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AG: City may have broken law

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By David Giuliani

The state attorney general’s office says the Las Vegas City Council may have violated the state’s open meetings law in early 2009.

The Open Meetings Act requires governing bodies in New Mexico to discuss most of their business in public at advertised meetings. The intention of the law is to ensure the public knows what’s going on with their taxpayer-supported entities.

However, the attorney general’s office believes two e-mail discussions among then-Mayor Tony Marquez and a majority of council members appeared to be in violation of state law.

The attorney general’s office issued its opinion on May 6, a year after then-Optic reporter Lee Einer filed a complaint with the agency.

In her opinion, Assistant Attorney General Lesley Lowe said the mayor or a council member can e-mail their colleagues information about city business.

But if others start responding, then it becomes a discussion and likely a violation of the Open Meetings Act, she said.

She pointed to a Feb. 12, 2009, e-mail discussion started by Councilwoman Diane Moore, who wanted to know about the procedures for the search for a new city manager. The mayor responded; both sent copies of the e-mail discussion to the others with Internet connections.

In a Feb. 6, 2009, exchange, Councilman Andrew Feldman asked the mayor for reasons about why the city had suspended then-Utilities Director George DuFour. The mayor responded, with the discussion copied to the others.

The attorney general’s office suggested that the City Council summarize the e-mail discussions in question during a subsequent council meeting to cure the apparent violations of state law.

Last year, the AG sided with the Optic’s Einer on the other part of his complaint — the allegation that the city was illegally keeping the e-mails in question secret.

The Optic had received some of the e-mails through another source, but tried to get all of them through the city. The city refused the request.

But the city later gave up the e-mails after the AG’s determination, although then-City Attorney Carlos Quiñones said he disagreed with the legal analysis. He noted that the e-mails came from the mayor’s private e-mail account, not a public one; the AG said that didn’t matter.

After the AG determined the e-mails to be public record, Quiñones sent a memo to the council asking about what the city should do about the unauthorized release of the e-mails. He said the “improper” release demonstrated that someone on the council couldn’t be trusted.

The council didn’t answer Quiñones’ memo.

When the Optic reported that the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government denounced the city’s decision against releasing the memos, the attorney told an Optic reporter that the story containing the criticism was “full of s---.”

Quiñones ended his work for the city in December.

Councilman Andrew Feldman said the council stopped having e-mail discussions long ago.

“It wasn’t intentional to hide things from the public,” he said.

City Attorney Dave Romero, who started in January, said he would follow the AG’s recommendation and read the e-mails in question into the record during a council meeting within the next month. He said he would then ask the council members if they had anything else to add to the discussion.

He also said he would send the record of his actions to the AG.