JAL — The New Mexico Attorney General’s office concluded Jal’s city officials violated the Open Meetings Act in October 2017. The town’s newspaper, the Jal Record filed a complaint in November 2017 asserting city officials participated in a “rolling quorum.”
“Our review indicates that the City Council did indeed engage in a flagrant violation of the Open Meetings Act,” assistant attorney general John Kreienkamp said in a letter dated Tuesday to Gregg Fallick, Albuquerque-based attorney for the Jal Record. “However, we also conclude that the City Council has taken subsequent action to remedy its violation.”
Then-City Manager Bob Gallagher on Oct. 20, 2017, sent emails to council members requesting their consensus to protest a water rights easement application filed by the Fulfer Ranch. Also involved in the subsequent email chain were then-Mayor Cheryl Chance and city attorney Michael T. Newell, who advised Gallagher the item needed to be on a city council agenda.
The Jal Record is owned Jal resident Gregg Fulfer who also owns the Fulfer Ranch.
The AG’s letter credits then-City Councilor Dewayne Jennings for expressing concern that the item should be on the agenda and the email string lacked sufficient public transparency.
“Following the email discussion about the Fulfer Ranch Protest, the City Council placed the item on the agenda for their meeting on November 13 and took an official vote on the issue at that time,” the AG decision stated. “This represented ‘prompt, appropriate, and effective’ action, and it effectively cured the violation committed by the City Council’s rolling quorum.”
Current City Manager Matt White, pointing out most of the people involved in the October 2017 online discussion are no longer associated with Jal’s city government. He told the News-Sun Friday that everyone currently on the council has been advised of the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.
“We’re going to follow the state law and we have informed the city council of the proper procedures,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”
According to the AG letter, “The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to conduct their business openly so that all citizens can observe both the process and the final decision.”
Kreienkamp’s letter also reminds the Jal City Council that while the OMA provides room for rectifying violations, which Jal did less than a month after the “rolling quorum” email incident, the attorney general’s office expects continued compliance.
“We close this letter with a word of caution for the City Council. Make no mistake: OMA’s provisions are not voluntary for public bodies,” he said. “OMA contains requirements that must be followed, and the most fundamental of these is that quorums of public bodies may only discuss or take action on public business at an open meeting.”
Along with the letter expressing the attorney general’s office decision, Kreienkamp provided an updated version of the New Mexico Open Meetings Act Compliance Guide.
The Jal City Council is expected to discuss the AG’s letter during a special meeting scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m. The meeting was planned earlier to consider approval of a resolution to authorize submission of a New Mexico Community Development Block Grant Program Application to the Department of Finance and Administration’s Local Government Division.
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at .