Posts Tagged ‘Open Meetings’

Ever More Open Society – Except in Government

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

We live in the information age.  A quick web search, and you can find information about almost anything.  Overall, I think this is a good thing.  In my mind knowledge is power.  The ability to learn and find answers quickly makes overcoming some previously insurmountable challenges surmountable.

Yet, there is one place in our society where open sharing of information is seemingly going in the wrong direction. Ironically, this place is called the “public sector.”

New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act is meant to help ensure public involvement and to prevent backroom deals in state and local government, but violations of the law are widespread, an investigation by The Independent has found. School boards, universities, town councils, county and state commissions, and boards across the state have broken the law, casting a shroud of secrecy over government officials’ deliberations and bargaining.

Violating the Open Meetings law can contribute to a culture of political secrecy and corruption, Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah Welsh told The Independent. It also raises questions about the legality of decisions reached based on issues discussed during illegally convened closed sessions.

And, it’s not just the violation of open meetings that is troublesome:

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says a state agency violated the Inspection of Public Records Act when it redacted information from public documents before giving them to Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh.

Now it appears the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) is in the process of correcting that violation.

Sarah Welsh, the sunshine group’s executive director, recently made her own request for some of the public records DFA had provided to Weh with redactions. The agency provided the records to Welsh without redactions, which allowed her to see that DFA had inappropriately blacked out routine information – such as handwritten notations of account numbers or notes such as “OK to pay” – before providing the documents to Weh.

“They provided different information to me and to the Weh campaign, which is not the way it’s supposed to work,” Welsh said.

Story after story have shown that increasingly all levels of public government feel free to act with impunity in keeping the public in the dark:

Attorney General Gary King is accusing Gov. Bill Richardson of violating the state open-records act by withholding the names of those in the 59 political jobs Richardson said he eliminated.

“It seems implausible that your office would make a formal announcement (about the layoffs) when it had no set of records to support its numerical assertion,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Albert Lama wrote in an opinion this week. “It creates the impression that some staff member in the Governor’s Office possesses, contrary to your response letter’s assertions, records pertaining to the 59 exempt employees …

At some point, the voters are going to say enough is enough.  And, it’s increasingly looking like that point may occur this November.

Doing the Bare Minimum

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Scandal after scandal is rocking the state. You would think that as a result public officials would go out of their way to make sure that government is operating as transparently as humanly possible. But, when it comes to the Albuquerque Public Schools, that doesn’t seem to be the case:

School board president Marty Esquivel said APS is in compliance with open records laws, which do not require postings on the Internet.

“This is probably a case where open government laws have not caught up with the technology of today,” said Esquivel, an attorney who works with the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The auditor said APS was violating the state Open Meetings Act by failing to post updated board and committee meeting minutes on the Web site.

Esquivel said state law requires only that minutes be made available upon request.

State law may only require that minutes be made available upon request, but the current level of corruption investigations mandates that if a public organization wants to appear on the up and up, then they should go out of their way to provide open government. And, to be perfectly honest, posting minutes on a website wouldn’t take someone more than 15 minutes.

Make the Call (505) 476-2200

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Here’s a fact. Anytime Democracy for New Mexico and I are in agreement that a bill should be signed into law, you can rest assured that it is a good idea:

Take Action: Please call Gov. Richardson ASAP at (505) 476-2200 and urge him to sign Rep. Cervantes’ Open Conference Committees bill, HB 393, as he promised to do last week. The Governor has until April 10th to sign the bill. The legislation passed the House 66-0 vote and the Senate 33-8.

Governor Richardson is playing games here, and it stinks. First, he says no one cares about more transparency in government, which is a bunch of baloney. Now, he’s claiming he can’t sign the bill because he hasn’t received it.

The governor thanked everyone for speaking [in favor of signing the bill]. He said he hadn’t received the open conference committees bill yet.

“Well, Step 1, I need to get it up here,” the governor said. “I physically couldn’t sign a bill that we don’t have.”

If you ask me, he’s starting to set the stage for a pocket veto. So, here is the thing, I write day in day out and don’t really ask for anything in return. But, today I’m asking.

I made the call, and I’m asking you to do the same. Call (505) 476-2200 and request that Governor Richardson sign HB 393 into law.

A New Worst of List for New Mexico Counties

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Transparency was one topic that dominated debate during this recent legislative session. It took many forms. There was the question of whether or not to webcast. The was the question of whether or not to audiocast. There was the defeat of a bill that would have provided a searchable budget online for anyone to search. Now, there is the question of whether or not Governor Richardson will back away from his promise to sign into law a bill that opens conference committees.

Let’s face it, the majority of New Mexico’s elected officials prefer that we don’t see them “making the sausage.” Apparently, this desire to operate under a veil of secrecy is not limited to state government. The Sunshine Review just completed a review of every county website in the country, and guess what they found:

This table shows both the percentage of counties in each state with websites, and the average transparency rating each state received. Averages are calculated by adding up the total number of “yeses” received, divided by the number of counties with websites.

So far, Arizona‘s county websites have received the highest average rating of 6.533. Not only that, but 100% of it’s counties actually have websites. New Mexico fared the worst with an average rating of only 1.222.

Another worst of of list ranking for the Land of Enchantment. Is there really any excuse for this? How many corruption cases do we need before we say enough is enough?

Governor’s Rationale Stinks

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Do you smell that? Near as I can tell, the strong offending odor seems to be coming from the Governor’s office. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Governor Richardson’s last ditch effort to fight open meetings:

The first opening of the doors to the New Mexico Legislature’s long-closed conference committee meetings might have provided a glimpse into the future — and some lawmakers say that’s a good thing.

But whether Gov. Bill Richardson will sign a bill to routinely require the opening of those conference committees — where designated House and Senate members meet to hash out differences in legislation — is uncertain. A top Richardson aide said Tuesday the governor wants to carefully scrutinize several perceived “loopholes” in the bill.

Yup, this is definitely the source of the stench. Members of the legislature voted 99-8 to open the conference committee meetings to the public. That is pretty dang near close to unanimous. The loopholes giving the Governor pause:

One potential loophole identified by Gallegos was a provision in the bill that the Legislature could move to close conference committees by adopting a rule change — an action, unlike the pending legislation, that wouldn’t require the executive branch’s approval.

“It just seems like common sense that either you would open them or not,” Gallegos said.

The rationale Mr. Gallegos puts forth is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Let’s be real. The VAST majority of legislators voted to open the committee meetings. If they suddenly did an about face and opted a rule change to close the meetings, they would be crucified in the media and it would be easy to defeat them when they were up for re-election. The campaign materials practically write themselves.

On top of all this, the absurdity of proposing that the reasoning for not signing open meetings into law is that at some point someone might try and close the meetings is beyond understanding. Every law can be changed by a future law. It happens ALL THE TIME. If you bought into the Governor’s rationale, well, then nothing would ever be signed into law because it might be reversed a future date.

This just stinks like nothing more than a rancid pile of political manure. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a little more annoyed than usual.

Kind of Hard to Say, ” No.” Don’t You Think?

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

By now, you all know that I’m dead set against unnecessary ethics legislation that is pushed session after session. I prefer the convict-and-prosecute-the-criminals approach to passing feel good legislation that won’t change a thing.

With that said, I can’t imagine how those debating the ethics legislation could possibly say, “no” to the webcasting of their deliberations:

The New Mexico Independent is going to attempt to webcast Friday’s ethics reform hearing being held by the Senate Rules Committee. The big question is whether the powers-that-be will allow it to happen.

Kind of hard to make the case for passing ethics reform if you tell the people you don’t want them to see what you’re doing. Don’t you think?

Broadcasting Should Happen

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

I’m with Heath on this one. I had written before how wrong it was for Governor Richardson to veto prior efforts to get cameras into the Roundhouse for broadcasting. But, now that the money has been approved and is just waiting to be spent, it is wrong for this not to go into effect.

It is disingenuous for the Legislature to be considering any sort of ethics reform package, when they won’t even take this simple first step toward providing more open and accessible government.

Remove the Veil of Secrecy

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Heath Haussamen has a post on opening the legislative conference committee meetings to the public that is worth reading.