BY GARY STRADLING
Republican Candidate for
Los Alamos County Council
The Sirphey debacle, in which Judge Lidyard sanctions the County, is an example of how the County should not do it: “the government of Los Alamos County decided to disregard fundamental concepts of law, statutory interpretation and apply a strict interpretation of the word finding, indulging all possible interpretation against upholding its citizen’s right.” “They then pursued motions to dismiss Mr. Jain’s appeals at every opportunity to avoid having to correct the error that they were well aware of.”1
Sirphey owner, Prashant Jain, rented the former Blue Window property from Kroger, with the intent bringing his popular wine bar, UnQuarked, to that location. He had obtained a building permit to redo the drainage on the outdoor patio. He claimed2 that the internal nonstructural work (modifying a free- standing bar and hanging some non-structural paneling) did not require permitting under county code. His remodeling activity in this property was red tagged by a county employee. He initially appealed the County red-tag ruling personally, asking why he was prevented from continuing to remodel his business. The County refused an answer. He appealed, in good faith, without an attorney, indicating that he had some confidence that the right thing would be done. If you have also followed the Kafkaesque extremes of legal exchanges which then developed, supposedly from a simple disagreement over remodeling a cabinet, you know why Mr. Jain was forced to engage his own lawyer in subsequent appeals. Having the most powerful legal firepower is great in some areas of business, but it should not be our county government’s first line of attack in resolving simple disagreements with constituents.
County Government is here to serve the people of the county, not to rule over them, or out lawyer them. County councilors are elected representatives. Should they not be positioned between the County Government and the electorate, directing and mediating the bureaucracy?
While we may not to know all the details of the interactions between Mr. Jain, county employees, and councilors, listening to County Council proceedings and reading the news articles and letters concerning this client-government litigation, raises questions of transparency, fairness, and high-handedness. What is going on behind the scenes? Why have Counselors Scott and Ryti recused themselves from decision meetings concerning this case? Are there hidden side agreements or negotiations with Kroger? Don’t we, as voters, deserve to understand possible conflicts of interest in this case? How deep does this go?
Did Mr. Jain do everything right? Maybe not. Does he deserve a straight answer? Yes. It is obvious that the county did not do its job of engagement, problem-solving, support, advocacy, accountability, and transparency in this case.
We, the electorate, are right to expect positive engagement from county government. My experiences over 41 years in Los Alamos with the County Community Development staff, both as a citizen doing work on my own property, and as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner, have been positive. But staff change, policies change, and representatives change. It is up to the elected county council to represent the citizens. I would like to see the elected councilors address this issue.