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Finalists in town this week

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County: Four candidates for administrator job bring strong qualifications.

By Arin McKenna

The culmination of the search for a new county administrator is near at hand.

Candidates will be in town this Thursday and Friday for interviews with councilors and staff and to answer questions from the community. Council expects to reach a decision by early October.

Citizens may meet the candidates at a reception from 5–7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, in the Pajarito Room at Fuller Lodge.

The public can also hear more of what the candidates have to say at two panels scheduled for Friday, Sept. 23. Councilors asked organizations that represent large segments of the community to choose panelists to interview the candidates.

The panel will include representatives from the Los Alamos Medical Center Board, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, the Los Alamos Public Schools Board, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee and one of the organizations for seniors.

Interviews are scheduled from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 – 5 p.m. in Council Chambers, and the public is welcome to observe.

When asked why there were no women among the finalists, Councilor Ron Selvage said that there had been one woman on the shortlist, but when Prothman Company (the executive recruitment firm hired by the county) contacted the candidate for an interview, she withdrew herself from consideration.

Tom Mitchell – one of the five candidates announced on Tuesday – also withdrew after being offered another position.

These are the four candidates under consideration, and each was asked why they were interested in the position and what skills they would bring to managing the county’s business.

David Benda

David Benda resides in Midland County, Michigan, where he was the County Administrator/Controller for ten years. When a former colleague offered him a position as President of Public Employee Benefits Solutions, he decided he would try something new.

“After about 10 months I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. I went under contract with them to sell. But it’s not really work. It’s income, but it’s not work,” Benda said. “I love the job of County Administrator, and I’ve done it for a long time. I have a lot of expertise in that area and I’m very successful at it. I really want to get back into it.”

Benda was County Administrator for Clinton County, Michigan, from 1993-1999.He also brings strong credentials in financial management, with 11 years experience as Financial Analysis Coordinator and then Budget Director for Ingham County, Michigan.

 “This is obviously a very attractive position in a very attractive place,” Benda said. “And it’s obviously similar – maybe not in size, but in the demographics – to Midland County, where I was recently the County Administrator for seven and a half years. It’s got a high income and it has a lot of amenities for the citizenry, it has a lot of Ph.D.s and intelligent citizenry that are informed and involved in local governance. They also seem to be very committed to providing top quality services to their residents. And that’s refreshing. That’s some of what I loved about Midland. Los Alamos County would be a great place to work. They have all the right tools available for us.”

In terms of the skills he brings, Benda said, “I know how to deal with elected and appointed officials. I have a lot of respect for the jobs that they do. Part of the process is making sure your whole organization is working together, to get everyone to join in and be part of the same team so they’re proud of what they do and they want to provide the best services,” Benda said. “And I’m very good at that. I’m very good at teambuilding and building a sense of camaraderie inside the organization so that the best results can be delivered to the residents.”

Benda has just been elected President of the Michigan Public Employer Labor Relations Association. He has served on the board for 16 years.

“I think I have the skills that they need, those team building and collaboration skills that are pretty important these days to having a functional, highly performing organization,” Benda said.
Benda has a Bachelor of Science in Education degree, majoring in political science, from Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Arthur Burgess

Arthur “Harry” Burgess has been the City Administrator for the City of Carlsbad, New Mexico, since 2005. He also served as County Manager for Grant County, New Mexico, for four years and as Administrative Services Director for Eddy County, New Mexico, from 1997-2001.

“I am looking to advance my career, and having the opportunity to do that within the state is important to me,” Burgess said. “Because I’ve worked for both city and county governments within the State of New Mexico in the past, the combined organization in Los Alamos is very interesting to me, and one for which I feel I’m prepared because of my past experience.”

Burgess has gained experience working with the federal government as an administrator (there is a large Department of Energy (DOE) facility in Carlsbad) and as a National Park Service employee. As physical science technician managing underground resources for Carlsbad Caverns National Park (the job that brought him to New Mexico), he often took scientists into the cave system. “I’ve worked with the federal government from a number of different aspects, and that parallels to the job in Los Alamos,” Burgess said.

Burgess has just completed a Doctorate in Economic Development from New Mexico State University, Las Cruces. He worked closely with the DOE for his dissertation, which was on the issue of nuclear waste and its economic impact upon the nuclear industry nationwide, particularly the impact on local communities where DOE is located.

Burgess also points to his successes as City Administrator for Carlsbad, including low unemployment and increasing housing stock, which he said was the main limitation to economic development. “Today we have two developers from out of Las Cruces here in Carlsbad building, because as the recession hit elsewhere, these developers were looking for places to do what they do best. We’ve attracted those firms from outside into Carlsbad and have several subdivisions going in, including a 400 unit apartment complex. And if you look around nationwide at the slump in housing, it’s just an anomaly,” Burgess said.

“I believe economic development is measured by growth over time,” Burgess said.” You have to provide for that growth, through things like infrastructure or housing. And there’s a role for the county to play in that, not only politically, to try to attract people there, but also to invest in the infrastructure and to set up policies that will attract these developers to town.”

Burgess has a Bachelor of Arts degree in industrial relations from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, a Master of Science degree in fire and emergency management administration from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater and a Master of Business Administration degree from Western New Mexico University, Silver City.

Earl Mathers

Earl Mathers has been the County Administrator for Gallatin County, Montana since 2006. Gallatin is the fastest growing county in Montana, with a population of about 90,000. Mathers has also been Executive Director for the Campbell County Economic Development Corporation, County Development Director for the Fremont County Association of Governments and Consulting Administrator for the City of Lander, all in Wyoming.  

“I think this is a unique professional opportunity,” Mathers said. “Los Alamos County is very appealing because of personal interests. The city/county government structure is one I think I’d fit very well in.”
Mathers brings a tremendous amount of experience in developing local governments. While working for Development Associates, a governmental consulting firm in Arlington, Va., Mathers spent three years in Lithuania after the fall of the Soviet Union. Local government was nonexistent, and Mathers helped to build it from the ground up. He also spent a year in Rumania working with local governments on economic development, decentralization and anti-corruption.

He served as Director of International Relations and Director of Development for the Graduate School, USDA, a government education institution in Washington, DC, where he worked with developing local governments in all the U.S. territories, a process he said had to be repeated every four years, since every time a new government was elected, there would be a complete turnover in personnel.

Mathers feels that experience could be applied to the county’s needs. “I’ve been very involved in economic development for a lot of my career, including abroad. That’s something I bring that would be beneficial to the county,” Mathers said.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with strategic planning, both with developing and implementing it,” Mathers said. “I could bring some guidance on how to make operational some of the strategic goals the county had adopted. For an effective approach, you need to engage the people. It’s got to be something the people can buy into. Effective monitoring is important, too, or people lose interest. I believe in getting the strategic plan down to the tactical level so you can demonstrate the kind of results people are looking for.”

Mathers has a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Montana, and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Wyoming.

James Payne

James Payne is currently a partner at Precision Organizing & Records Management, a firm located in Rio Rancho. Prior to that, he was City Manager for Rio Rancho from 2007-2008. Payne has also served the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin, as City Administrator for eight years, the City of Franklin, Wisconsin, as City Business Administrator for 13 years, and the City of LeMars, Iowa, as City Administrator for four years. He was also an assistant to the city manager at the City of Roseville, Minnesota, for three years.  

“I think the job is something that I would fit in well with, given my background and experience,” Payne said.” That’s the primary concern or issue for me is finding something that will challenge me and something that I can be useful at. That’s what I’m in the business for, is trying to contribute.”

When asked why his term in Rio Rancho was so brief, Payne replied, “The culminating event was a new mayor coming into office quite abruptly. He decided that he wanted to bring back someone who he had worked with previously, so he asked me to step aside. There were no performance issues, just a political change of winds, as they say.”

“I’ve done this for a long time, and I don’t think there’s anything in local government that I haven’t had some opportunity to deal with at some point in time,” Payne said, then highlighted what he feels are his three strongest points.

“First, there’s economic development. That’s something that I have gained a lot of experience in and have a lot of success in over the years.

“Secondly is general fiscal and budget expertise. Even in grad school I identified that as an area that I needed to focus on. It’s so important to the operation of government, it was something that I always needed to be current on and really gain expertise in.

“I’m also someone who has a good approach to employee relations and organizational structure. It’s something that I think is so important to an organization: aligning the organizational structure with the goals of the organization, and getting people within that structure to be committed to attaining those goals and objectives that the council and the community are interested in achieving,” Payne concluded.

Payne has a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Arizona State.