There is enough involvement

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By The Staff

Dear Editor,

An article Sunday highlighted a group that wishes to amend the county charter to require a referendum for every capital project exceeding $1 million, and to simplify the petition process. This group feels that there is not enough citizen involvement in county government, which I find astonishing.

I chair the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee, which gives citizen feedback to the County Council on the revitalization of White Rock. (And I emphasize that the views I express here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Committee.) Our meetings are open to the public, and we wish more citizens would participate.

There are similar committees for the Trinity improvements and the new municipal building. The county recently adopted a review process for capital improvement projects that emphasizes citizen involvement. The county has also included ordinary citizens on evaluation committees for contractor proposals, an almost unheard-of practice.

In conversations with urban planners from out of state, I’ve found that almost all agree that the level of citizen participation formally mandated in Los Alamos County is beyond anything in their experience.

Amending the charter amounts to changing the rules under which the country government operates. This is not something that should be done lightly, to win a passing policy dispute. Your article was probably too brief to repeat all that the group pushing these amendments wishes to say, but it looks like they have a narrow grievance (the 529 election) that ought not to be addressed by something as broad as an amendment to the county charter.

An amendment to require a referendum on every capital project exceeding $1 million would fragment the budgeting process. The County Council must weigh conflicting demands on the capital budget, almost all of which have some merit, against the limited resources available. This requires compromise and a sense of balance.

Neither is possible when the council effectively is denied any final say in which projects are actually approved.

Last I looked, the county’s process for obtaining a routine zoning variance had 31 separate steps. The White Rock Master Plan was accepted by the County Council a year ago, but the county has only just issued its call for proposals for the preliminary design phases. I’m told that’s unusually fast progress for this county (and I’m truly grateful to all who have helped the process along.) I don’t think we’re suffering from a lack of checks, balances, procedures, or public participation.

Kent G. Budge

Los Alamos