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AG affirms public’s right to know


The Open Meetings Act is an easy law to break, which means promoting its importance and calling out violations is a responsibility of citizens, journalists, organizations like the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and even the New Mexico Attorney General.

Last week, the state Department of Justice issued several determinations regarding violations of OMA and the Inspection of Public Records Act — laws which protect the public’s right to know what government agencies are doing. These inquiries were initiated by complaints from FOG, some in tandem with local news outlets.

The DOJ informed the Eastern New Mexico University Board of Regents it broke the law in January by taking final action on the president’s contract and another personnel matter during closed session. Because President/Chancellor James Johnston’s contract was not approved in open session, the action is invalid, the office ruled.

Responding to other complaints, the office found that the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County improperly applied an exemption in the law to certain video footage and that the District Attorney’s office for Luna, Grant and Hidalgo counties sought improper fees for redacting a video before fulfilling a public records request last year, which the DOJ said could have a chilling effect on such requests. (The office provided the video without the fees.)

DOJ complaints are an important recourse, short of potential litigation, in promoting transparency and the rule of law.

The Las Cruces Bulletin filed a complaint last week seeking an inquiry into 1-3 potential violations of OMA during the city of Las Cruces’ recent lightning-quick city manager selection process, nearly all of it out of public sight.

The city maintains it followed the law. Fair enough. If and when a determination comes, we will report what the DOJ says, even if we got it wrong. The point is to promote your right to know.

Open Meetings Act, New Mexico Attorney General, DOJ complaints