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There was uncertainty but no surprise as Los Alamos County Council appointed a new chair Tuesday night. Mike Wismer, a political independent, was the unanimous choice to become the next chairman, moving up after serving as vice chair last year.
He succeeds former chair Mike Wheeler who attended the meeting in a wheelchair after a ski hill accident over the holidays.
Moments later, Sharon Stover was nominated and unanimously elected vice chair.
Selecting a new chair and vice chair on the council occurs at the beginning of every year.
The choice of Wismer was a logical progression and not altogether unexpected. In the previous transition, Chair Jim Hall and Vice Chair Robert Gibson gave way to Wheeler and Wismer.
Before the meeting, Wismer said he hoped he would be elected but that he could not predict what would happen.
Adding a little drama to the proceedings, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle nominated Councilor Stover as chair, saying that she would have more time to devote to the position. When Stover said she was supporting Wismer, all the votes fell to him.
Wismer is in his second year of his second term on the council, with a two-year hiatus between terms.
He is a group leader in safeguards and security at Los Alamos National Laboratory and among many other civic responsibilities is on the Advisory Board for the University of New Mexico at Los Alamos. He came to Los Alamos after a career in the Air Force. With master’s degrees in both criminal justice administration and public administration, he helped develop and structure the support staff for the Iraqi National Assembly in 2005 and drafted the parliament’s human resources policies.
In his first outing as chair, he made an immediate and subtle adjustment to meeting procedure. He asked for voluntary compliance with new council guidelines, calling for the presentation of a topic to be followed by questions and clarifications by councilors, then public comment and finally councilor discussion and statements.
As Wismer explained after the meeting, the modest adjustment came out of studies of meeting procedures he made as vice chair and in the process of drafting new rules for the council.
“Instead of Robert’s Rules of Orders, intended for large deliberative bodies like Parliament, I can use procedural rules adapted for a Los Alamos-sized meeting,” he said. “I plan this year to stick to that to try to make the meetings as effective as I can.”
The rules have not been formally adopted yet, which is why he asked for voluntary efforts at this meeting.
Wismer said he was happy about serving as chair because, “I really do have a good council.” He saw his role as a facilitator, who could help make a talented team more effective. “I need to be a good conduit,” he said, between the county staff and council and among the councilors, while encouraging public participation.
He said his main interest was in providing fundamental services and maintaining infrastructure.
“People want the snow plowed, the garbage picked up, a responsive police department and firefighters when they call them,” he said.
Before the first council session of the year was over, Wismer called for two special meetings later in the month to be dedicated to single topics. One will take up a charter reform initiative that was certified for a vote that will take place in the spring. Council approved County Clerk Janet Foster’s certification that a petition calling for a referendum on charter reforms had the 1,668 signatures needed. That meeting is planned for 10 a.m. Jan. 23, with the location still to be determined.
A second meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 in council chambers will focus on the site selection for the municipal building.
After the meeting, Wismer said another goal is to give close attention to the agendas and to distribute the work, so that important subjects weren’t packed into meetings loaded with other work.
Responding to a question raised earlier in the evening about whether he would have time for the job, Wismer said, “Being chairman is very difficult and time consuming. You can decide to be a councilor and not take on additional responsibilities, or you can decide you do want to do more. I want to do my part to make this kind of home rule government work.”
He said it would require balance and the kind of support that he knew he could count on from the other councilors.
“I will make the time,” he said.