BY AARON WALKER
The latest developments in the appeals process with Sirphey and Los Alamos County have me asking a lot of questions about the entire process. The appeals process should be an avenue that protects residents and business owners by giving them an opportunity to present their grievances. Instead, it seems that the County is utilizing it as a bully pulpit and large pockets to blockade any attempt at a fair outcome.
Since the last hearings have taken place significant issues impacting the former building official that placed the red tag and CDD as a whole have been raised. These issues would have been present at the time the red tag was placed, and therefore should warrant a new hearing on the matter.
That’s not the major problem here though. The major problem lies with the appeals ordinance and the manner in which the hearings are conducted. The County has deep pockets, and as such it can come to these hearings armed with a plethora of lawyers ready to reject anything that reflects poorly on them. The county also has the advantage of having the Board of Appeals consist of personnel that are heavily biased towards “toe the company line” and protect the county. This time Sirphey has done the correct thing and come with its own lawyer, but the ordinance that SHOULD help its residents is just a façade to litigate issues to death until one side (the resident) decides to call it quits. This is being done all in the name of Los Alamos County trying to save face, and it’s wrong.
Let’s make this process better, and potentially more balanced for the average resident and small business owner. Farmington (https://www.fmtn.org/DocumentCenter/View/20996/ARB_Appeal-Admin-Decision) has what appears to be a reasonably balanced appeals process that not only clearly establishes what the process is, but also sets up the record prior to the hearing. It also involves people that are likely to have no interest in the outcome of the appeal. This takes some work off of the appellant and sets a more balanced playing field for the appeal. Bernalillo County has some requirements that the members of the Board of Appeals must have (https://library.municode.com/nm/bernalillo_county/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=BECOCO_CH10BUBURE). This is very interesting and should be considered as well. Los Alamos County wouldn’t need as many members, and the requirements could be adjusted to reflect that of a smaller town. These processes should be the blueprint for how we improve our appeals process here in Los Alamos County. It clearly isn’t working as written.
We all know what the likely outcome of this appeal is going to be. I firmly believe a lot of people take issue with some manner in how this process has played out, regardless of the circumstances of who is right or wrong. We should take this opportunity to review what went wrong in the process, and look for ways to make it better.