County Council catches up

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11 public hearings held at Wednesday night’s special session in White Rock

By Jennifer Garcia

Faced with what appeared to be a daunting agenda, Los Alamos County Councilors instead made swift work of 11 public hearings during Wednesday night’s special meeting at Fire Station No. 3 in White Rock. Public turnout was sparse for discussion of various amendments to the county charter that were billed as “clean up” of language that was either ambiguous or in conflict with state law.

All seven councilors were in attendance, as well as members of the Charter Review Committee, Chris Chandler and John Hopkins. The duo was there to help field questions from councilors regarding how the ordinances would affect the county charter.

County Attorney Mary McInerny began the process by introducing the county ordinances, three at a time, then giving a brief explanation of how each ordinance would change. Following her comments, the public and councilors were allotted time to ask questions regarding the ordinances and make comments on the changes.

Most of the public hearings went off without a hitch and motions were made and quickly voted on, however, a few of the ordinances listed early on the agenda sparked questions by council. Councilor Robert Gibson mainly led the discussion, asking a plethora of questions regarding wording in the charter and the changes that were made to verbiage.

First up on the agenda, Ordinance No. 558 which proposed amendments to Article I Sections 101 and 103 of the county charter; this ordinance would clarify the purpose of the charter to maximize home rule powers and to delete language in Section 101 that’s inconsistent with state law. McInerny explained the ordinance as a sort of “clean up condition.”

Gibson moved, seconded by Councilor Vincent Chiravalle, that council adopt Ordinance No. 558. The motion passed 7-0.

The second item introduced was Ordinance No. 559; which proposes amendments to Article II Sections 202 and 203 subsections 202.2, 203.2.1, 203.2.3 and 203.3, which will require public council meetings except as authorized by state low; allow five voters to request a matter for council consideration; require four affirmative votes for council action except as otherwise allowed in charter; make ordinance enactment clause consistent with state law; authorize amendments to ordinances with additional hearing at meetings no less than seven days later; authorize publication of ordinance adoption by publishing in its entirety or in summary; and allow adoption of emergency ordinance by a majority of a quorum of councilors.

Before a vote was taken, Los Alamos resident Patricia Max took the opportunity to make

comments on Ordinance 559. “I have questions about 559. I would say OK, I like the change to 202.2, 203 and 203.3, but I don’t like 203.2.3. Is this log rolling?”

McInerny responded by saying, “This is not log rolling. It’s all the same subject. If you disagree with one of the sections, you can choose to vote no.”

This ordinance sparked councilor discussion and Gibson moved, seconded by Chiravalle to amend a portion of Section 203.3 Emergency Ordinances to read: “To meet a public emergency that is an immediate danger to the public health or safety, the council may adopt emergency ordinances.” The motion failed 2-5; Councilors Michael Wheeler, Mike Wismer, Nona Bowman, Ralph Phelps and Sharon Stover voted against it.

Following the failed vote Wheeler moved, seconded by Bowman, that council adopt Ordinance No. 559. That motion passed 5-2, with Gibson and Chiravalle opposed.

Ordinance No. 560 was next on the agenda. This ordinance proposes an amendment to Article II Section 200 Subsection 220.4 of the county charter, providing that an appointment to fill a vacancy on council will be made by a majority of the remaining councilors if a quorum of four councilors does not exist.

“This clarifies that if you have a council vacancy, that vacancy will be filled by a quorum of four councilors,” McInerny explained. Councilors took turns asking questions about the amendment and how it would affect council. Wheeler also asked members of the CRC what the policy is on attending a meeting telephonically, if a councilor is out of town. “This is a clean up committee,” Chandler said. “We didn’t discuss telephonic phone-ins.” McInerny told Wheeler that state law authorizes phoning in, however.

After discussion, Gibson moved, seconded by Stover, to amend Section 200.4 vacancies. The motion passed 6-1, with Chiravalle opposed. Gibson then moved, seconded by Stover, that council republish and continue the public hearing for Ordinance 560 on July 13, 2010 and that the county attorney is authorized to amend the title and/or the whereas clauses consistent with the amendment made by council. That motion passed 7-0.

Read tomorrow’s Monitor for a continuation of the public hearings on ordinances and how council voted.