BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti was reelected Tuesday evening to the chair position by a vote of 4 to 2 despite prepared comments read by his challenger for the position, Councilor David Izraelevitz decrying Ryti for his lack of control of Council meetings during 2020.
Councilor Izraelevitz was nominated by Councilor Sara Scott and Councilor Ryti Was nominated by Councilor Sean Williams. Councilors Denise Derkacs, David Reagor, Ryti and Williams voted for Ryti and Councilors Izraelevitz and Scott voted for Izraelevitz.
Izraelevitz said one of the changes that he proposed and implemented when he was elected chair in 2018 was the addition of the addition of the Pledge of Allegiance to the agenda. He said he reached out to school groups as well as boy and girl scout troops to lead Council with the pledge at meetings, and that was always by far the best part of the Council session.
“The reason I bring this up is because in this bubble called Council Chambers, we sometimes forget that there is public and staff taking note, and that through our actions and reactions, we are setting a tone and an example for civic discourse,” he said, adding that when Council recites the Pledge, he is aware that there may be scouts watching as they work towards their Government merit badges.
“In our Procedural Rules, there is a Courtesy and Decorum chapter and it implores us to focus on the item and the policy in question, not the personalities of the councilors, staff or the public and this is quoted from our rules, ‘Debate on policy is healthy; debate on personalities is not’. It also states that the chair has the right to cut off ‘discussion that is too personal, too loud, too unprofessional or too crude,” Izraelevitz said. “This past year we have not held to this expectation, I’m sorry to say. We have all witnessed staff berated from the dais in their qualifications and professionalism in public. Presenters, most noticeably a recent presentation by LACDC staff – frankly was humiliated in public.”
He said even the ethics of the wife of the County Manager was questioned and there was no corrective action taken.
“As a councilor, I know that personal attacks directed at me are just part of politics. It is completely inappropriate and should never be tolerated for those who did not sign up for this. We have also allowed lewd language to be accepted as public comment without any retort. There has been no uniform enforcement of public comment time limits,” Izraelevitz said. “More than the right I would say it is the responsibility of the chair to take corrective when such behavior occurs. This lack of meeting control time and time again this past year has in my opinion enabled and maybe even encouraged escalation of this behavior.”
He went on to say that as the status quo, this behavior is completely unacceptable.
“We have to make a change one way or another. A difference of opinion is not a difference in principle. In my two terms as chair and also when I was chair with the Planning & Zoning Commission I presided over very contentious meetings, sometimes with almost every seat in this chamber occupied. One example is the original discussion on code enforcement in November 2017 which is again a current issue. The discourse at that and other meetings was always respectful, civil and even I would say cordial,” he said. “Let me bring up another important quality of a chair and one that I commentd our current Chair Ryti for displaying this past year, but never-the-less an important one to highlight. If fellow councilors are looking for a chair who shares their policy views, who might support me based on this criterion, frankly I’m not your candidate because when I was originally appointed to this position in 2011, it was by a council that did not contain a single Democrat. I was already known for my bipartisanship. I have proudly voted to appoint colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fill council vacancies or to elect them as chair of this body.”
He went on to say that this support of one’s principles, not of one’s political outlook is a historical hallmark of Council.
“I know that the role of chair is one of ultimate trust. There are many ways to abuse the discretion inherent in the position. In my time as Council chair as evidenced by the support of my fellow councilors, I encouraged polite discourse, ran efficient meetings, and tried as hard as I could to be firm but fair. As a councilor, I have and will be passionate about my policy positions but this body has my word and that is frankly all I can offer that you will not discern any policy support from any action I take as council chair,” Izraelevitz said. “Should I be honored with your trust tonight, I assure you that everyone from my fellow councilors to the attending public to our guests as well as our dedicated staff who this evenings forego family dinners to be here through no choice of their own, that they will be treated fairly, respectfully and fully encouraged to engage in our civic duty tonight.”
Chair Ryti noted that he hadn’t prepared a statement but that he appreciated Izraelevitz’s comments.
“I read the Council Rules on decorum at the last meeting. I recognize that’s an important role of the chair is to try to enforce them, however I will note that the Council Rules are slightly ambiguous as it says like ‘too personal’ so that is subject to interpretation. We’ve had struggles trying to define Council Rules and what the expectations are from councilors plus the public,” Ryti said. “I’ve been reticent to make any comments about what the public has to say.
Ryti admitted that there have been cases where perhaps there should have been a comment made. It’s my honor to have been the chair this last year.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to have this role and that’s why I’m seeking reelection as chair. I hope to help serve again and to continue to improve as a chair and help Council go forward and achieve its goals,” Ryti said.
Chair Ryti asked for Councilor comments at which point Coincilor Williams said he felt Councilor Izraelevitz “made the case against himself by himself by his statement in fact being basically a non-stop personal attack” on Williams.
“When it comes to my general demeanor on this Council, I find that presenters often try to evade questions and when people attempt to evade questions it is my duty to get them back on track, to get important questions on policy answered. And yes, that does mean that my questioning of some people gets heated, but we don’t serve the staff, we don’t serve the (Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation) specifically, we serve the general public, and the general public deserves answers to many of these questions, and when those questions are provided, I think it is important to actually legitimately seek answers, and of course, the answers that I get tend to be about what I expected anyway.”
Williams said he did not did not accuse County Manager Steve Lynne of a conflict of interest.
“That was a former councilor. And frankly, on that topic, I do not believe that the County Manager has a conflict of interest in the matter of the Middle School Gym. The fact that I am personally attacked constantly on this Council, that, I think completely erodes Councilor Izraelevitz’s credibility as a chair. In this case I will clarify since we’re discussing the matter of character as you pointed out in your statement, I do think it is fair game to discuss this issue which is, the role of the chair is to bring a meeting fairly to its close with dignity and I believe that a councilor who acts with open hostility towards councilors with whom he has policy disagreements. And it’s not just me. It was former Councilor Robinson. It was former Councilor Maggiore. That is not someone I think can lead this Council with dignity. So therefore I will be supporting Ryti,” Williams said.
Chair Ryti said he was not expecting the discussion to get into a back and forth like that.”
“But I understand so hopefully we can refrain from continuing in that line,” he said.
Following Chair Ryti’s reelection, Councilor Scott said she appreciated both Councilor Izraelevitz and Chair Ryti being willing to serve as chair.
“It takes a lot of energy, a lot of work and a lot of dedication. So I appreciate both of you being willing to put yourselves forward for this. As I have last year, and will this year, I look forward to continuing to fully support Chair Ryti in these hard efforts that we undertake and I just wanted to say congratulations on your election,” she said.
Councilor Derkacs said she actually came to the meeting not knowing who was going to be nominated/ – I actually came to this meeting not knowing who was going to be nominated and once the nominations were made honestly who she would vote for.
“I am very torn. I support both nominees and appreciate the service of both nominees. My big concern is that I did not want our Council to be split and have a tie vote. I think it was important to have a vote one way or the other which is why I asked to vote last so that I could hear how the vote was going. That’s the reason for my vote and as I said, I support both of you and hopefully we can work together collegially in the upcoming year,” she said.
Izraelevitz congratulated Chair Ryti saying he has been on both sides of votes – in his favor and not in his favor and that he appreciates that it is a difficult job Ryti has.
“I did feel that there were issues that needed to be raised and this seemed to be the appropriate time and mechanism by which to raise them and to offer myself as one opportunity to address them and I take to heart your comments that you will look, as we all should to improve the proceedings of our Council and the mechanics and dynamics,” Izraelevitz said.
Chair Ryti responded that he appreciated Councilor Izraelevitz running and raising the issues that he did.
“I do take them seriously and I hope that we can have productive meetings throughout this year,” he said.
Councilor Derkacs was nominated for vice chair by Councilor Izraelevitz and Councilor Reagor was nominated by Councilor Williams. Councilor Derkacs noted that her goals as a councilor if she should be elected as vice chair would be to reach out and engage the broad community and to best represent them in all the decisions that face the Council.
“I also wanted to thank former Councilor (James) Robinson for his service as vice chair. He will be missed on Council,” she said.
Councilor Reagor said he appreciated his nomination by Councilor Williams.
“I think that in the last election there were three new councilors and Councilor Derkacs had the support of more voters in the election and so I think that she should be the natural person to ascend to vice chair. I greatly appreciate the statement of support and I try to be as honest as I can. Her behavior has been collegial and thoughtful and I think she’s an appropriate person to move into the vice chair position. So I will also be voting for her and not for myself,” Reagor said.
Councilor was unanimously elected to the vice chair position.