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New county administrator appointed

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Current county administrator Max Baker will retire earlier than anticipated

By Carol A. Clark

County Administrator Max Baker retires Oct. 21 and Tuesday evening county council appointed Anthony Mortillaro to take the reins beginning the following day.

While not well known in the community, Mortillaro has served as assistant county administrator since 2004 and six of seven councilors voted for him.

“I cannot support this appointment at this time,” Councilor Robert Gibson said, after laying out reasons he feels more candidates should be reviewed and community input considered. “My vote should not be interpreted as a vote against Tony. It is a vote against making any appointment without taking advantage of this opportunity to reflect on what we really want and need in a county administrator and assure ourselves and the community we indeed are hiring the best possible person to do this very demanding job.”

Gibson mentioned that Mortillaro has made “some very costly mistakes” and wondered aloud what Mortillaro may have learned from those mistakes and how he would handle similar situations in the future.

Gibson was referring to judgment, planning and execution problems that have adversely impacted the cost and schedule of several major capital improvement projects.

Gibson assured his colleagues that if they appointed Mortillaro, he would do everything he could to help him be successful in his new role.

The other six councilors and Baker all gave their support to Mortillaro.

Council Chair Michael Wheeler made it clear that council — not Mortillaro — was responsible for the slow moving status of the Trinity Site Project.

“Tony has done an amazing job on that project … Council made the decisions … if you don’t like the decisions then come and see me,” Wheeler said. “Tony, I think you’re the guy and I appreciate your willingness to take on this horrendous job.”

Council Vice Chair Michael Wismer nominated Mortillaro for the new post and

Councilor Nona Bowman seconded the motion. “Tony has done an exceptional job … He’s coming in at a time of lots of changes … Tony is the absolute right

person to lead us in what I call this transitional period,” Bowman said.

Councilor Sharon Stover called Mortillaro a “good fit” for the county, adding that Los Alamos is a challenging place to be county administrator in dealing with seven bosses and sort of living in a glass house.

“I believe Tony has a leg up on everyone else; he has been here for five years, he understands the community, he knows what he’s getting into and he still wants the job,” she said. “I think that one of Tony’s challenges is that the community doesn’t know him and because the county is so scattered out, some employees may not even know him. I hope the community and the employees will come to know Tony as I have, a good communicator, accountable, someone who values integrity, and most importantly, someone I can trust to give me an honest answer – not just the one that I want to hear.”

Councilor Ralph Phelps described himself as being a strong proponent of succession planning and said Mortillaro has the “characteristics and strengths to do the job.”

Even former county councilor Jim West who is undergoing cancer treatment in

Texas sent his support for Mortillaro through telephone calls to Wismer and

Stover.

Mortillaro took to the podium following his appointment and thanked council members for their support and confidence.

“I anticipate a smooth and seamless transition over the next several months between Max and me,” he said. “There are numerous activities that the county is currently undertaking and many critical projects in the near and distant future that need to stay on track and progress. I am confidant that the progress will continue; all made possible as a result of the team effort between the council, administration and dedicated and skilled employees of this organization.”

Mortillaro touched on a number of critical issues that he said would require focus in order to achieve the goals and objectives council has established:

• Implementation of Council’s Goal and Objectives;

• Economic vitality and diversification and in particular adoption of the

Economic Vitality Action Plan;

• Trinity Redevelopment;

• Municipal Building Project;

• White Rock Economic Development Strategy implementation;

• Overall implementation of the capital plan that has been adopted by

Council, which represents a reinvestment in our infrastructure;

• Continuing to enhance communication,  inclusionary practices and collaboration with the community;

• Ongoing focus on our intergovernmental relations on the federal, state and local level (school district) and with LANL and DOE;

• Concentrating on “doing what we do well” as an organization and continuing improvement  in areas meriting further attention; and

• Lastly, focusing on making things better; by this I mean focus more on what is best not only for today, but for the many tomorrows that will come.

Mortillaro’s salary will jump next month from nearly $144,000 to $156,000 plus benefits. That is the midrange pay for that pay grade.

As assistant county administrator, Mortillaro’s responsibilities include daily oversight of the Public Works Department including transit, traffic, pavement and fleet management and for the Community Development Department including planning and zoning, building inspections, affordable housing, code enforcement, business licensing and comprehensive planning and development.

Mortillaro supervises the Los Alamos County Airport, the Capital Projects and Facilities Department and Environmental Services including environmental sustainability, solid waste and landfill and transfer station.

He also has responsibility for legislative oversight, federal, state, local and tribal governmental relations, economic development, redevelopment, and tourism program oversight.

Mortillaro holds a master’s degree in public administration and has more than 25 years of local government experience, most recently serving as town manager of Prescott Valley, Ariz.

Baker had anticipated retiring at the end of the year, but said at Tuesday’s council meeting that he had received updated information from the retirement system that indicated he could retire in October.

The council plans to host a public reception in Los Alamos and White Rock for which details will be forthcoming in the next week.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4186 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.