In New Mexico, governing bodies can meet behind closed doors only for a few limited purposes. Chief among them are to discuss personnel matters, pending or threatened litigation, union negotiations, or the purchase or sale of real estate.
We have to trust our elected representatives to strictly follow the state Open Meetings Act. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hold them accountable because we can’t listen in when the doors are closed.
Last week, we got suspicious when the Las Vegas City Schools board immediately went into closed session after it began its special meeting to discuss budget issues.
The City Schools has to cut more than $1 million out of its budget. While no one likes to discuss spending cuts, such matters must be addressed in public. The board has no other option.
When asked about the closed meeting, the board’s first line of defense was that it can’t reveal what was discussed behind closed doors.
That’s not entirely true. They have every right to let the public know what was said if the meeting wasn’t in compliance with Open Meetings Act.
During the first part of the meeting, principals were allowed to take part. After the board emerged, Superintendent Rick Romero talked about the layoffs of 15 people. But no longer did anyone mention the possibility of letting go of any principals or administrators, which had been under consideration before. One wonders what the board members secretly discussed with all of the principals.
Board members Ramon “Swoops” Montaño and Patrick Romero assured us that the board followed the Open Meetings Act. They said they talked about litigation and personnel matters in private.
We hope they’re right. At the very least, the closed session was poorly timed. The good news is that Montaño, who leads the state school boards association, said he would like his organization to create guidelines for boards to follow for closed sessions.
On the other side of town, West Las Vegas may well have to face its own budget problems, given the bad economy. We hope it chooses the route of openness.