Council treading on thin ice

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By The Staff

Dear Editor,

It should be noted/recalled that council decided to push up the start date on the JPJ project by several weeks. The reason given was weather and a desire to start the project before spring.

The timing was and remains questionable. This early start date also happened prior to the election, but close enough to begin to get a sense that Ken Milder might not get re-elected and Vince Chiravelle, whose views certainly ran counter to council’s plans, might very well secure a seat on council. The timing might well also suggest an attempt to get the project well enough under way, with enough money having been spent, that it would per force proceed regardless of any future opposition. And, indeed, now that there is opposition to the JPJ, the argument is already being laid out that we’ve already spent $3 million so we should proceed.

 Though this may seem cynical, council’s actions, beginning with the omnibus 529, carrying through the Municipal Building “process,” and then on to the Skate Park (which was also started in the face of mounting opposition and controversy), leaves no alternative but cynicism. The civic center went down 2-1, though council firmly believed they had a majority support for the project, and 529 only barely passed.  

Since then, council has steadfastly ignored the advice of its own citizen advisory panels, LACDC and other groups and organizations whose input would normally be in some way implemented, and quashed any and all attempts to have any capital expenditure projects placed before the voters. That the council does not trust the voters is evident.  That the voters do not trust the council is equally evident.

Some time last year, Milder told me that “there is the business of politics and the game of politics.” It is the “game” part which leads to what can only be described as a situation of mutual distrust and disrespect twixt the council and the community. Games are zero-sum and public policy should never be a zero-sum proposition.

The biggest expense Los Alamos will face is not the initial cost of misguided capital expenditure projects, but the larger cost of repairing the damage. In good economic times, this would be bad enough, but these are not good economic times. Los Alamos can expect to get hit with the budget axe in the coming year as the bill curtailing expenditures by the federal government to the lab which was supported by our new senator-elect and thwarted only at the last moment by Sen. Domenici is revived. This time there will be no reprieve.  

Given the amount the federal government is spending on bailout money, there will be a tightening of the federal belt which, when added to the anti-war/anti-nuclear impetus which grew apace this past election, will translate as a tightening of the noose around the neck of Los Alamos.  I have seen this dynamic at work before, as I recall the RIF of 1970-71 and others have seen the same dynamic at work to the detriment of Los Alamos and her residents at the end of the Cold War. Municipalities across the country are scaling back on capital expenditures, waiting for better times, as are businesses scaling back on new capital and other investments. Yet the council pushes on, determined on a last hurrah that will be their legacy for years to come.

 So enough of the games. Council should have the good grace to abandon being leaders and act for once as stewards of Los Alamos. Leadership is easy, all it requires is to have the moxie to put forth an idea that folks will follow. Stewardship, however, is truly difficult, for it requires consideration of consequences beyond one’s own term of office and to look beyond popular preferences and act accordingly. I would call on council to put the JPJ and other capital expenditure projects on hold and to leave the stage with dignity letting the new council take up these issues for serious review, revision and potential recision.

And it should be a truly new council. Four of the current councilors will be leaving the Los Alamos political stage.  The remaining three should seriously consider their own resignations in short and orderly fashion.

 If not, then the community should seriously consider exercising the recall option provided in the charter.

Richard Hannemann

Los Alamos