Are you our next county councilor?

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By Robert Gibson

The county council needs your help! Jim West’s resignation created a vacant seat on the seven-member council responsible for local government. 

Our charter requires the remaining six to appoint a “qualified voter” to serve through December 2010. Would you or someone you know make a good councilor?

Council is a great way to serve our community.  It is also a major commitment of time and energy.

There are major topics on council’s plate. Contracts to redevelop the Trinity Site must be completed.  The White Rock Master Plan is being transformed into specific projects. 

The Municipal Building needs to be replaced. The fate of the West Jemez Bypass road project needs to be resolved. How do we sustain a strong local economy and our intellectually vitality? How do we afford it all, or can we? The list goes on.

Dozens of other matters are important to smaller segments of our community or in simply overseeing the business of county government.  

Tuesday evening council meetings are the most visible and formal manifestation of the job. They are the “tip of the iceberg.” 

Each requires several hours preparation. Many issues are straightforward; some are not. Many have long histories to understand. Our excellent county staff provides much background information, but independent inquiry is important, too.

Much input comes from advisory boards, committees, and other organizations. It’s a lot of meetings. But to represent the community, one must be actively engaged.

A little seen but major part of the job is representing Los Alamos in external organizations.  Councilors are very active in the national Energy Communities Alliance, N.M. Municipal League (association of municipal governments), N.M. Association of Counties, North Central Regional Transit District, Espanola Basin Regional Planning Issues Forum (regional water planning), and others.

We actively promote Los Alamos interests in Washington and Santa Fe.

This all takes time. Most councilors average at least 20 hours per week on the job. Some spend more. The “working hours” vary wildly. 

Flexibility is essential and multitasking inherent. Meetings with different people and groups occur at various times, day and evening. E-mails and phone calls together approach a hundred per week. 

The job is fascinating. Even starting with a firm community background, a councilor meets many, many very interesting people and learns about subjects few of us normally even think about.

Councilors are paid $800 per month, with essentially no benefits.  At less than minimum wage rate, it is effectively a volunteer job.

The job is one of leadership, by its definition. Relevant experience may come from jobs, civic or school or church organizations, local government, or any number of other realms where one has worked with people to accomplish worthwhile tasks.

Yes, criticism comes with leadership. While it is rarely personal, those easily wounded might find it uncomfortable. The great majority of our citizens are respectful and appreciative. Los Alamos is a great community to serve.

A good councilor needs a willingness to listen, learn, think, act and then move on.  The ability to clearly express oneself is helpful, too.

People focused on a single issue or even a narrow set would be disappointed.  No single one gets more than 10 percent or so of council’s attention over a year.

Each councilor undoubtedly has a different view of the job and the ideal new councilor, just as does every voter on election day.

Political party affiliation is not a consideration, at least for most councilors. 

This appointment is not a “done deal.”  This councilor is completely open-minded on who the new councilor should be. I believe most of my colleagues are, too. 

If you’re interested in our community, want to work hard for it, and relish tackling worthwhile challenges, that vacant seat could have your name on it.

If you would like to be considered, letters of interest are being accepted at the county administrator’s office, 133 Central Park Square, or P.O. Box 30, Los Alamos, NM, 87544, until 5 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 20.  There is no specified format or length, although a page or two outlining your interest and background would help us.