Familiar figures resign

-A A +A

Changes occured for both county and school officials

By Carol A. Clark

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories that highlight the changes that occurred in our community in 2009.

This year the county administrator, fire chief and superintendent of schools retired after years of service to the community.

A story appearing in the Oct. 18 edition of the Los Alamos Monitor reflected the esteem local, state and national officials held for retiring county administrator Max Baker. As stated in that story, Baker was one of those people who so positively affected the lives of people around him that they felt compelled to publicly thank him.

Both United States senators from New Mexico sent their appreciation and best wishes to Baker from their offices in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman said, “Max Baker is a trusted public servant who worked very hard on behalf of Los Alamos County. I hope he enjoys this next stage in his life.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Udall thanked Baker for his hard work and dedicated service to Los Alamos County. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Max over the years and wish him health, happiness and continued success in his future endeavors,” Udall said.

Many other area leaders, colleagues and family members also expressed appreciation for Baker.

The sentiment that most likely meant the most to Baker came from his 3-year-old daughter Emeline Baker who summed up her feelings saying simply, “I love him because I like to play with Grandpa.”

Baker is now relaxing and enjoying the extra time retirement allows him to spend with his family.

Douglas MacDonald, the man known affectionately as “Chief Mac” retired in July after spending the last 17 of his 35-year fire service career at the helm of the Los Alamos Fire Department.

Many officials, colleagues and family members spoke of their admiration for MacDonald. New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, now retired, expressed his congratulations and “whole-hearted thanks” to MacDonald, whom he describes as having had “a very distinguished career.”

“When Los Alamos needed you, you were there, most especially during the big fires,” Domenici said. “It was an honor to work with you in serving the people of New Mexico. I wish you the best of luck in your future and a happy retirement.”

Many residents remember MacDonald had been on the job more than 160 hours with only about 15 hours of sleep when he spoke at the Duane Smith Auditorium during the first public meeting following the Cerro Grande Fire.

He felt such empathy for those who lost their homes that he apologized to the community for the fire. While the fire was started by another agency and its magnitude made it impossible to save every home, MacDonald and his firefighters ensured no lives were lost.

Los Alamos Public Schools also experienced a changing of the guard. The community found out in February that the very popular Mary McLeod would not be staying in charge of Los Alamos Public Schools.

Having accomplished so much as interim superintendent, school board members strived vigorously during a school board meeting to convince McLeod to continue leading the district.

“They tried to get me to stay but I think 45 years in the educational business is enough — it’s time for me to retire,” McLeod said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I wish I were a little younger because I would like to stay longer.”

McLeod did agree to extend her contract by 10 days through July 10 to spend time with the new superintendent. The board offered her a raise for staying those additional days but McLeod declined, saying it wasn’t necessary for such a short time.

Former School Board President Steve Girrens described McLeod as a “blessing” to the schools and the community at large. “Mary stepped in at a critical time and made herself available, especially in light of the bond and state funding issues.”

Girrens praised McLeod for putting together a compelling case that convinced legislatures of the detrimental impact a state funding formula change would have on above-average performing students in the state.

In November, McLeod took on the 29-member Legislative Education Study Committee that met at the state capitol and convinced them to hold harmless LAPS from a bill that would have cost the district nearly $3 million in state revenues.

“I just decided to put the stuff on the table that I knew they’d talk about ... I talked about the elephant in the room — the $8 million ... it’s categorical funding ... it’s given to us by DOE because we have a task to perform and that is to be the best school district we can be ... to attract the best employees for the laboratory,” McLeod said at the time.