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Regional Coalition Discusses Path Forward

on March 5, 2018 - 5:51pm

Los Alamos County Councilor Chris Chandler addresses the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board this morning in Espanola. Photo by Maire O'Neill/ladailypost.com

 

 

By MAIRE O’NEILL

Los Alamos Daily Post

maire@ladailypost.com

 

Questions as to the legality of the agenda for Monday morning’s Regional Coalition of LANL  Communities board meeting in Espanola resulted in the board being unable to take any action on issues which have plagued Coalition in recent weeks.

One question raised by Los Alamos County Councilor Chris Chandler, secretary of the Coalition board was if new items could be added to the agenda that was posted for the Feb. 26 meeting which was continued to this morning.

Chandler told the board she received a text this morning from Los Alamos County Attorney Alvin Leaphart telling her if the meeting was deemed a continuation of the Feb. 26 meeting, adding items that were not on the agenda for the previous meeting would be in derogation of the Open Meeting Act because items can’t be added to a continued meeting agenda.

“In addition there may be another issue because prior to recessing a meeting a public body has to set the date, time and place of a continued public meeting. And if we accept the law on its face we did not designate a place because we did not have a place to meet,” Chandler said. “I am concerned that we follow the letter of the Open Meeting Act, particularly with some of the issues that have raised by some members of the public in terms of strictly adhering to the rules of order, transparency etc. I would prefer to stick to the letter of the law so that there’s no question in terms of the legality of our actions.”

Outgoing Espanola Mayor Alice Lucero said she thought the board could continue with agenda as issued.

“Last week issues were brought up as to the validity of our joint powers agreements and that discussion wasn’t on the agenda and because of that discussion we had to continue the meeting because three of our commissioners claimed that we couldn’t continue,” she said. “They questioned the validity which is really absurd in my opinion. Because of that very reason the meeting was continued and yes, the former items of last week’s agenda are on this agenda.”

Lucero said the board was “blind-sighted” last week was being blind-sighted once again “for the third time”.

“ I am convinced that this is truly and totally politically motivated and an effort to delay the action that needs to take place. I believe we can continue with this meeting,” she said.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal said he agreed with Chandler as far as following the letter of the law and making sure the board did the right thing, adding that he thought it was imperative that the board adjourn the previous meeting so that it could get direction legal counsel from Los Alamos and Santa  Fe Counties.

Santa Fe County attorney Bruce Frederick pointed out that he is not the Coalition’s attorney.

“I do know the Open Meeting Act and it’s good to follow the letter of the law. Courts apply substantial compliance and if there’s any question I wouldn’t take any action,” he said.

Mayor Lucero said she has always been of the opinion that the board needs to comply with the Open Meeting Act every time.

“But this has crippled the organization because of nonsense that’s been brought up and I don’t know how to resolve this. If we can’t even make a motion to adjourn the last meeting, how can we continue?” she asked.

Chair Javier Gonzales asked Roybal and Frederick, as Roybal’s legal counsel to review what the board had done and if Frederick felt comfortable to give his perspective on whether the board could take action or not.

Following a recess, Gonzales said it seemed as if there was some consensus that the agenda as noticed didn’t allow the board to continue with any kind of actions.

Frederick discussed the joint powers agreement (JPA) which established the Coalition. He said the purpose of the Coalition as indicated in the JPA is clear enough but that what was less clear was how the Coalition would accomplish its work, what powers it actually possessed and how it would exercise those powers under the agreement.

“For example it’s unclear whether the Coalition will have staff and whether that staff will be comprised by members of the board, employees of the Coalition, employees of the Coalition partners or some version of the above. It is unclear how the annual budget will be proposed and allocated and whether the books will be subject audit under the State Audit Act.  It’s unclear whether the Coalition will establish its own fiscal policies or be under the policies of one of the partners such as Los Alamos County,” Frederick said.

He said the JPA establishes Los Alamos County as the fiscal agent but it does not specify the duties of the fiscal agent or require that those duties be set out in a separate agreement.

“In my view we have here an ambiguous contract ... The ambiguities in the agreements and the byelaws in no way excuses the kind of abuses recently reported in the newspapers. There may be more to the story than is being reported -  there usually is - but nothing in the agreement or the byelaws or the Coalition policy authorizes public funds to be spent on entertainment or lavish meals. In fact the travel policy would appear to prohibit those types of expenditures,” Frederick said, adding his recommendation that the Coalition not hire an executive director until the documents have all been cleaned up.

In further discussion, Mayor Lucero said she was one of the persons that was noted as having questionable reimbursements.

“My reimbursements were all compliant. There was one that wasn’t itemized and there was a perception made by certain people that I may have had alcohol.  It was for three persons for $72 in Washington, DC, and believe me that was pretty cheap. And it did not contain any alcohol,” Lucero said. “As far as the audit, it finds they owe me over $400 for other travel I made. The other thing that’s a little concerning is why only Mayor Javier Gonzales and I were targeted. Commissioner Barney Trujillo traveled also last year and I am not sure if Henry (Roybal) did. One of mine was from 2016. I take offense to that, I have always been compliant, I have never taken money I am not owed or have not earned.”

Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo asked that the record be clear that he never traveled on the Coalition. He said as far as Rio Arriba County’s commitment to the Coalition, the County would stand for the best interest of the Coalition, that the executive director’s contract is expired and that the JPA should be fixed. He said the board could then issue a bid for services for an executive director and that anyone could apply.

Chandler said that with respect to moving forward, she was happy to offer up Los Alamos County as point of contact to schedule meetings so that the board could talk about the JPA, work on drafts associated with the JPA, the byelaws and work on the RFP in the interim so that it would be ready to go when the board was ready to proceed on the JPA. She added that Los Alamos County staff are more than happy to work with the staffs of the other Coalition communities.

“In closing, this organization is very important to our communities, not just with respect to LANL issues and laboratory issues but it has brought us together in terms of talking and sharing information and working together and I think its critical that we continue the organization moving forward because I think each and every one of us has benefited tremendously on many, many levels in terms of our interactions and our ability to team together,” Chandler said.

Former Ohkay Owingeh Gov. Ron Lovato said the board needs to be conscious that the end goal is getting their voices heard especially “up on the hill with LANL”.

“I think we’re doing that and we need to be conscious of what happens to all that effort in the meantime. That M&O contract, they’re all submitted, they’re reviewing that. I expect there will be orals and there’s going to be a lot of activity, The Coalition is a means to an end and everyone needs to be conscious of that as well,” Lovato said.

Mayor Lucero said it is unfortunate that now the Coalition will probably be unable to act for probably close to a year because the JPA has to go back to every entity for approval.

“Best wishes. This will likely be my last meeting and I am concerned about this group because I think it’s an important group. Unfortunately, I think that some poor political strategies have entered into it and I hate to say that but it's true. With that, that’s it but I wish you the best,” Lucero said.

Outgoing executive director Andrea Romero told the board in an emotional statement that her company will take full responsibility for any and all out of compliance expenditures.

“We are committed to ensuring that anything out of compliance gets into compliance between the board and my company, ARC,” Romero said. “Above all else I hope that the mission of the coalition and hard work continues.”

She said prior to a discussion with Los Alamos County officials and Roybal in October 2017 she believed the Coalition was in compliance with established policies and protocols. Romero said it was the practice of the organization prior to her joining to pay for board meals including alcohol.

“I did not know that alcohol was prohibited and for that I deeply apologize,” Romero said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Gonzales said it is clearly a little mind-boggling that during the last two to four weeks the Coalition appeared as “an organization with two left feet”, not quite understanding  how to move forward when in reality over last four to six years, the Coalition has “done extraordinarily well in advocating on behalf of our communities”.

“I hope that we can quickly put behind us the travel audit by Los Alamos County, directing that any funds that are owed to the organization by any of the contractors are paid, any funds that are owed to the public entities are paid also and really bring the expenditures into compliance so that as we go forward into a new contract that is put behind us,” Gonzales said. “What we can’t fix, which would be very hard, is if we all use what has happened, however it’s happened, whatever we want to call it over the last few weeks as a way to disrupt our commitment to work collectively as a region. There’s power in numbers and there’s even more power when we’re able to represent cities from Santa Fe to Questa, tribal communities and counties, because then we truly are reflecting and speaking on behalf of a regional community.”

During discussion on when the board should reconvene, Chandler said she felt the board should meet some time in March and at that meeting revisions of the JPA and any appropriate revisions of the bylaws would be discussed as well as a draft RFP for consideration.

“I would also suggest at that meeting we would discuss what we have done or what we are about to do with respect to collecting whatever expenses we need to recoup based on the audit and reimbursements if necessary as well,” Chandler said.

When Romero volunteered to assist with noticing a meeting for March 16, Chandler responded that she actually did not think that was a good idea, particularly if Romero intended to bid on the contract.

“So I would suggest that all records related to the Regional Coalition be transferred to County of Los Alamos until such time as we’ve picked a new contractor to represent us and I hope passwords and the like to websites have already been transferred to Harry (Burgess), if not I would ask that that be done today,” Chandler concluded.


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