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A whiff of a rolling quorum


Las Cruces has periodically learned expensive lessons about New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act.

Except for certain carefully designed exceptions, governing bodies are required to meet and converse in the open. The law states: “All meetings of any public body except the legislature and the courts shall be public meetings, and all persons desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.”

In 2002, members of the school board were accused of approving incentive pay for a superintendent outside of a legally noticed meeting of the body. Five people faced criminal charges for violating the law requiring government bodies to conduct the public’s business openly. Violations of the Open Meetings Act are a misdemeanor with a potential $500 penalty for each offense.

In 2003, the Las Cruces Sun-News and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sued the city for conducting what is typically called a “rolling quorum,” in which council members discuss policy and other public business with each other outside of public business meetings even if a quorum (the required number of members for an official proceeding) is not present at the same place or time. For instance, as the state Attorney General’s compliance guide for OMA states, “if three members of a five member board discuss public business in a series of telephone or email conversations, the discussion is a meeting of a quorum.” That would constitute an unlawful unofficial meeting.

As City Manager Ifo Pili announced his departure last week, he recommended an internal hire in discussions with councilors; with how many, it is not clear. We reached out to Mayor Eric Enriquez to ask about those conversations. He was traveling this week and did not respond by press time.

Hiring Pili’s successor from among current staff might be a very good decision, but if a quorum of the council discussed it through Pili and/or with each other, an unlawful rolling quorum likely took place.

Open Meeting Act, rolling quorum