UNM-LA wins coveted coin toss

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By Carol A. Clark

With his call of heads, Executive Director Cedric Page ensured UNM-Los Alamos would get top billing on the ballot for the Feb. 2 joint election with Los Alamos Public Schools.  Council Chair Michael Wheeler flipped the coin for Page and LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt at Tuesday’s county council meeting.

UNM-LA  Advisory Board Chair Marie Chiravalle and LAPS Business Manager John Wolf joined Schmidt and Page at the meeting and spoke to the importance of the upcoming election for both educational institutions.

Councilors approved 5-0 the resolution supporting the joint election for which the college will ask voters to approve a new mill levy and the school district will ask for a continued referendum.

Councilors Michael Wismer and Vincent Chiravalle recused themselves because of conflicts of interest. Wismer serves on the UNM-LA Advisory Board and Chiravalle’s mother chairs it.

Council also unanimously approved the execution of a lease agreement with the schools for various buildings at the Airport Basin.

In a separate vote, councilors approved 7-0, the conveyance of property in the 800 and 900 block of Trinity to the schools. There’s been some unrest about the county and schools exchanging eight acres of land on Trinity Drive for 24 acres on DP Road.

County Administrator Tony Mortillaro explained that the properties are equal in appraised value.

“In essence, this is a value-for-value trade,” he said.

Council also unanimously approved the execution of a lease agreement with the Administrative Office of the Courts of certain exclusive and nonexclusive areas in the new JPJ Complex.

In a 7-0 vote, council agreed that for the next six months the name for the complex would be “The Justice Center” to better encompass the functions within the new building, which will include not only district, municipal and magistrate


police and correctional facilities, but the sheriff’s office and space for the District Attorney’s Office.

County Capital Improvement Projects Director Anne Laurent asked council to officially approve naming the complex because signage needs to be created and installed in the next several weeks in order to direct the public to the various offices as they become occupied. Magistrate Court is one of the first offices expected to move into the new facility next month. Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados told councilors the New Mexico Supreme Court has approved naming the Magistrate Court after her longtime predecessor Elaine Morris.

“This is your building but the Supreme Court’s courtroom,” Casados said.

Morris is now deceased. Her family will participate in a ceremony in the spring to be attended by members of the Supreme Court to officially name the court, Casados said.

Wismer asked that the entire complex be named “The Jim West Justice Center” to honor the former councilor who played a key role in the project. West recently died from cancer. County Attorney Mary McInerny explained regulations require a six-month waiting period before naming a building after a deceased person.

Wismer intends to bring the matter back for a formal vote in June, he said. In the meantime, the complex will be known as The Justice Center.

Mortillaro discussed the county’s legislative agenda for the upcoming session that begins Jan. 19 and ends Feb. 18. The session is expected to focus primarily on the budget, he said. They’ll be watching closely for any talk of changing the schools’ funding formula or swapping GRT for state income tax.

While he said it’s not likely, should capital funding become available during the session, Mortillaro said the county would like to address a number of projects including fire hydrants for Camp May, a visitor information center for White Rock and N.M. 4 improvements. The county would also like to continue Park and Ride and look at funding for affordable housing and telecommunications infrastructure.

“Most of the time we’re monitoring, we’re not proposing legislation. We try to play a real good game of defense … as they say, ‘When the legislature’s in session — nobody’s safe,’” he said.

Council approved the legislative agenda 6-1. Wheeler opposed the motion explaining that overall he approved, it but was in opposition of a healthcare item left in the agenda from last year.

Phase Three of the Diamond Drive project is wrapping up and Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman and Deputy Public Utilities Manager James Alarid spoke at length about Phase 4, which will be detailed in a separate story Thursday’s Monitor.