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Council candidates put to the test

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By Kirsten Laskey

Anybody can talk a good game but are they able to walk the walk?
During the League of Women Voters’ forum for Los Alamos County Council candidates Thursday night at Fuller Lodge, members of the public put the candidates to the test.
The forum revealed that the council candidates share similar views on many of the topics raised during the question and answer period.
Democrats Ken Johnson, Deborah Gill and Betty Ann Gunther as well as Republicans Geoffrey Rodgers, Ron Selvage, James Hall and Frances Berting are asking for voters to select them for council in November.
During the forum the group was asked a range of questions beginning with their thoughts on checks and balances in local government.  
Hall said while he believes there needs to be more citizen control in large county projects, “(I) haven’t seen any great damage in doing things they way they have been done.”
Rodgers also said he felt the citizens need to be remembered and that he supports the community’s input such as voting on capital projects.
Gunther said one thing she has observed with the council is if people go to the meetings, and fill up the meeting room, she has never seen the council fail to respond.
When asked if broadband services should be brought into the county, Gill said she thought it was a possibility. “I do think there is potential for businesses and government working together,” she said. There needs to be discussions on the best ways to bring broadband to the county, Gill added.
Berting also supports bringing in broadband for residents. “We do need to be in the 21st Century,” she said.
It’s a matter of financing and planning, Berting said.
Selvage agreed. “It’s definitely worth looking into,” he said. Selvage added if the county waits for the business to approach the county and offer broadband services, it might be awhile and he cautioned the county to not waste money and look for cost effective ways to bring in broadband.
After a question was posed asking if candidates approved of the potential Manhattan Project National Park, all the candidates were uniform in supporting the endeavor.
Rodgers said he believed it was a great opportunity for Los Alamos and could truly make the area a real draw to visitors and a gateway.
“This is a very definite plus for Los Alamos,” Berting said.
Gill said while she supports the project, she is interested in the park’s budget. However, she added it would be a way to show people “how fabulous we are.”
Another question steered candidates away from the past and into the present and future. Should the county get an identity separate from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an audience member asked.
Johnson said, “We are a one-company town and that is likely to stay so.” However, there are opportunities, he said, to exert some independence from the lab such as becoming a tourist destination or perhaps expanding UNM-LA to be a four-year institution.
Selvage also said currently the townsite depends on the tax base from the lab. There are other things the town promotes, he said, such as the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area, the free summer concert series. Selvage said the fact that Los Alamos has more to offer than the lab should be expanded.
“We know who we are,” Gunther said. Los Alamos has an identity, she added, characterized by research, intellect and innovation. Maybe what the county needs to do, Gunther said, is advertise this identity more.
Council candidates were asked to share their thoughts about collective bargaining, particularly with the current situation with the firefighters’ union.
Rodgers said while employed at the Los Alamos Public Schools, he worked with union bus drivers. From that experience, he said he learned both parties should enter talks in good faith in order for effective collective bargaining.
Berting agreed. She said both sides involved collective bargaining need to work with good faith.
Whether working with union or non-union workers, Hall said he could work with either.
Another question raised by an audience member questioned safety in neighborhoods, especially with people going door-to-door selling things.
Johnson said he personally has not ever gotten a door-to-door salesman and believes neighborhood watch groups are effective tools to preventing any criminal activity in regards to people selling things.
Gunther also suggested being vigilant and being friendly with neighbors.
Gill said knowing legal options are important as well as having more in-depth neighborhood communication.
One question steered councilors toward White Rock. Candidates were asked what issues face White Rock.
Rodgers said he lives in White Rock and one of the big issues he sees is during the day, the community empties out. How to keep people in White Rock should be addressed, he said.
Gunther said revitalization of White Rock is an important issue. Something needs to be done to improve the buildings in the community to attract visitors, she said.
Another resident, Hall, said a big issue is the 70 acres the Department of Energy is giving to the county. He said there should be discussion on how to use the land to revitalize White Rock.
The final question of the forum was in regards to the tension in using tax money. How did the candidates feel about being frugal versus spending the money, an audience member asked.
Selvage said he and his family are frugal with their money. While the county has money, he said, it should be careful with recurring costs. Selvage said the county should also invest in infrastructure.
Berting said some things are essential such as the municipal building and the Trinity Redevelopment Site. To “nickel and dime,” she said, is not wise. Things need to be built with quality; these projects need to be built to last.
Hall said the county should set priorities on what to spend money on as well as invest in area’s assets for a long-term benefit.
Rodgers said the county should determine what is a want and what is a need. He said the needs should be invested in and the things that are wanted should be examined closely.