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As citizens of our country, we have the right to complain about the things we do not like. We have the responsibility, however, to take positive action to improve what we feel is lacking. A basic problem of all government, identified by a Los Alamos citizen in 1959, is “the prevention of any one interest from gaining complete control at the expense of others.” The criticism was not about the presence of special interests, which can benefit society greatly, but about lack of control of those interests in government by government. We see this problem at federal, state and local levels.
In Los Alamos we have multitudes of ideas, needs and criticisms for government. We lack the means, however, to channel input into actions which can be approved by a majority of citizens by way of a vote, our voice in local government.
Many of you have heard of a newly formed organization, the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative (LAGRI), and of the petitions for charter amendment we initiated recently. The following is a brief history of our government and LAGRI, and a summary of the content of our proposed charter amendments.
The Incorporated County of Los Alamos relies on Home Rule. A series of legislative bills passed in the 1950s and 1960s enabled our county to become a uniquely incorporated city/county with allowance for Home Rule. In 1965 the state of New Mexico enacted a law to allow Los Alamos to adopt its own charter. In 1967 a first proposed charter failed voter approval, but in 1968 a second charter was approved which is, with the exception of minor amendments, the current charter of the Incorporated County of Los Alamos.
Last summer I called people I thought might be interested in sharing ideas to meet and discuss what we as concerned citizens could do in our county to improve the way our government worked. I sent e-mails and posted flyers and we gathered and spoke about our concerns. Since that first meeting in August 2008, a core group of 12 people have steadily worked together to draft the two petitions for Charter Amendment that are currently circulating.
LAGRI members share a common goal: To promote increased direct participation by citizens in Home Rule in Los Alamos.
The following are summaries of the amendments proposed by petition to be approved by Los Alamos voters:
Proposed Section 705: The Annual Election on Capital Projects and the Conveyance, Lease or Change in Use of Public Lands:
This section will allow for votes on all major capital projects and major changes in the use of public lands. This process is carefully defined to include an annual formal presentation of all proposed capital projects and major changes in use of public lands that will culminate in an annual vote on the required items.
Proposed Section 706: County Responsibilities to the Petitioners:
This section clarifies the relationship between the County and the Petitioner during petition processes defined by our Charter. The amendment also requests the county to affirm the formal petition process by doing such basic things as posting petition texts in public buildings.
In 1972 a Los Alamos citizen wrote regarding home rule in Los Alamos: “[We must ask] what our opponents gain in denying the average citizen greater participation in his or her local government.”
As citizens we must strive to keep the hard-earned wisdom and ability to govern ourselves that we have worked so long to achieve, because when we lose that, we run the risk of eventually losing our freedom.
We formally participate in local government by running for office, sitting on boards and committees, petitioning and voting.
LAGRI will encourage participation and help make it attainable for all. Our current projects will pave the way for a smoother citizen petitioning process and assure the county council that they have the support of a majority of voters for the major decisions they must undertake in the future.
Full petition texts and more information about LAGRI can be found at www.lagri.org. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at LAGRI, P.O. Box 1152, Los Alamos, N.M. 87544 to request information, membership or petition locations.
Ellen Walton is President of the Los Alamos Governmental Review Initiative