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Seven vie for open council seat

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By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Council meets in special session at 7 p.m. Thursday to select a replacement for Ron Selvage, who resigned just more than a month ago. The successful candidate will serve through the end of Selvage's term, which expires Dec. 13, 2014.

Seven Letters of Interest were received before the Aug. 28 deadline. Information from those letters of interest was extracted to produce the following profiles.

Edward R. Birnbaum (Democrat), only recently moved to Los Alamos, but he has spent some time here visiting his daughter and her husband for more than 15 years.

Birnbaum has a doctorate in inorganic chemistry and spent 24 years at New Mexico State University's Chemistry Department. Birnbaum was also contracted to work on two nuclear waste remediation projects for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

During16 years as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia, Birnbaum doubled student enrollment, developed a new computational center, increased the department’s research productivity and was active in university governance.

Birnbaum believes his experience prepares him for dealing with issues related to LANL and the environment.

"In addition, my role as department chair required me to make hard decisions between competing needs in a tight budget environment. Although I can't say that everyone was happy with all of my decisions, these decisions were critical in allowing the department to grow over time, without once exceeding the funds available in any budget year," Birnbaum wrote in his letter.

John L. Bliss (Republican) settled in Los Alamos County 15 years ago, following a 22-year military career. Bliss has had connections to Los Alamos since 1990, spending summers here as a student and doing research at LANL.

Bliss has a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a certified health physicist. He was Operational Health Physics group leader at LANL for seven years and continues to serve with two national response teams. He is president of the Rio Grande chapter of the Health Physics Society and has been active in other scientific societies. Bliss has also been on the board of trustees for United Church of Los Alamos for nearly 12 years.

"The future of Los Alamos County, while remaining tied to Los Alamos National Laboratory for the near and midterm, must continue to find ways to broaden its economic base and appeal to families and business. We all know this is a great place to live, but my belief is that it seems to be a difficult place to succeed in business. The challenge is to do this without losing the community we enjoy."

Stephen Boerigter (Independent) moved to Los Alamos in 1993. He is a Group Level manager at LANL.

Boerigter served as chair during three of his four years on the Parks and Recreation Board, serves on the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee and the Environmental Sustainability Board and currently chairs the UNM-LA board.

Boerigter is also an active member of the Los Alamos Kiwanis Club and is a volunteer reader at Aspen Elementary School.

Boerigter believes his doctorate in nuclear engineering gives him the tools to understand complex technical issues and connect with a key constituency of the county.

Boerigter is a registered independent. "I do not believe that the platforms of the major political parties should have much effect on issues facing our county council," he wrote in his letter. He considers himself an “agent of change,” and, if chosen for the vacancy, he would work to "balance longterm goals with short-term wants, fiscal conservatism with community service and visionary leadership with pragmatic problem solving."

Andrea Cunningham (Democrat) moved to Los Alamos 20 years ago. She has been active in projects geared toward improving quality of life in Los Alamos, most recently as a member of the Trinity Site Revitalization Committee.

Cunningham is a team leader of Health Information Management in Occupational Medicine at LANL and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Cunningham's community involvement began 16 years ago. She has served on the board of the Los Alamos School of Gymnastics, spearheaded the campaign to pass Ordinance 529 and created the PAC Los Alamos Families for Progress.

Cunningham is a member of the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, has served on various school board committees and was president of the Barranca Mesa Elementary School PTO.

Cunningham is also a graduate of Leadership Los Alamos. She feels she is "very effective at moving forward with issues and relating to others."

"My vision is one of cooperation, understanding the issues that face the community and removing barriers to progress," Cunningham wrote. She cites her "extensive track record of representing young families." She hopes to engender greater consensus on economic development and more community involvement.

Phillip Kunsberg (declined to state party affiliation) is the primary owner of Central Park Square and three other commercial properties in Los Alamos. Kunsberg returned to Los Alamos seven months ago. He raised his children here during previous residencies.

Kunsberg twice served as a technical staff member at LANL Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). He was in System Dynamics Modeling from 1990–1996 and deputy and acting director of the LANL Field Intelligence Element from 2002–2006. He served as deputy director of the President's Commission on Intelligence Capabilities Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Kunsberg has a doctorate from Yale Law School. His extensive career includes working as director for operations with the Central Intelligence Agency and serving as undersecretary for Defense Policy in the Reagan administration.

Kunsberg wrote, "I make this request because, in simplest terms, community service would add a higher purpose to my life and a stronger connection to my community."

He cited his skills as an attorney, his government service and his perspective as a business owner as assets he would bring to council.

Ralph L. Phelps (Republican) served as county councilor from Jan. 2009 through Dec. 2010.

Phelps serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Charter Review Committee and was chair of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board. He has also served on the Capital Improvements Project Committee, as treasurer for the Energy Communities Alliance and as chair for part of his term on the Board of Public Utilities.

Phelps estimates he has more than 1,000 hours of training in leadership, teambuilding, management and communication skills and has been involved in organizational development.

With a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, Phelps has more than 35 years experience in the nuclear power industry. He retired in 2005 as division manager of engineering for the Omaha Public Power District's Fort Calhoun Station and has developed programs for LANL’s environmental restoration.

Phelps wrote, "I am confident that I can bring forward my positions on the important issues facing Los Alamos for transparent and informed discussions. With the help of our excellent county staff, the input from all members of our community and respectful council debate, I can use my consensus building skills to help reach specific and timely solutions.”

Rick Reiss (Republican) has lived in Los Alamos 20 years. He has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Airport Board and various ad hoc committees, including one for county attorney selection and one for a county bond to support the Trinity Site development.

Reiss has also served with the Kiwanis, Los Alamos Community Foundation and Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation and was co-chair for the United Way with his wife.

Economic development is a key focus for Reiss. He came to Los Alamos as part of a small acquisition group to buy a local bank. He has developed land with an eye for attracting new business and built several buildings in the county. Reiss runs a mortgage company serving homeowners and believes "housing is an integral part of economic development."

Reiss wrote, "I am interested in the position for two primary reasons: service and perspective. The first and most important is to serve … I believe my business background in Los Alamos provides me with a perspective on county government actions that is essential to the economic development and sustainability of our community."