, Maggiore thanked the CDAB saying the task of the board is not easy.
“I should know; I set it up. What this board is tasked with fundamentally is not only picking standards that we want to hold all people in the County to, not just one’s neighbors. That includes downtown landowners, that includes the County itself who is often negligent and derelict in their own standards,” he said.
Maggiore said that the board is fundamentally charged with helping to keep and create a cohesive community.
“I would encourage you to really think about is what sort of a community to build and foster. Are you fostering a community that encourages neighbors to go out and talk to each other or are you immediately offering those neighbors a cop out and a chance to just hide?” he asked.
Maggiore said ultimately the policies the board needs to set need to be about community building.
“They need to be about trying to encourage more community participation especially in this day and age when everyone is already so isolated and it’s so easy to hide behind the screens. We have to be encouraging people to get out, knock on the door, because your neighbor isn’t going to kill you, and if your neighbor is the sort of person that’s going to kill you, then we actually have a legitimate source for that and that’s the police,” Maggiore said. “If you’re really that concerned for your safety, you shouldn’t be involving the County anyways. As County staff has so eloquently stated tonight, everything is public record; go to the police if you really have those concerns, but fundamentally, believe me, (the) Police (Department) has a far bigger budget than Community Development. They’ve got the money to handle it. You guys are tasked with creating community and anonymous reporting does not create community. A community of tattle tales is not a community. A community of tattle talers and finger pointers is not a community that I want to live in. I encourage you to keep that in mind as you move forward.”
Again, Maggiore commented later in the meeting expressing his disappointment that the photo of his yard was included in the survey.
“I really want to take the moment once again to express how disappointed I am especially since the photo that is referenced is from the time when under County code, I should not technically have even been allowed to be complained about because I had a project in progress. And if one reads the County code, having a project in process, is not something that one can complain about and the fact that I had a couple of boxes of 200 pounds of pond liner and I live alone and those boxes got rained on and were out of the public walkway and off to the side of my truck in my driveway –the fact that that is cause for complaint – is nonsensical,” he said.
Maggiore went on to say that the fact that that complaint is used as an exemplar in the survey is beyond flawed.
“This survey is flawed out the gate on multiple levels. Photos that are taken and shown side by side, zoomed in from varying degrees – that’s not an image that you can present and ask the people to make clear, rational, choose one over the other. If you’re showing someone a zoomed in photo of a cluttered area versus as a pulled out photo of a wide open yard, that’s not equivalency, that’s flawed. It is absolutely flawed,” he said.
When having the survey re-done by DPS was discussed, Maggiore encouraged the board not to worry about the additional cost.
“I guarantee you this County has the money. And it’s probably already in the contract and I would further put it on the record, because I have to put it on the record everywhere – Dekker Parish Sabatini gets approved for every County project. They get approved for every County project and I have noticed over the years that I have been on Council that the quality of the work they submit declines and continues to decline precipitously. It gets lazier and lazier and I encourage you to listen to what Board Member Walker is saying and hold Dekker Perich Sabatini to a higher standard. With the amount of money this County pays for these services and these projects, the County deserves better results and better products than what you are being presented with and it is okay to ask for better products,” Maggiore said.
At the end of the meeting under public comment Maggiore said he was disappointed in the board for not passing a motion by Anna Dillane to recommend to Council to have the consultant redirected to restart the survey using completely unrecognizable photos and completely unbiased questions. The motion was defeated 4-3 with Dillane, Anna Marie Solomon and Aaron Walker voting in favor and John Gustafson, Allen McPherson, David Hansen and Robert Day voting against. (See separate story) Maggiore called Dillane’s motion a very low bar to simply step over.
“I fear that you guys have tripped over one. This is something that troubles me greatly, that members of my community would see no problem with highlighting a former elected official’s residence in a community survey. Regardless of whether the board knew it was my yard or not, if the County is randomly dropping photos off, there is a serious lapse in judgment. Something is awry and it the job and duty of this board if something is going awry to arrest that, and you have failed tonight. You have failed community members in your vote and not simply asked that this contractor re-do their survey with a better, more egalitarian set of photos,” Maggiore said. “This just dismays me and I can’t express any more than that. I am frustrated, disappointed and deeply let down.”
He said part of the goal of creating the board was “that we put trust in citizens to do the right thing and look out for their fellow community members”.
“Here you have a clear example of community members being wronged, even higher profile than usual community members being exposed to additional abuse or skewed results in your survey and you refuse to acknowledge it. I’m deeply dismayed. I am disappointed and it frankly breaks my trust in the public’s process and those people who are chosen to represent the public’s best interest. Tonight, just broke my heart,” Maggiore said.