Vacancy decision up to new council

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By Jennifer Garcia

The vacancy left by Councilor Jim West will not be filled until after the New Year. The County Council decided Tuesday night to take no action on replacing West and instead have deferred the decision to the new council.

Though Chairman Jim Hall and Councilors Michael Wheeler and Frances Berting moved to appoint Ken Milder, that motion was shot down when Vice Chairman Robert Gibson and Councilor Nona Bowman voted against it.

Earlier during the discussion, Gibson said that he’d rather go through an application process in which interested candidates could submit an application, along with their qualifications and an explanation of why they want to be a county councilor.

Bowman agreed with Gibson.

When Wheeler and Berting presented the motion, Gibson responded by saying, “I will oppose this motion not because of the individual, but because we should go to a broader process.”

Bowman concurred and said, “I really like Ken but I feel it should be open to anyone who wishes to apply. The new council should select the person.”

She also went on to say that if the current council made the appointment, it would be similar to “the Bush administration selecting Obama’s cabinet.”

Hall said that either option would work for him but would prefer to appoint Milder to the seat.

“My view on this is either works,” he said. “Ken is a competent councilor, he’s civil and he’s thoughtful. The new council is made up of wise and thoughtful people. I will vote for this motion knowing that it will fail,” he said.

Wheeler made clear his position when he said,

“There are only two options here. The voters clearly indicated their positions. There was a fourth and fifth highest vote getter. The voters had already spoken. If we’d had four positions open, Ken Milder would be filling one.”

“I agree with Councilor Wheeler,” Berting said. “The voters have indeed spoken. Ken Milder has extreme long-term experience. He’s essentially a walking encyclopedia of what’s been going on in this county for a long time.”

She also said that it seems like the obvious way to go is to accept how the voters have spoken.

A few Los Alamos residents were present and spoke out against and in favor of the application process.

“The new council ought to choose (the new councilor),” Stephen Stoddard said. “I don’t think it’s fair to let the lame ducks that some of you are make the decision. If an incumbent loses, that’s it. They can try again sometime else. When you lose you lose. To put a loser in is wrong,” he continued.

Manuel Baca mirrored Stoddard’s comments, but also said he disagrees with putting the burden on the new council.

“We don’t expect you to be lame ducks and sit on your thumbs,” he said.

Patricia Max supported the current council appointing Milder to the seat.

“You can’t have someone apply like they’re applying for a job,” she said. “How can you possibly judge who’s qualified? It’s not a personnel decision.”

Greg Kendall supported the candidates who ran in the election and lost.

“I think elections are sacred in the U.S. These people were willing to put themselves in front of the public. We should take a look at that.”

Colleen Hanlon felt that accepting applications would be a suitable process.

“You should open it up to whoever wants to apply. The new council should choose because they know who they can work with,” she said.

Max was incredulous at the suggestion of the application process and questioned it.

At Hall’s request, County Attorney Mary McInerny read the charter on council vacancy appointments. It said simply that council could appoint someone to the seat, but did not say anything about going through an application process.

Councilors-to-be, Mike Wismer and Sharon Stover spoke out in favor of the application process and both said that they’d like to have a say in the application process.

“We’d like a say in the details and final process,” Wismer said.

Following further discussion, Bowman moved to leave the decision up to the new council. Berting seconded the motion and it passed 4-1, with Gibson voting against it.