Reflections On Council

Former Los Alamos County Councilor

The big circular table in the war room of Dr Strangelove had a green felt top, to make the actors feel like they were playing poker with “world targets in megadeaths.” Everyone in the war room had the privilege of callousness for a simple and obvious reason: they were playing with other people’s money. The ending—we must not allow a mine shaft gap!—revealed that even nuclear armageddon wasn’t a real problem for them.

As one of Los Alamos County Council’s only two recent members living in the real world, this was how most meetings felt. I’d attend Council meetings where out-of-touch county staffers would present their latest plans to make the County a worse place, then out-of-touch county councilors would go on long rambling monologues about how great everything is, then the next day I’d be back at our job site making sure the walls got put in the right places.

The fundamental difference between these two worlds is, in one of them I’m playing with Jordan’s and my money, and in the other, the pot is made up of other people’s money. The County Council has the same privilege of callousness as the card-players at Merkin Muffley’s table. Nobody worries about consequences because nobody has any skin in the game.

Most of the Council, therefore, recoils from Facebook like a vampire from a communion wafer. When you live an elaborate, self-aggrandizing fantasy, the last thing you want is intrusive reality. For the interview to replace James Robinson, Councilor Denise Derkacs wanted to ask a question to the effect of—how would you handle a situation where polling shows the public doesn’t want you to do something, but you personally do want to do it? That’s the Council in a nutshell.

This is why the Council should, and won’t, appoint Aaron Walker to replace me: Aaron lives in the real world. I expect them to appoint Jim Hall, chair of the board of a lobbyist called the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation. Jim asked to meet with me recently to find out why I dislike the LACDC so much. The answer is, they lobby for trickle-down economics: further enrich the commercial landlords, and surely a golden shower will rain down on small business tenants.

Jim seemed genuinely curious and interested, but since then the LACDC board has appointed a status quo executive director. Indeed, Lauren McDaniel lobbied the Council for the Metropolitan Redevelopment Area, for the expansion of the Local Economic Development Act, against the Pedestrian Retail Overlay, and against the commercial vacancy ordinance. I don’t recall if she personally lobbied for the Marriott, but the LACDC itself sure did.

But now I need to close on an even more dour note. People on Facebook ask things like, “why haven’t you voted them all out?” The answer to that question has already presented itself: the Democratic primary for the County Council is uncontested this year, while Councilor Melanee Hand is running for reelection. Melanee has quickly revealed herself to be part of the problem, but nobody is challenging her. Unless the backseat legislators on Facebook are willing to take a shot at driving, all the angry comments are quickly gone with the wind.

Sorry for being the bearer of bad news.

Sean Williams is the co-owner of Automotive Professionals and is a small-time commercial landlord.