Newly-appointed Los Alamos County Councilor Melanee Hand is an avid climber and current president of the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club. Courtesy photo
Los Alamos County Councilor Melanee Hand during a recent hike with her dog. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Newly-appointed Los Alamos County Councilor Melanee Hand and her husband, David, love Los Alamos.
“We love this part of the state and we love the community. We have a big commitment to Los Alamos in a variety of different ways,” Councilor Hand said. “We have experienced a variety of different aspects to the community.”
Now, after many years of community involvement, including serving on the County Parks and Recreation Board, the Environmental Sustainability Board, the Fuller Lodge Historic Advisory Committee and others, Hand is ready to serve the County in her new role.
“I think my commitment on the County Council is to continue to work towards making this a community that’s better and better for everyone as the best place to live, work and also the best place to visit and have people from all over come to Los Alamos and enjoy it for many aspects,” she told the Reporter in a recent interview. “
Hand said those aspects include not only the national notorious things that are nearby like the Manhattan Project, Valles Caldera National Preserve, Bandelier National Monument and the history of Los Alamos itself.
“There are a lot of beautiful things about this place that generate lots of opportunities for tourism, and I think that tourism, as long as we keep in in check could be a positive thing for our community to bring money and keep us thriving and that isn’t dependent on housing. I know that the big issue here is that we’re landlocked and we don’t have a tremendous amount of opportunity to expand with our housing but as far as I know, we don’t have all of our hotels at 100 percent capacity all the time, so we do have opportunities for tourism and we’re a wonderful place to visit,” she said. “Tourism will help keep our restaurants open and our shops going, because the tourists certainly do contribute that money to keep those small businesses thriving.”
Hand believes Los Alamos County can revitalize areas that are vacant and blighted and still preserve the open space recreational areas for visitors and residents.
“I want our businesses to thrive and I believe we can create the inviting environment that our visitors and residents want to enjoy to entice them to stay, shop and play in Los Alamos. I am aware that there are a number of different ideas being considered by County Council right now such as Metropolitan Redevelopment Areas and the Local Economic Development Act. I think with careful analysis from an economic standpoint, maybe some of these are feasible for some of the things we want to do here in Los Alamos,” she said. “You have to look at it on a case by case basis but certainly I think there are opportunities that should be considered and for some businesses this may be an appropriate way to help our community thrive.”
Born in Albuquerque, Hand earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design and worked there before relocating to Los Alamos to take a job with the Zia Company, which had a long history in Los Alamos, and continued to work for 15 years for various contractors on the support services contract to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. During that time, she earned a Master’s degree in Organizational Management.
She ended up applying for a position with the Laboratory and joined the Site Planning & Development Group where she worked on master planning and area development planning.
Hand currently works part-time in an advisory position as an operations coordinator and contract representative for Jona Manufacturing, the family business, when needed on a flexible, casual basis.
In her spare time, she is the president of the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club, something she is really passionate about.
“I’m a real advocate for how fitness, exercise and outdoor activities affect health and wellbeing, which ties into the other priorities mentioned in the Strategic Leadership Plan for Los Alamos. Council is talking about supporting social services improvement with behavioral, mental and physical health and social services. My belief is that having an opportunity to provide lots of outdoor activities is good for mind and body, so I’m a big advocate of that,” Hand said.
She noted that the Los Alamos Mountaineers are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year.
“The Club members are a group of amazing people who have done some very amazing things and I am just very honored to be a part of that organization. I’ve been on the board on and off since 2005 in a variety of the different board positions,” Hand said. “My biggest thing right now for my own enjoyment is something called technical canyoneering where you basically repel down slot canyons. We’ve got some here in Los Alamos that we often use for practice and enjoyment. There are technical slot canyons throughout New Mexico and Utah. It’s physically challenging and you see beautiful things.”
Hand sees herself as an advocate for small businesses. Her husband David’s whole family has been in business for many years in the community. His mother had a health food store in Los Alamos for years in the 80s and 90s.
“I have a pretty good understanding of the small businesses around here and we’re also business property owners too, so I understand a lot of the challenges for businesses in this community. Both David and I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do that serve multiple purposes for not only environmental sustainability but driving businesses and tourism. We can do a lot of things that will help a lot of different people, not only the current residents but help this to be a better community for future residents and visitors,” Hand said. “I am a big advocate for how small businesses play into that and have an understanding of the importance of making a community that’s affordable for the people that work in these small businesses.”
Hand is not deaf to how people in the community feel about the current atmosphere for small businesses. She noted that even in the interviews for the Councilor position, there were concerns raised that service people are not adequately represented in the community.
“I understand some of their concern and anger because this town is somewhat difficult to afford. We have to deal with that every single day with our company. It’s hard enough to find enough people that are willing to move here or to find people who have the specific capabilities needed for our company. It would be great if we could improve our community so that there can be more opportunities for hiring people. A lot of people are not interested in moving to this area because of the lack of affordability,” she said.
Hand hopes that through her service she can create more consensus, teambuilding and understanding of issues from a variety of different perspectives.
“I think this is always important. I think we have certain initiatives that we need to continue to pursue. Having an environmental awareness for sustainability and resource conservation I think is really important in all the things that we do,” she said.
Hand will serve the remainder of the term of former Councilor James Robinson, which ends Dec. 31. She has not yet indicated whether or not she intends to seek election to Council in he November election.