BY AARON WALKER
Los Alamos County Council and staff are a transparency black hole. I appreciate Councilors Theresa Cull and Suzie Havemann for attempting to smooth things over last night, but there must be some significant changes. There have been glimmers of hope at times, but a wholehearted commitment to transparency must be made immediately. Council meetings are frustrating to the public, especially when there are matters that generate public interest on the agenda.
The first major problem is the burying of “popular” items on the agenda. Putting the items that have generated a lot of public input at the bottom of the agenda, and then forcing people to wait 1 hour (or longer) to give comment on “their” topic is a waste of time for a lot of people. For example, the PERA resolutions weren’t of significant concern (it didn’t generate much positive/negative feedback) to many residents last night, but we had to wait through the slog of reading, motions, and votes before the topics of major public concern was discussed. The agenda CAN be reworked to allow for the “popular” items can be front loaded on the agenda so they can be handled sooner, allowing those of us that have a focus on 1-2 agenda items to make our comments, listen to the vote, and go home. I understand this won’t always be the case for every meeting, as one might have an interest in an obscure agenda item, but the P&Z recommendations had over 50 emails sent to council, so clearly there was significant public interest on those two items.
Another problem is lack of respect for residents. Last night, council KNEW that there was an issue with the “WHEREAS” statements of the parking ordinance that was being discussed. They had known for two weeks that there was an issue, and that if they wanted to pass the ordinance it would likely have to come back to council (depending on their wishes). Instead of letting the public know in advance “we noticed this issue. We are going to correct it, and it will likely have to come back to council but will have the major discussion on the topic.”, they chose to wait until people had shown up to advocate for its passage to mention any of it. That is an insult to the residents and yet again, a waste of our time. Instead, we get told “don’t be disappointed” because council didn’t make any substantive changes by the chair. Time matters to people, and knowingly wasting others time is an insult to them. Say something in advance and be honest about it. It’s NOT hard to have some level of respect for others time.
Last, on to emails. Council needs to adopt a method of making support/dissent emails public before a vote is taken. Councilors shouldn’t be able to hide behind the “people I’ve talked to” line. Give the public the information and time to digest it. Transparency is honesty, and if a councilor is going to vote against the 40+ emails in favor of something, the public should get an explanation of why.
I know I complain about council a lot, and my criticism can be quite harsh at times. I don’t believe my expectations for our representatives are too high: Meet with people that want to discuss topics, whether you agree with them or not. Be honest, transparent, and have integrity. If the optics look like you are hiding something, you’re doing things wrong (or actually hiding something). That’s it. I don’t have to agree with the vote or the policy stance. I expect from my representatives what I would expect out of myself if I were in their shoes.