LOCAL NEWS

Open Meetings Act: City of TorC Still More Opaque Than Transparent

By Kathleen Sloan

HERALD Reporter

Public oversight and participation are not yet improving, under the City of Truth or Consequences’ new city commission.

Last week –on Wednesday, March 21– the Airport Advisory Board met at 4 p.m.

City Clerk Mary Penner said the meeting was posted “since Thursday” on local bulletin boards.

The city’s monthly legal ad of regular meetings said no Airport Advisory Board meeting would be held. Neither of the local newspapers was faxed notice of this special meeting, which is the city’s usual practice. Neither newspaper was in attendance, according to Mayor John Mulcahy.

An examination of the city’s Open Meetings Act Resolution –passed July 12, 2011– shows that the resolution does not follow Attorney General Gary King’s recommendation of 72 hours notice for a special meeting. The city only requires 24 hours notice for a special meeting.

The city –at the Tuesday, March 27– meeting, will consider the “recommendations of the Airport Advisory Board,” from this special meeting.

The electronic-version press packet –distributed late Friday afternoon, March 23– does not include the minutes from that meeting, wrongly substituting a copy of the agenda. The Airport Advisory Board’s recommendations are also not available, also mislabeled and containing yet another copy of the agenda.

Among the Airport Advisory Board’s recommendations the city commission will “consider for approval” are a “fuel farm” and an “airport capital improvement plan.”

Both would probably require public money expenditures and public land use, and any formal decision should be passed by ordinance.

An ordinance requires the city to put in written form the proposal, “publish” it –or make it available to the public at the City Clerk’s Office for two weeks– notice and hold a public hearing on the matter and to revise or pass or reject the ordinance according to public input.

On Thursday, March 22, City Manager Juan Fuentes issued the following statement: “Due to an oversight by the Clerk’s Office, no notice was submitted to the newspapers regarding the Airport Advisory Board meeting, held on March 21, 2012. Although the meeting notice was posted in various locations – as required, the notice should have been sent to the newspapers. We apologize for the oversight.”

Last week, the city placed a legal ad in The Herald, which said a “work session” with staff presentations would be held Thursday, March 22, 1-4:30 p.m., followed by a work session with local municipalities on the Solid Waste Collection Center.

Since the two notices were grouped together, it was easy to assume that the staff presentations were also on the Solid Waste Collection Center.

This notice did not meet the Open Meetings Act requirements of State Statute 10-15-1 F: “Meeting notices shall include an agenda, containing a list of specific items of business to be discussed or transacted at the meeting or information on how the public may obtain a copy of such an agenda.”

During the work session on the Solid Waste Collection Center, Mayor Mulcahy asked City Manager Juan Fuentes to have a “resolution” ready and to schedule a public workshop for April 10.

A resolution has no more legal weight than a motion, and any significant decision involving public monies and land must be done by ordinance, according to State Statute 3-17-1 and following sections.

A resolution and April 10 deadline will neither give the public a written document to review for two weeks, nor the right to a public hearing. The public hearing can be granted, but will not have the same legal weight as an ordinance public hearing. This is improper procedure and violates due process.

Discussion

One thought on “Open Meetings Act: City of TorC Still More Opaque Than Transparent

  1. It would appear by prior actions of both current and recently departed city officia, that citizen participation in matters of city business in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is discouraged as a matter of governmental policy. Suggesting that written comments are some sort of useful alternative to mandatory public hearings and unfettered freedom of speech for those actively seeking to provide public comment, reeks of a deceptive manipulation of process.

    The Constitution, Open Meetings Act, and Inspection of Public Records Act are intended to serve the people, and to assist them in protecting themselves from the exercise of undue influence and conflicts of interest in the decision making process exercised by their elected representatives. To date, these safeguards have been ignored, violated, and disregarded by both city employees and the public officials that they serve.

    I am reminded of a few words made under oath before the Truth or Consequences City Commission in March of last year. This particular statement remains as valid now as it was when first expressed. Sadly, it grows increasingly apparent as evidence mounts, that there may be a willful conspiracy to silence any and all opposition to matters which city staff have recommended, and to knowingly deny access to public records which provide incontrovertible evidence of improper actions by the city.

    So, to Mayor Mulcahy and his fellow city commission members, and to Mr. Fuentes, I repeat Gerald Boland’s words:

    “Now you know, you guys take an oath to the Constitution. And if you don’t love the Constitution; if you don’t love freedom and liberty; and making life as best for the people as you can… then you shouldn’t be in this job.”

    Posted by Durable Brad | March 30, 2012, 7:46 pm

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