BY CAT OZMENT
In my capacity as a private citizen
This letter was sent directly to all County Councilors. I present it as an open letter to encourage members of the public to engage. If you have thoughts on this issue, please email Council (email@example.com), attend the Tuesday meeting at 6pm in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building, or join by Zoom at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82683176848
On the Agenda for January 24, 2023, item 16643-23 contains mis(leading) information that requires immediate correction and clear accountability to the public. This is a good example of why many residents lack trust in Los Alamos County government. Agenda packets serve to get Councilors and members of the public up to speed on a timely issue and provide perspectives and options for moving forward. Providing accurate, thorough, accountable information in agenda packets is essential to effective communication and governance.
This is a long email. Council can resolve this issue by simply correcting and apologizing for the mis(leading) information and reinstating CDAB without a lengthy debate. Just do it and move on to the larger conversation.
For the sake of efficiency, I am not reproducing the entire agenda item in this letter, but I encourage all Councilors and members of the public to read it in its entirety, available here.
From the agenda item:
“One of the reasons that CDAB was created was to provide a mechanism to evaluate the enforcement process of Chapter 18.”
That’s true. But it is incomplete and omits relevant information needed to get Councilors and the public up to speed before making decisions. The enabling ordinance from 2018 (02-285) can be read in its entirety here. Please note in Section 8-303-4, under Duties and Responsibilities that CDAB should:
“(4) Receive all monthly property maintenance code enforcement reports including issued notices of violation and citations and photographic evidence, and review as appropriate.”
That work is not complete. We have a new code and we are switching back from a health and safety only approach used for the last three years during COVID, so CDAB’s work is more important than ever. Council should want to catch and resolve early any new unintended consequences, so that history does not repeat itself. The simplest way is for CDAB to continue until at least one full year of the new code has been completed and reviewed with the same depth as the previous code.
If CDAB is not able to review this information as they were tasked with in 2018 Ordinance 02-285, it will be up to public citizens to IPRA and circulate these public records, just as was the case before CDAB, which starts this whole cycle over again.
Some Councilors have stated that they care about transparency, public trust in government, and accountability. Those are reassuring words, but rebuilding trust takes actions–not words. Reinstating CDAB is a simple way for a new Council to begin that process.
Let’s return to the mis(leading) information from Tuesday’s item 16643-23.
“The enforcement process has been reviewed by CDAB and any issues raised or recommendations from them have been addressed by staff and incorporated into current practices.“
This is PATENTLY FALSE. Some of the recommendations made by CDAB to Council were not even given the courtesy of debate before being dismissed out of hand. So, no, “any issues and recommendations made by them” have NOT been “incorporated into current practices.” This must be corrected and an apology issued for misleading the public about the status of the CDAB recommendations to Council. Why? Because when the public realizes that they’ve been misled in official government documents, they stop trusting what Council and government say in the first place. Council must acknowledge and apologize for the misrepresentations in this agenda item.
From Tuesday’s 16643-23:
“Now that the rewrite of Chapter 18 is complete, any future review of Chapter 18 related issues would be more appropriately be considered by a limited-term task force or work group rather than a permanent County board.”
I’m shocked this statement was allowed to appear in the agenda packet. This is presented as a factual, objective assessment, which is mis(leading) information. It contains no analysis or explanation to support the claim and does not explain how that course of action serves the best interests of the public.
When an official government document is so blatantly biased, the public deserves to know the biases of the writer(s) so they can think independently about this issue. To that end, Council must disclose or instruct the County Manager to immediately identify by name and position the writer(s) of this part of the agenda item.
Some unnamed person with unknown biases says it’s better to use a task force? Cool. I say that any future review would be most appropriately conducted by a standing County Board. Who is correct? I advocated for the creation of CDAB in 2017 and 2018, served on the board, spoke against its premature removal, and, respectfully, know more of the history of this topic than the majority of our current Council. I think that’s a pretty valid perspective. What’s the perspective and background of the other person? Why is it more valid? If you’re thinking “Cat’s biased,” you’re right, and that’s a great start, because so is the person who wrote that part of the agenda without any supporting information.
The lack of accountability in allowing a clearly biased statement with zero support to be presented as uncited objective fact should be unacceptable to Councilors who care about transparency, good governance, and rebuilding public trust.
Back to Tuesday’s 16643-23:
“The nature of the tasks assigned to CDAB did not lend itself to B&C structure and process formats as noted by a former CDAB member.“
One former CDAB member out of how many who provided comment in the preceding weeks? The one member is mentioned only because they agree with the writer(s) of this agenda item. The agenda item flagrantly omits the fact that multiple then-current and now-former CDAB members spoke at the previous meeting with opposing views. Is their input less valuable because it came at the previous meeting? Did Council ask CDAB as a body if it felt its work was done? Did CDAB take a vote to present a majority view to Council? No. Those would be democratic processes. The idea that one member speaking as a public citizen represented the view of CDAB is mis(leading) information and needs to be publicly corrected and an apology issued.
I see three main reasons to reinstate CDAB with little fanfare and move forward:
1. It is the right thing to do. Implement a new code, then allow CDAB to continue its work.
2. It is time to move on. The community needs to discuss other issues, but this gross violation of public trust dates back SEVEN YEARS. The current Council can lead us in a better direction by acknowledging the importance of proactive public involvement and reinstating CDAB.
3. The broader discussion about boards and commissions is absolutely worth having, and disbanding CDAB distracts from that.
It does not matter that previous Councils made the choice–this is the burden of holding public office, representing constituents, and serving an institution larger than yourself. To rebuild trust, you have to do things–sometimes things that make you uncomfortable–to rebuild broken trust.
This Council has an opportunity to stop mis(leading) and start leading. That is the only way we can as a community move on.
Most of us really do want to move on.