BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Four candidates for the vacancy on Los Alamos County Council will go before Councilors during their Tuesday evening meeting seeking to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former Councilor Sean Williams. They are Jim Hall, Keith Lepsch, Gene Nixon and Aaron Walker
Former state representative, County Councilor and School Board member Jim Hall said in his letter that being selected for the vacant seat would be an opportunity to continue to serve a community where he and his wife have lived, worked, raised their children and contributed their time and resources for more than 45 years.
“If selected I would bring relevant experience, skills and expertise to assist Council and staff in implementing Council’s strategic leadership plan,” Hall said.
“My personal vision for Los Alamos County is to be the place of opportunity for everyone in New Mexico. Every resident of the County should have an opportunity to grow and live well, have an opportunity for an excellent education and realization of their inherent gifts in preparation for long-term success. Adults have opportunities for good jobs, growth in skills and abilities, and opportunities to exercise their hobbies and other interests. Families live in a safe environment, are financially secure and have many options for family activities, recreation and access to resources for dealing with difficult challenges should they arise, he said.
Hall noted that most residents in Los Alamos realize many of the above benefits but that there are clearly unmet challenges as well.
“We must not only value our past, maintain our present, but also continue to improve our community’s future,” he said. “A few big issues facing us include our ‘downtown’ or lack of it, the quality of our aging housing stock and perennial lack of land on which to expand, and availability of a wide variety of skilled labor. These combined with Laboratory growth, present significant and difficult challenges if we are to maintain a healthy and diversified community,” he said.
Hall said he doesn’t presume to have easy solutions to those issues but that he has experience with major Los Alamos institutions, the Lab, County and Schools, the Los Alamos Medical Cente and businesses.
“I also know many people here in all walks of life, scientists, owners of small businesses, educators, committed public servants, excellent crafts people, homeowners, landlords and renters. Therefore I have confidence in our citizenry and institutions. There are many thoughtful, committed, caring people here and strong institutions. With good will, listening, our financial resources and openness to new ideas we can meet our challenges and continue to be the best place to live in New Mexico. I am committed to do my best to make it so,” Hall said.
Hall is currently the chair of the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation board and a member of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District board.
Keith Lepsch has worked in Los Alamos since 2008 and lived in Los Alamos since 2012 near the airport.
“I was a paramedic for 11 years that included working in Washington, DC and Denver on their 911 service. I’ve been a registered nurse for almost 23 years and lucky to be able to do work in many different roles as a nurse. From 2007 through 2018 I worked at Los Alamos Medical Center, including as the hospital educator and for the last six years, as director of all surgical services in the outpatient infusion clinic, mostly chemotherapy,” he said.
Lepsch said in 2018, he started in my current position as a flight nurse/preceptor/dual role for Classic Air Medical, the red and white EMS helicopter service in town.
“I really enjoy being a flight nurse. Flying on a helicopter is just always fun and amazing, and I love the challenge of caring for the most critically ill and injured patients. Perhaps what I enjoy most is via kindness, compassion and expert critical care is to make a positive difference for my patients, their families and my coworkers,” Lepsch said.
He said he has an amazing and beautiful family. His son is a first grader at Aspen Elementary and his wife, who is also a nurse, is pursuing her nurse practitioner degree.
“When I am not working, I ride my bicycle, often with my son in tow, everywhere in town. My family enjoys many of our community amenities such as the East Park Pool in the summer. We are anxious to play in the new Leisure Lagoon when it’s finished at the Aquatic Center, concerts at the pond, the ice rink and the library. We love living in Los Alamos,” Lepsch said.
He said he is interested in County Council because he wants to contribute to ensuring that Los Alamos is an amazing place to raise his family and hopefully by extension an amazing community for all.
“I have director-level experience in two separate hospitals and my style is to be collegial and lead people to consensus. Especially leading the operating room it was a challenge to build consensus with all strong-willed type A personalities. It is important to me to be a good listener and to understand people’s thoughts, concerns and positions. It is amazing what you can learn when you really listen. It is very important to me to be kind to people,” Lepsch said.
Aaron Walker ‘s letter said he is a 36-year of U.S. Navy veteran who served 7.5 years operating and maintaining nuclear reactors on an operational air carrier.
“I did a 9-month deployment to the Persian Gulf supporting various air operations in the Middle East. That time served me well, and I learned a sense of integrity ad duty from my military service. Serving in the military gave me a sense of selflessness. This is a trait that is sorely needed among our policy makers and elected officials. I have a distinct sense of duty to the people, and that continues with me in my civilian life,” he said.
Walker lives with his wife and three children in White Rock. He works at Los Alamos National Laboratory operating the linear particle accelerator.
Walker noted that he was one of the initial seven members selected for the Community Development Advisory Board that started meeting in August 2018. He served on the board for three years including 1.5 years as chair and six months as vice chair.
“During my tenure as a board member, I devoted significant time to ensuring the voices of the citizens were heard. I tirelessly worked to ensure the purpose of CDAB was met, and that the board was working towards strong recommendations to Council,” he said.
He said during his time as chair, he spent long weeks preparing agenda, planning and plotting rough timelines to ensure the board was working towards reasonable goals.
“I have significant experience with navigating agenda, meeting formats, and the flow of public meetings within the County,” Walker said.
He noted that he has been attending most County Council meetings since early 2019 to ensure that he maintains a good pulse of what the County is doing.
“I have a solid grasp on how meetings are conducted at the Council level. This combined with my experience planning and running meetings make me a candidate who is ready to step in immediately and not be bogged down or lost in the mix,” he said.
Walker said after his time in the military, the urge to serve continues within him to this day.
“I have a desire to better my community and a desire to make positive changes where I can. With the resignation of Councilor Williams, there is a large gap in representation on Council. The average age of Los Alamos County (residents) is just over 42 years old and now there is nobody on Council who is below that number. I want to bring representation to a set of demographics that is direly underrepresented in our County government. Families, youth and younger generations, and small business owners are all groups of people that have been left on the sidelines,” he said.
Walker said if the goal of Council is to lower the tension between the public and Council, he is he person for the job.
“I can bring people to the table and make them feel heard,” he said.
The four candidates will be asked three questions, which are the same questions that were posed to candidates to replace former Councilor James Robinson who resigned in January. Those questions are:
- What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the County? How do you think Council should address these issues and how would you prioritize funding for these issues? (Please answer in the context of 2021/2022 Council’s strategic priorities)
- Describe your involvement in any committee, board, or commission. What was a complex problem that you addressed? How did you approach the problem and come to a resolution?
- In the most recent community survey, public trust in County government was at about 45 percent, particularly in the area of transparency. What specific things would you do to improve the public trust?
A fourth candidate, Gene Nixon, did not submit a letter or resume with his email notifying Council of his interest in the position.
Lepsch and Walker are registered Democrats, Nixon is a registered Republican and Hall is registered as an Independent.