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It’s been said time and time again that whoever was appointed to Jim West’s seat on county council would have some big shoes to fill. Ralph Phelps was chosen during Tuesday night’s council meeting and, so far, seems to have welcomed the challenge.
Phelps, a native of Manhattan, brings more than 35 years of experience in all phases of the electric power industry to council.
In addition, he has dealt with investor-owned and public power utilities and has specialized in the nuclear power industry and has served on the Los Alamos County Public Utilities Board as chair. He also served on the Northern New Mexico Citizen’s Advisory Board as vice chair and on the Waste Management Committee.
Phelps most recently served on the Capital Improvement Projects committee, a seat he had to leave when he was appointed to the county council.
He attended the University of Virginia where he obtained his master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He also attended Manhattan College and received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and is a registered professional engineer in California and Connecticut.
In addition, he received plant management certification at the Fort Calhoun Station, for the Omaha Public Power District.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Phelps was in the U.S. Air Force. His time in the military brought him to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. During his time at Kirtland, he met his wife, Linda, who was a student at The University of New Mexico. They eventually moved to Connecticut and then to Glendora, Calif.
The couple stayed in California for 13 years before they moved to Omaha, Neb., where Phelps went to work for the Omaha Public Power District. He worked in Omaha for 16 years, then took an early retirement and moved to White Rock, where he and Linda have lived for the past four and a half years.
“We always wanted to move to New Mexico. We always had our eye on Los Alamos,” Phelps said. The couple have two children, Josh, a chiropractor in Portland, Maine, and Jenny, a fourth grade teacher at Barranca Elementary.
Though he has never held a public office, Phelps says that he has a lot of experience working on diverse teams.
“I’m comfortable with working with a team where the teamwork is very important,” he stated. “You have to have some knowledge of forging a consensus.”
As a county councilor, Phelps said he is most interested in looking at the county’s strategic planning. He wants to make sure that the objectives council has are solid.
“I want to make sure we’re going down the right path. We also need to know what our risks are with certain types of funding,” he commented. “Considering all those things, we need to go in with our eyes wide open.”
He also wants to make sure that he makes good on his commitment to be a good listener.
“I’m not really a talkative type, but I listen very well,” he said. He also wants to make himself available to the people that he is serving as a councilor.
“If folks want to communicate with e-mail or stop me on the street, that would be fine.”
One of the challenges he sees for Los Alamos County is developing a relationship with Los Alamos National Laboratory. He said that the lab has always been very heavily weapons focused and employees there are uncertain about the stability of their jobs.
“We have a positive opportunity to persuade the lab to focus on shifting their perspective.”
Phelps said he is pleased and excited to have been appointed to county council.
“In all the years I’ve been working, I’ve put in 60 hour weeks and not had the time to concentrate on the community,” he commented. “I’ll do my best to make sure that we get the best results for the Los Alamos community.”
In his spare time, Phelps enjoys camping, hiking and exploring the wild in his Jeep.
“I am also enjoying very much the opportunities I have for volunteering on boards and committees,” he said.