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It all started out simple enough. George Chandler arrived in Los Alamos in 1974 and began work as a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Then he met Lou Burkhardt, a fellow lab employee in his division – and everything started to change.
Chandler described Burkhardt as a “gadfly” when it came to county politics. His friend’s persistence in local politics rubbed off on Chandler who began attending county council meetings every week.
The county council at the time approved re-zoning a piece of land on North Mesa that was zoned for a trailer park. The Atomic Energy Commission sold the land to a private developer who figured more money could be made if the land was developed into a subdivision, he said.
Chandler said he felt the council’s decision to rezone the land was a mistake and started a petition, which led to an election that successfully rescinded the rezoning.
This petition seemed to be a springboard to launching Chandler as an active participant in county activities. Whether serving on county council or various committees, he dove into life in Los Alamos. And his work continues today.
Years ago, Chandlers friends owned and operated the Los Alamos Chronicle and asked if he would write political opinion pieces and stories about the county council. He agreed but said he discovered what he really wanted was to serve on the council. So along with Burkhardt, he ran for the seat in 1981 and served as a councilor for two terms. In 1986, he decided not to run again after getting a new job at LANL.
While on council, Chandler said he and Burkhardt wanted to bring changes, which generated some real battles. Their efforts resulted in a deal negotiated with the owners of the property on North Mesa. Part of the land remained zoned as a trailer park with the remainder developed into a subdivision. Today, that trailer park is North Mesa Trailer Park and the subdivision is Broadview.
Just as the re-zoning issue promoted him to run for council, another event persuaded Chandler to run again.
A county administrator was hired who Chandler described as a “real dud,” and the only way to get the administrator to leave was to go back on council, he said. He was again elected and held the seat from 1989-1990. The administrator quit the day before new councilors took office.
Being on council, Chandler said, was fun; it was also a real eye-opening experience.
“It was just an education,” he said. “You can’t imagine what the process looks like.”
Seeing those who want to enter politics now, Chandler said he thinks, “They don’t have any idea what they are getting into.” Also, when he sees people petitioning, he often thinks, there are no simple solutions to any of these questions.
One resource Chandler utilized to interact with the community while on council was through the Los Alamos Monitor. He wrote a column called “Council Corner” for the newspaper before suggesting the column rotate among various councilors. The column was a way to educate people on what was going on in county government, Chandler said.
“You get to sound off,” he said. “You get your ideas out there. You can have a real influence to try and make things change.”
It’s important, he said, to have dialogue with the public through columns or letters to the editor.
“It’s a dialogue,” Chandler said. “The public dialogue that needs to take place.”
Chandler’s contributions to Los Alamos County are not limited to serving on council. While serving his first two terms on council, Chandler said he became interested in planning and economic development.
He was asked to become a part of the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force. The idea behind the task force, Chandler said, was to look at the downtown and determine what to do help businesses. Eventually, the task force, chamber of commerce and the economic development corporation merged together to create the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation (LACDC).
Today, Chandler continues to have a hand in Los Alamos’ economy by being a member of the Trinity Site Revitalization Project Committee.
Groups have been formed; the leakage of money leaving the Los Alamos has been measured, he said.
However, the one thing the county has not done was something on a very large scale. Chandler said the Trinity Site could be the one thing that makes an impact.
“This thing might work,” he said.
Kevin Holsapple, the executive director of the LACDC and a fellow Trinity Site Revitalization Project Committee, said Chandler, “definitely has a civic minded presence in the community. I think he brings a good analytical perspective to the Trinity Evaluation Committee in terms of digging in and looking seriously and in depth at the proposals. He has an interesting perspective that people are always interested in hearing.”
After serving multiple terms on council, Chandler decided it was time for a change. He ran for assessor and held the office from 1991-1994. When the municipal judge position opened, which was then a part time job, Chandler decided to try his hand at that, too.
He served as municipal judge from 1995-1998.
Even though it was a part-time job, being a judge left an impression on Chandler. After retiring from the laboratory in 2001, he went to law school in Albuquerque and got his law degree in 2004.
Chandler holds a private practice in town doing mostly pro bono work.
So what advice does Chandler have for the next generation of community leaders? Listen, listen and listen. He encourages them to knock on doors and hear what people have to say.