News

We’re Busy Rebranding Award

A local iteration of The Foilies goes to New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez

Cover Story (Courtesy www.nm.gov)

Fellow journalists at the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism have had a little fun sending birthday cakes to government agencies when records requests pass the one-year mark. This award comes just shy of a 1st birthday, but in honor of Sunshine Week, SFR offers its own Foilie award for total disregard for the timely enforcement of the New Mexico Open Meetings Act to Attorney General Raúl Torrez.

This state law simply requires the public’s business be conducted in public with very limited exceptions, and when they hold closed-door executive sessions, they must provide notice on a published agenda. But the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners didn’t follow that rule when commissioners decided after a long public hearing on a contentious annexation discussion to move to a private room to talk more before returning with instructions for community members about how to proceed.

SFR filed a formal complaint May 10, 2023 with the New Mexico Attorney General’s office regarding the May 1 meeting.

The NM Foundation for Open Government weighed in with a letter at the same time, in which Director Melanie Majors wrote, “Any attempt to engage in a public decision-making process without including the public as outlined in the state’s guidelines is a violation of the law and just as important, the public’s trust. It is basically a question of accountability and being transparent.”

The AG’s office wrote May 17 that it had assigned the matter to an attorney. But SFR has inquired about the status of the complaint every few months since then with no luck.

In August, Heather Sandoval, executive secretary /administrative assistant in the Government Council and Accountability Division wrote, “We apologize for the delay on your complaint. Due to severe staff shortages and turnover we are currently working through a backlog of complaints and doing all we can to get to yours as quickly as possible. You will be copied on anything that goes out regarding your complaint and I will continue to do anything I can to expedite it as much as possible.

Then in December, she replied: “As I mentioned in my last email, due to staff shortages and a large backlog of complaints, we are still behind on getting through them. We are doing everything we can to work through them as quickly as we can, but please know that your complaint is still in our queue and we will work diligently to get to it as fast as we are able.”

SFR’s turn for attention might be coming, however, if a complaint filed against the City of Santa Fe is any guide. Yet the outcome of the complaint does not instill confidence.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo wrote the Attorney General on March 31, 2023 after she and others were denied entrance to Mayor Alan Webber’s State of the City address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center because Webber’s political team said it was “sold out.” SFR counted more than 75 empty seats during the speech. But since the entire City Council was present, Espinosa-Trujillo argued it presented a violation of the law.

Earlier this month, a letter finally came back from Torrez’s office. The upshot: Nothing to see here. “ALthough a quorum of city council members may have been present for the speech, those members did not formulate policy, discuss public business, or take any public action. Because of that, the event did not implicate IPRA.”

We don’t even know what that last sentence means.

But what has the AG accomplished in the last nine months? Torrez found the time and staff to rebrand his office as the “New Mexico Department of Justice,” complete with a new logo he bragged about in a press release. He’s also suing Facebook and flew to Washington to testify about it.

SFR asked AG spokeswoman Lauren Rodriguez to arrange an interview with someone in the office who could talk about staffing in the Government Council and Accountability Division and about the status of the newspaper’s complaint. The office scheduled an interview a week in advance, then canceled it about 45 minutes before it was scheduled and did not agree to answer questions before press time. (Julie Ann Grimm)

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