N.M. 502, Trinity lead county news

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By Arin McKenna

First of a series
N.M. 502 takes another turn

More than a year ago, council decided to table plans to redesign the entire length of Trinity Drive and focus on a small portion of N.M. 502 already approved for federal funding in FY2014.

A Technical Advisory Committee comprised of staff and citizen stakeholders was charged with evaluating various plans and presenting a recommendation to the transportation board.

In February, the transportation board and council both approved a plan to redesign a section between DP Road and Airport road.

The plan changed again in December when it failed to meet NMDOT and FHWA approval, risking $3.8 million in State Transportation Improvement Program funds earmarked for the project.

The February proposal called for two lanes with left turn medians through the Eastern Area.  NMDOT and FHWA advised the county it must widen the highway to four lanes between Central Avenue and an area just east of Canyon Road to meet level of service for side streets in the area.

To remain within the boundaries of a 2007 environmental assessment and include modifications for the Trinity Site development, the plan was also revised to cover a stretch from Knecht Street to just past Canyon Road. Redesigning the highway to Airport Road would have required a new environmental assessment that was not likely to be completed before the FY2014 funding deadline.

Construction on the roadway should begin in the spring of 2015.

Trinity Site project is on the move

The Trinity Site development continued on a roller coaster ride this year.

The Los Alamos Public School Board and county council approved an agreement with the North American Development Group in February. The contract was signed March 30.

But during the six-month feasibility period NADG decided the financial returns were not sufficient to continue and opted out of the agreement, asking the county to assign the lease to the Smith’s/Kroger Company. Council approved the move in September.

Although Kroger’s due diligence period ends in March, the retailer is moving ahead with plans for the 110,000-foot Smith’s Marketplace and 45,000-feet of additional commercial space. Company representatives are developing site plans and working through the permit process with county staff. They are slated to present site plans to the Planning and Zoning commission early in 2013.

Smith’s has indicated they plan to be open by the end of 2013, and one representative recently told staff (unofficially) that they hope to open before Thanksgiving.

County settles with two former employees

Los Alamos County reached settlements with two former county employees in August.

Former Assistant County Administrator Diana Stepan was fired in early 2011 after filing a grievance against a former county administrator in 2010.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed in Stepan’s favor in her case against Los Alamos County in June, in terms of alleged sex discrimination and retaliation. The county reached an $800,000 settlement with Stepan on Aug. 1.

The county also reached an out-of-court settlement with former Parks and Recreation employee Melody Cross for $175,000.

Cross had filed two lawsuits in the First Judicial District Court charging Parks Division Manager Richard McIntyre and Randy Lucero, who was acting parks superintendent at the time, with infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort, battery and punitive damages. Both deny all accusations and there was no ruling in the case.

County Administrator Harry Burgess told the Los Alamos Monitor that the settlement was negotiated through the insurance carrier and the county was informed after the fact. The county does not believe the accusations were valid.

The bulk of both settlements were paid by the New Mexico Self-Insurer’s Fund.

PAC money the big election news this year

In a campaign beset by Political Action Committee money from both Republican and Democratic special interest groups, Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard was elected to represent New Mexico House District 43.

The race drew PAC attention because it was deemed one of several key races in the state House and a determiner of which party would gain or retain control. The majority of the PAC money was spent by Reform New Mexico Now, a PAC with ties to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and a Democratic PAC called Patriot Majority New Mexico.

Both Garcia Richard and her opponent Republican Jim Hall denounced all PAC attempts to influence the campaign.

In local races, Democrat Kristin Henderson, Republican Steve Girrens and Democrat Peter Sheehey were elected to fill three vacant council seats. They beat out Republicans Marc Clay and Vincent Chiravalle, who was running for a second term, and Democrat Michael Redondo.

Former council Chair Republican Sharon Stover won her election for county clerk against Democrat Nathan Hjelm.

Voters approve four Charter amendments

The Charter Review Committee wrapped up two years of work this year. Council debated the recommendations in several meetings and voters approved revisions on initiative, referendum, recall of elected officials and the process for future charter amendments in November.

Additional CRC recommendations will be taken up by the new council in 2013, including an issue the CRC raised about the Department of Public Utilities.

In the current charter, council has no oversight over DPU other than is its ability to appoint board members and approve all budgetary issues, yet council bears ultimate responsibility for the department’s action.

In an attempt to balance the DPU’s autonomy with council’s responsibility, the CRC proposed an amendment that allowed council to remove one or more board members without cause by a 5-2 vote.

Council agreed with the CRC’s assessment of the problem, but not the solution. They voted to form a five-member ad hoc committee to study the autonomy/liability issue and return to council with recommendations within six months.

They also postponed action on an ordinance to amend the Structure of Government section of the Charter in order to avoid calling a special election for a vote on one charter amendment.