Council questions CIP process

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Councilors were presented with a petition regarding the Municipal Building

By Jennifer Garcia

The Municipal Building has been a hot topic for Los Alamos residents ever since the old building near Ashley Pond was demolished. Plans for a new Municipal Building are moving along, much to the chagrin of some residents.

Petitions have been circulated, signed and presented to council in an effort to get councilors to reconsider the decisions made regarding the building. Now there’s a new petition that’s come before council that questions whether councilors followed the county’s Capital Improvement Projects process.

During Tuesday night’s meeting at Fire Station No. 3 in White Rock, councilors — with the exception of Vice Chair Sharon Stover, who was absent — listened to a brief presentation by Los Alamos resident Patricia Max. Max initiated a petition, signed by 15 Los Alamos County residents, that asks council to discuss how the Municipal Building’s design and construction process is consistent with the Capital Improvement program. She claims that the project did not follow the CIP process.

During her address to council, Max said that between Fiscal Year 2008 and FY09, all of the CIP projects were re-categorized and “re-lumped” under new categories, to include the Municipal Building as a project in transition. “There is no mention in any of the minutes. I have no idea where the categorization came from,” she said. “Projects that were not in construction should be in CIP. Almost every other project was not in construction and was in CIP.” She pointed out that the whole purpose of following the CIP process is to get input from residents on proposed projects.

Max also said that her concern is not only whether the CIP process was followed, but also with how the history of Los Alamos is being represented. “We have taken some history out of this community without a path forward of how we’re going to represent its history,” she commented.

Following Max’s comments, Councilor Vincent Chiravalle made a motion to thank the petitioners for their recommendations and ask that staff prepare a Phase 1 application for the Municipal Building project for FY2011. That motion died for lack of a second. Councilor Nona Bowman then moved, seconded by Councilor Ralph Phelps, that council acknowledge the petition, thank the petitioners for their recommendations and request that staff investigate the matter and return to council with information, options and/or a recommendation for action at the Aug. 3 council meeting.

Bowman said that Max brought up an issue that “some of us know needs to be addressed.” She said it’s time that councilors look at what they’ve done and decide whether it’s the right decision for the community.

Phelps agreed with Bowman and said, “Giving us time to collect and tie thoughts together is important. There’s a lot of history behind the old Municipal Building and the new Municipal Building. I’m hoping we have a lot of good information to discuss in August.”

Councilor Michael Wheeler admitted that the CIP process is not perfect. “We’ve identified the enemy and it’s us,” he said. “If we continue down this path, we can hog-tie ourselves and never get anything done, which I suspect is the intent of some here tonight.”

Council Chair Michael Wismer weighed in, saying that there are inconsistencies in the CIP process. “We’ve identified problematic areas with no rhyme or reason,” he said.

Chiravalle, however, seemed to want to take action Tuesday night. “The petitioners have asked council to follow the process,” he said. “We should follow the process. If we’re going to follow the CIP process for the records archives and the North Mesa ball field, we should follow it for the Municipal Building. There should be a phase one and phase two. If we circumvent that, we’re doing a disservice to the community.”

Chiravalle’s comments seemed to strike a chord with Councilor Robert Gibson, who disagreed with Bowman’s motion.

He said that Aug. 3 would be too late to discuss the issue because CIP applications are slated to be reviewed at a special session on Monday. He offered a friendly amendment suggesting that the phrase in the motion, “at the Aug. 3, 2010 council meeting” be replaced with. “before any further action on CIP projects.” Bowman did not accept the friendly amendment, so Gibson made a formal amendment, seconded by Wismer and a heated discussion between Gibson and Bowman ensued.

Gibson made comments suggesting that some CIP applications were “sent back to square one,” while others were advanced without having followed the process.

Bowman vehemently disagreed and asked Gibson what he was referring to. Gibson said that the broadband application was one example.

“It was approved to phase two, then we went back and said it was only approved for conceptual design. Is council running this process? Or who is?” Gibson queried. “We need to understand the process before we proceed,” he said.

Following the exchange between Gibson and Bowman, Wheeler commented that he didn’t support the amendment because it “holds hostage the four projects that have moved forward.”

A vote was taken on the amendment, which failed 1-5; only Gibson voted in favor of it. Following that vote, another vote was taken on Bowman’s motion, which passed 5-1. Despite his feelings about it, Gibson voted in favor of the motion, Chiravalle, however, did not.

A special council session is slated for 7 p.m. today at Fire Station No. 3 in White Rock, during which 11 public hearings will be conducted on proposed charter amendments.