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2010 drama-packed for council

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There is little question about it – 2010 was a dramatic year for Los Alamos County. Selecting a contractor for the municipal building, terminating the county administrator and snipping the ribbon on the new Justice Center are just a few of the major events that made last year a pivotal one for the county council.
Council capped 2010 by approving a $19,536,868 lead-design build contract with Jaynes Corporation for the new municipal building. The building will be located at the former site of the Los Alamos Apartments.
Included in the approved contract are the county records and historic archive facility, information technology expansion space and improvements to Iris Street.
The project budget totals $25,800,873 for the design and construction of a municipal building. Additionally, $750,000 is budgeted for the design and construction of the Iris Street improvements.
The new building is expected to be occupied at the expiration of the county’s lease agreement for the modular buildings and other rental space it currently utilizes, which is December 2013.
Awarding the lead-design build contract was just the tip of iceberg when it came to the new municipal building.
Before awarding the contract, the county was involved in a lawsuit regarding a special election which would have asked voters to decide if the building should be located at its original spot on Ashley Pond and as a replica of the original municipal building.
Los Alamos lawyers George and Christine Chandler filed a suit that called for an injunction and declaratory judgment on the special election. The wording in the petition question, they claimed, was illegal. A judge in the First Judicial Court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction on the special election. A hearing was set for Feb. 4.
During the Dec. 21 meeting, council agreed to settle with the Chandlers.
The special election stemmed from a petition, circulated by local resident Richard Hannemann. More than 1,600 people signed the petition, which called for a referendum on whether the new building should mirror the original at Ashley Pond.
Decisions regarding the municipal building came on the heels of another major decision. Council approved terminating the employment of County Administrator Tony Mortillaro on Dec. 14. Firing Mortillaro was the conclusion of a 12-week investigation into more than 80 allegations made by Assistant County Administrator Diane Stepan.
Council Chair Mike Wismer said of the council decision that Mortillaro was not terminated based on any one finding or any specific act.
Randy Autio, county attorney, was made Acting County Administrator.
Another significant task council undertook this year was selecting a developer for the Trinity Site Redevelopment Project.
Council approved entering into negotiations with North American Development Group during its Nov. 9 meeting. The long-awaited project, which is located on the previous site for the  Los Alamos Public Schools administrative offices, is designed not only to generate revenue for the cash-strapped school district, but it’s also expected to kick start a revitalization of the town’s retail landscape.
An anchor tenant, the Kroger Company, has committed to build a Smith’s Marketplace concept store at the location. The store would be about 110,000 square feet and include a broader merchandise mix than what can currently be accommodated in the current Smith’s location.
As one major project was getting started, another one was completed in 2010. I The ribbon cutting for the Justice Center took place in August. The new building includes a new courthouse, jail and renovated police/jail building.
The Justice Center is just one new development in town; there will be several more to come. This year, several capital improvement project proposals received the green light to begin design and construction.
These projects included the White Rock Visitor Center, improvements to N.M. 4, North Mesa ballpark lights, Canada del Buey multi-use trail and Los Alamos Golf Course club house.
During the course of the year council paved the way for a number of changes in Los Alamos County. But council also experienced some changes itself. Four new councilors will begin their four-year terms starting this month.
Republicans Fran Berting, Jim Hall, Geoff Rogers and Ron Selvage all join the council with the New Year. Republicans took control of the council during the general election Nov. 3.
So what is in store for county government this year? As Wismer said recently, “All I can say is, fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a heck of a ride.”