Candidates for Los Alamos County Council on screen Thursday with LWV moderator Barbara Calef, Lynn Jones who asked the questions and timekeeper Willow Chartrand Screenshot/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
As Los Alamos County Council Chair and candidate for reelection Randall Ryti said Thursday evening during the League of Women Voters Virtual Candidate Forum, it is the event of the campaign season. The community often decides who to vote for based on the statements and performances of candidates during the popular forum, especially voters who have not met any or all of the candidates in person.
In Part 1 of a series, the Los Alamos Reporter captured the opening statements of each of the candidates during Thursday’s forum so that readers can peruse their comments. Candidates’ comments appear in the order in which they were made.
James Wernicke – Libertarian
I think I would be a unique councilor here because I’m still a mid-career worker, I have young kids so I hope to give my voice to the workforce and families. They’re the engine of our community and unfortunately many can’t live here so I don’t think they get as much say as they should in how it’s driven. I’m still young enough to have dreams but old enough to have some wisdom, so I guess when you my rap, just remember I still have 50 years to live with the choices we make today. Some of those radical ideas are having a big focus on building high-density, mixed-income housing not just for the Labbies but for the people who work in our community – maybe even some of the retired folks would be attracted to downsize to some new housing and free up some of those family homes that they no longer need. Investing in small businesses is a big thing. I am a local business owner here and I’m working to t?ry to start a second business to bring indoor recreation into Los Alamos. I guess that’s sort of my personality – when there is a problem or a need, I try to get out there and work on it. I do a lot of volunteer work in the community. I do trail maintenance, I work with kids doing all sorts of youth programs – coding clubs, rugby, mountain biking, skiing – all kinds of things.
Sharon Dry – Republican
I have deep roots in Los Alamos. This has been my home for most of my life with four generations of my family residing here. I attended Los Alamos Public Schools from elementary through high school, raised my three children in Los Alamos and am the proud grandmother of seven grandchildren, all former and current LAPS students. As you can see I have much at stake for the future of our county. I worked as a patent paralegal for the LANL legal department for more than 25 years and served on the registration and canvassing boards under the County Clerk before announcing my candidacy. Los Alamos is a wonderful place to live and is a unique town that should not fit into molds of other communities. Our local businesses are vital to the quality of life in our community. Council should give full support to small local entrepreneurs by taking a supportive and encouraging approach with county ordinances that are reasonable and fair to enable success of each business – not impose barriers that hinder opening or conducting their business while still upholding its responsibility for building and public safety. During my campaign I talked with many local business owners who expressed great frustration in attempting to open and operate a business in Los Alamos County. For example, interdepartmental conflicts have caused businesses to move opening dates out so far that owners had to obtain additional loans. No business should ever be considered non-essential. I support providing efficient delivery of a mix of low cost, reliable power and utilities to all residents with a base load of sources such as nuclear, coal, hydro and natural gas. Alternative sources of solar and wind are important for peak needs. We need a long-range goal of energy independence, economic viability and minimumization of cost to our citizens. I stand for freedom from government overreach and dictating how we live in our homes. I look forward to hearing from you so that I can be if service.
Reginald Page – Republican
I have been a resident of this town since 2009. I previously ran my own non-profit organization here in this county helping underprileged kids and working with creating a safe place for them to go and develop their sporting techniques and so on moving forward. The main reason I’m running is I’m here to represent – as the county needs to represent the residents of Los Alamos County. I believe currently we have lost sight of that and the needs that surround supporting local businesses, Lab employees and our kids and our youth. I feel that our residents’ voices are being unheard. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last several months walking around talking to people from place to place, house to house, business to business, and it’s kind of unique to understand their problems and things that are going on inside their neighborhoods, inside their businesses that I don’t feel are being heard. I’m not doing this for myself. I’m doing this for the residents and the people that aren’t getting their voices out there. I don’t believe we’re being heard by our local county council. So I want to support those people. There are some things that I talked to County residents about. They don’t even know what’s going on in this county. And that’s an issue and they’re very surprised about some of the things that are going on in the background. I think we personally are responsible. That’s what the county is for is to support our county and our resident of this county and I don’t believe that’s being done.
Gary Stradling – Republican
I’m running for county council because I think there is a particularly acute housing problem that I hope to be able to help with. I value the service of county volunteers over the decades that have made this a great place to live. I grew up as a farm boy in Belen, the son of industrious but humble parents. I worked my way through college and have been frugal and industrious my whole life. My family have been building up New Mexico for five generations. My family and I lived in White Rock for 41 years. My wife Rebecca and I have raised nine children here. They’ve gone to public schools here. I’ve served our community as a Planning & Zoning commissioner, as Pinon Elementary School PTA vice president and for decades as a boy scout leader at the troop and the district level. I spend 40 years working at the National Laboratory as a physicist and technologist, as a policy-maker and as a program manager. We’ve been sent on assignments to Washington, DC and I’ve traveled the world in support of the nation’s national security policies. We have always wanted to return to our community here on the side of this mountain. My work experience is directly applicable to serving this community. I’ve had the opportunity of leading an international negotiation of 26 nations to a successful agreement on the Open Skies Treaty. I’ve managed difficult and unique national scale problems. In the Pentagon I’ve become comfortable dealing with difficult policy issues at high levels of bureaucracy in the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the State Department, Congress and the intelligence community. I learned how to be persistent and to work past seemingly impossible barriers. You can find the details of my history and my views on county issues at my website stradling4council.org. My main objective for county council is to obtain significant land transfers from the federal government to build extensive new housing for the people who work in Los Alamos County including those non-LANL people who we desperately need in our community. I can believe that this will also solve many of our business problems. I’m supportive of representative, responsible, fiscally conservative local government, good streets, thriving businesses, efficient reliable utilities, including broadband, beautiful local environment parks and recreational facilities. Our residents should be listened to and not dictated to. We’re not an HOA. If we want people to do certain things we should be persuasive and facilitate desirable solutions. We should be good neighbors to our neighbors, including the Pueblos.
Melanee Hand – Democrat
I’m currently serving on county council. I believe that I carry a message with substance that is backed up by my education, professional experience, ability to work with a variety of people and my understanding about many aspects of Los Alamos as a long-term residence. Having had an extensive work background in long-range planning for Los Alamos National Laboratory, I think understanding and referencing our plans and planning systems is important to guide a county councilor’s decisions. Through planning, Los Alamos County achieves the right balance of housing and small businesses, environmental sustainability and conservation, infrastructure upgrades, health and welfare of our citizens and more. Everything the community wants and needs is somehow tied to something else and we need to strike the right balance to achieve success. Planning processes consider those complex interdependencies to achieve our desired outcomes. The county has about 46 different plans and supporting planning documents. I do realize we need to update and change these documents every once in a while to keep in tune with evolving needs. I stand for resolving the key issues currently facing the community through the analysis of all the facts and community input and accomplishment of all the county’s priorities that should be the result of our long-range plans and implementation strategies. I believe that the way we will achieve our vision for the future is by working together and finding common ground. It takes a majority of councilors to pass a decision so it’s important to not only listen to others points of view but also have something compelling to say that will motivate the majority to stand together on a decision. Being a current appointed councilor and having recent relevant experience on about seven different boards and committees and long-term experience on county boards and subcommittees over several decades gives me an edge on understanding the processes and protocols of the position, so please vote for County Councilor Melanee Hand.
Suzie Havemann – Democrat
I love that you’re all here tonight. It shows that you’re civically engaged and you care about your community. Those are the reasons I am running for this office as well. I care about Los Alamos and I believe in the adage, “Think globally and act locally”. I’m also seeking office because thanks to my experience and background I think I would be a capable county councilor. I was fortunate to grow up in White Rock and graduate a Hilltopper. After college and a great start with IBM in the Bay Area, Scott and I decided there was no better place than Los Alamos to raise our sons, live, work and play. Since returning 30 years ago, I’ve worn a lot of different hats. As a parent and as a citizen volunteer, I served on many different boards, committees and task forces with our county, our schools and regionally across the state. As a sampling I served on the Environmental Sustainability Board, I led a capital campaign for the YMCA, helped with many school bond elections and served on the board of Quality New Mexico. I’ve been a Lunch Buddy at Mountain School, organized youth summits for the Family Council, and I served on the business advisory board for PEEC. I started and led a group called Quality Team Los Alamos with about 50 small business owners and the county schools, UNM-LA, hospital and Lab employees that focused on quality management and customer service. My local work experience has been equally diverse. I’ve worked for various small businesses, the Lab, the county and the Chamber of Commerce where I advocated for small businesses and the MainStreet program, the tourism programs, managed the visitors’ centers, and I started the Trick or Treat on MainStreet at Halloween. Then as a long-time realtor, I learned a lot more about the perspective of newcomers including our town’s strengths and weaknesses and about our housing challenges from home sellers, buyers and renters. While we face a myriad of challenges and opportunities I’m especially focused on four issues: housing, both the supply and value, and how meeting this need fits into employee staffing challenges and land use decisions; small business support that enable downtown and White Rock vitality along with our economic diversification goals; environmental sustainability to sustain our quality of life experience and be part of climate change solutions; good governance to make sure the county is listening to what is being said by citizens, is transparent about its decisions and is acting in a fiscally responsible way to meet goals of operational excellence. These are just my focus areas. You may have others and I look forward to listening and learning from you.
Theresa Cull – Democrat
I’m running for county council because I want to continue to give back to this community that has given so much to me. I came to Los Alamos almost about 39 years ago for a job at the Laboratory and I fell in love with this unique small town and its environment. While I came here from Texas, I had grown up in a small town outside Philadelphia so I felt right at home. I’ve raised two children here and have been involved in or volunteered for many of their activities. That included coaching sports, building housing in Mexico during spring breaks and serving as a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve also contributed to this community by serving on the boards of non-profits including Sage Cottage Preschool, the Unitarian Church and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I’m currently volunteering as a youth advisor at the Unitarian Church and I’m on the Los Alamos Golf Association board of directors. I have a degree in Safety Engineering and my career at the Laboratory focused on environmental safety and health and management. As such my role was to collaborate, listen and learn about the important work at the Laboratory in order to facilitate the work, while ensuring the safety and protection of the workers, the public and the environment. I was also involved in running the Laboratory’s diversity effort and I served on the Laboratory’s diversity action board. I believe these skills and my extensive experience in the community position me well for a role as county councilor.
Randall Ryti – Democrat
Thank you Becky Shankland, Barbara Calef and the League of Women Voters for again hosting this forum, which for many years has been THE event of the campaign season. I’m Randall Ryti and I have been honored and privileged to have served on the County Council for the last four years, including the last two years as chair.
I am running again because I believe there is more work to be done, certainly in four areas:
- Seeking housing opportunities for all ages and income levels
- Helping our existing businesses to survive in a challenging economy
- Developing a social services hub that coordinates the needs of all our residents, from new born to the elderly and fills the existing gaps in services for both physical and mental health
- Protecting our environment and advocating for quick and comprehensive cleanup of all legacy waste from the DOE.
These are four issues I have worked hard on over the last four years and what I hear from members of the community at the summer concerts, campaigns events, county meetings and of course one-on-one communications in person and by email, is that these four issues are high priorities for you also.
Number One: On the housing issue, while we hear about the need for housing to accommodate the expansion of the work force at LANL, it is important to consider those who already live here – whether they are retirees looking to downsize to appropriate senior housing, or school employees or those who keep our businesses and services running and can’t afford to live in the county. I support the careful and pragmatic development or redevelopment of available or underutilized land and buildings in the county to best meet the needs of the community, first looking at specific demographics such as the missing middle, seniors and those who qualify for income-based affordable housing – instead of rushing to approve as much housing as possible.
Number Two: Local business: Existing local business owners are telling me the biggest issues they have are high rents, the shortage of skilled workers – or more recently – any workers. I believe the County needs to prioritize assisting local businesses with these issues – first by fine-tuning the assistance it provides currently by having County staff, and outside agencies such as LACDC, the Chamber of Commerce, establish a one-stop approach for existing or prospective businesses to develop, succeed or expand in our community.
Number Three: Public Health: Many people I have talked to have expressed concerns about the need for additional resources in the community, particularly for behavioral and mental health for all ages, but also for women’s health. For several years, the establishment of a social services hub has bee discussed. It is time to make this hub a priority and get it rolling.
Number Four: Environment: As some of you know, protecting the environment has always been a priority for me – not just preserving and protecting the environment by implementing the recommendations of our task force and board, I also keep a close eye on LANL legacy waste cleanup progress by participating in the DOE Technical Work Group and attending community meetings with the Environment Department.
Watch for Part 2 of this series.