http://www.lamonitor.com/todaysnews/rss.xml en Ex-pastor waives hearing in child porn case http://www.lamonitor.com/content/ex-pastor-waives-hearing-child-porn-case <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/cropped_paul_cunningham.jpg" alt="Paul Cunningham" title="Paul Cunningham" align="left" hspace="6" width="76" height="85" /><p> Former Los Alamos Baptist Church pastor Paul Cunningham waived his right to a preliminary hearing in court Tuesday. His case for allegedly downloading child pornography will be sent to district court.<br /> In Los Alamos Magistrate Court, Cunningham, 54, dressed in an orange striped jail uniform, sat quietly in the back two bench rows away from the other inmates. He was taken back to his cell shortly after court began.<br /> Cunningham&rsquo;s attorney, Stephen Aarons, did not appear with him in court, and could not be reached for comment.<br /> Cunningham did not have a district court date as of Tuesday. He is also still being held on a $5,000 cash surety bond. He&rsquo;s been in custody since his arrest. Assistant District Attorney Kent Wahlquist said that he would be filing Cunningham&rsquo;s new court appearances later this week.<br /> Cunningham, 54, was arrested June 16 after an investigation by Los Alamos Police Department and the New Mexico Attorney General&rsquo;s Office. According to investigators,&nbsp; sexually explicit images of child pornography were discovered that had apparently been downloaded onto a computer allegedly owned by Cunningham.<br /> County gets high marks on survey http://www.lamonitor.com/content/county-gets-high-marks-survey <p> Los Alamos&rsquo; biannual citizens&rsquo; survey shows the county ranking higher in several categories than it did two years ago. According to Brian Sanderoff and Matt Hughes from Research and Polling, Inc., the company that conducted the survey, Los Alamos is rated better by its citizens than many of the communities they work with.<br /> Sanderoff and Hughes presented the results to the Los Alamos County Council July 19. Their executive summary states, &ldquo;Residents of Los Alamos County enjoy a high quality of life and appear to be very appreciative of the services that are offered by the County. In fact, 92 percent of residents rate the overall quality of life in Los Alamos County as being either good (36 percent) or excellent (56 percent).<br /> &ldquo;Furthermore, over the past two years residents have grown increasingly pleased, as the percentage who rate the quality of life as excellent has risen from 42 percent to 56 percent.<br /> &ldquo;Residents also express a high level of satisfaction with the overall quality of services provided by the County with 86 percent rating the services as being either good (49 percent) or excellent (37 percent). Just 3 percent of residents rate the County services as being poor.&rdquo;<br /> &ldquo;This is almost to the level of resort towns&hellip;These scores are very good,&rdquo; Sanderoff said.<br /> Survey: County lacks in communications http://www.lamonitor.com/content/survey-county-lacks-communications <p> This year&rsquo;s citizen survey shows the greatest need for improvement in the area of government communications.<br /> Overall scores for how the county communicates with citizens rose this year, with &ldquo;excellent ratings&rdquo; jumping by nine to 11 percent in several instances. Results showed that good or excellent ratings were<br /> &bull; 70 percent for communicating information about county news, meetings, and events in a timely manner (25 percent fair or poor).<br /> &bull; 59 percent for providing information that citizens need to participate in county decisions (34 percent fair or poor).<br /> &bull; 58 percent for providing opportunities for citizen involvement in county decision-making (34 percent fair or poor).<br /> &bull; 57 percent for openness of the county decision-making process (32 percent fair or poor).<br /> &bull; 52 percent for fairness in the county decision making process (38 percent fair or poor).<br /> &ldquo;So you&rsquo;ve got about a quarter to a third of the population who are rating you fair to poor on communications issues or feelings of efficacy or being part of the process,&rdquo; said Brian Sanderoff from Research and Polling, Inc., the company that conducted the survey.<br /> Barranca Mesa passed over for state funding http://www.lamonitor.com/content/barranca-mesa-passed-over-state-funding <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/barrancapublicmeet.jpg" alt="The Public School Capital Outlay Council hears from a citizen Monday at its regular meeting at the State Capitol Building. " title="The Public School Capital Outlay Council hears from a citizen Monday at its regular meeting at the State Capitol Building. " align="left" hspace="6" width="157" height="85" /><p> This year, Barranca Mesa Elementary School will not receive funding from New Mexico&rsquo;s Public School Capital Outlay Council, the district learned Monday.<br /> The news was revealed during a council session at the capitol building in Santa Fe.<br /> Los Alamos Public School Board can choose a different school to rebuild in the future.<br /> When the school board selected Barranca Mesa Elementary to be the next school for renovations, Barranca Mesa was ranked 14 out of a list of 100 on the council&rsquo;s list of state schools in need of structural improvement.<br /> The school board&rsquo;s plan was to use $11 million in general obligation bonds, approved in February, in combination with about $8 million from the council. That gave the district about $18 million to rebuild the school.<br /> One of the council&rsquo;s functions is to distribute funding through the Public School Capital Outlay Act to help New Mexico&rsquo;s school districts maintain their infrastructure.<br /> The amount of funding a school district receives is determined by a matching funding formula, and a ranking system.<br /> At Monday&rsquo;s council meeting in Santa Fe, Superintendent of Schools Kurt Steinhaus learned the school&rsquo;s state ranking slipped from 14 to 38, dashing any hopes that the school would receive funding from the council this year.<br /> Bear-y busy on Orange Street http://www.lamonitor.com/content/bear-y-busy-orange-street <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/p1070314.jpg" alt="Harry Flaugh of Los Alamos snapped this photo of a young bear who he said has been “pretty busy” on Orange Street. The bear is seen here walking on a fence. In other photos, the bear is seen in the yard and on a window ledge. " title="Harry Flaugh of Los Alamos snapped this photo of a young bear who he said has been “pretty busy” on Orange Street. The bear is seen here walking on a fence. In other photos, the bear is seen in the yard and on a window ledge. " align="left" hspace="6" width="113" height="85" /> Locals host DNC watch parties http://www.lamonitor.com/content/locals-host-dnc-watch-parties <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/cheers.jpg" alt="Local Democrats cheer as they watch the Democratic National Convention Monday night at the Democratic Party of Los Alamos headquarters. " title="Local Democrats cheer as they watch the Democratic National Convention Monday night at the Democratic Party of Los Alamos headquarters. " align="left" hspace="6" width="131" height="85" /><p> The Democratic Convention was off to a rocky start Monday, with Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters booing any mention of Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But that was not the tone at a convention watch party hosted by the Democratic Party of Los Alamos Monday evening.<br /> Approximately 25 citizens who turned out for the watch party listened politely and applauded at the end of speeches by Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sanders.<br /> Many expressed hope of party unification.<br /> &ldquo;It reminds me a lot of Hillary and Barak Obama in 2008. There was that going on, and then we eventually came together,&rdquo; said Los Alamos party Chair Robyn Schultz.<br /> &ldquo;The people there, their feelings are running very high and they really feel strongly about his platform. We got a lot of it incorporated into the Democratic Party platform, but someone is the top vote getter and it was Hillary.&rdquo;<br /> Los Alamos gets closer to ‘super school’ goal http://www.lamonitor.com/content/los-alamos-gets-closer-%E2%80%98super-school%E2%80%99-goal <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/super_schools_0.jpg" alt="The XQ Super School Project team in Los Alamos made it into the next round of the competition. " title="The XQ Super School Project team in Los Alamos made it into the next round of the competition. " align="left" hspace="6" width="136" height="85" /><p> Members of a group looking to change the way high school is taught in Los Alamos County got a big win this week when they learned they&rsquo;re one of 50 finalists. The XQ Super School Project team is competing for a $10 million grant that will help them build a high school that offers another way of learning.<br /> The team entered the contest at the beginning of the school year. The contest was organized by the &ldquo;XQ Institute,&rdquo; a California-based organization looking to modify the way public school is taught, with a preference for more academic freedom for students over traditional classroom learning.<br /> The Los Alamos team, called the &ldquo;Odyssey Team,&rdquo; proposes to put a priority on the mental health and wellness of students as they pursue the academic subjects of their choice.<br /> If the team wins this round, they will be one of five groups in the nation that will each receive a $10 million grant to design and fund their new high school. The announcement of winners will be Aug. 4.<br /> Odyssey Team member Marvel Harrison congratulated the community and the students for helping them get this far.<br /> Gas rates likely to drop 10 percent http://www.lamonitor.com/content/gas-rates-likely-drop-10-percent <img src="http://www.lamonitor.com/sites/www.lamonitor.com/files/imagecache/thumb85/croppee_robert_westervelt.jpg" alt="Deputy Utilities Manager for Finance and Administration Robert Westervelt speaks to the board about gas rates July 20. " title="Deputy Utilities Manager for Finance and Administration Robert Westervelt speaks to the board about gas rates July 20. " align="left" hspace="6" width="89" height="85" /><p> After last month&rsquo;s news that the Los Alamos Board of Public Utilities will consider a 10-percent water rate increase at its Aug. 17 meeting, there is some good news for customers. That increase is likely to be offset by a 10 percent rate reduction on their gas utility bills.<br /> The board had a preliminary discussion about the proposed gas rate structure at its July 20 meeting.<br /> Department of Public Utility (DPU) staff is recommending that the current rate structure be maintained, with a 20-percent reduction to the fixed cost portion of the bill.<br /> The fixed cost recovery rate would be reduced from $0.29 to $0.23 per therm, which would result in a 10-percent reduction on the overall bill.<br /> If future projections prove themselves out, customers will see another 10 percent reduction a year from now.<br /> The rate reduction will serve to draw down a high cash balance in the gas fund. Staff policy is to maintain $2 million in reserve. The balance currently stands at $6 million.<br /> &ldquo;We&rsquo;d start spending that cash reserve down until we identified through our cash policies what should our target level be. We intend to get to that through rate reductions as appropriate,&rdquo; said Deputy Utilities Manager for Finance and Administration Robert Westervelt.<br />