An Opportunity to Change the Tone

I have long believed that local government exists to serve the citizens of our community. Our citizens should be the County’s most important customers, but these days, some are starting to question whether this is the case.


The Unquarked debacle and the Family Strengths Network contract fiasco were but a couple of the more obvious boils blemishing the idea that Los Alamos County always works in the best interests of the community.


In the former case—regardless of which party you might personally think was in the right or in the wrong—what was most painfully obvious was the County’s seeming contempt for the idea of helping facilitate a win-win for a successful local business and the community. The trail of ashes from the County’s scorched-Earth strategy now leads to the steps of the District courthouse.


Regarding Family Strengths Network, what stands out is how tone-deaf the County was to the wishes of the public, and the apparent lack of knowledge or concern the County had for how much good FSN has done in our community.


The County Council sets the tone and tenor for how the County serves the residents and businesses of Los Alamos. This is because the Council sets policy for the County. The County manager then implements policy through direction to County employees.


The fates of Unquarked and FSN were a direct result of explicit or implicit Council policy. So too was the bizarre decision to give away a prime parcel of County-owned real estate to an outside business entity when several local businesses had apparently expressed an interest in, or a need for, available land.


During the past couple of years, numerous County employees have candidly expressed to me their concerns that they no longer feel as if customer service is the prime directive of the County. To hear County employees and not just citizens lament the loss of a customer-focused attitude within the County portrays a real failure of leadership.


It also reveals an unspoken disregard for residents who question the policy direction of the County. Some who have personally attended a County Council meeting to speak on the “opposing” side of an issue can attest to how unwelcoming the Council can be. Withering glances from the dais and having microphones turned off near the end of a statement that was allotted an ungenerous time limit discourage public participation at public meetings. And all of this is coming from a body made up of people who no doubt campaigned on the importance of public input and participation.


No one should have to suffer the indignity of being forced to mouth ideas that they care deeply about into a dead microphone in front of their friends and neighbors, or to be forced to shutter a viable business while the County tries to make an example out of them. Our community deserves better.


I believe local government exists to serve all of its citizens, not just the conciliatory or well-connected ones. Good policy is one that strives for a win-win for its citizens and businesses; bad policy is one that sets up winners and losers. I strongly believe local government should be transparent and accountable, and that all ideas from citizens should be regarded as part of the sweet melody of Democracy. These are some of my core beliefs. They will not evaporate after election day.


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James Rickman

- for County Council -

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2482 35th Street
Los Alamos, NM  87544


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