For the News-Sun
ALBUQUERQUE – The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has chosen five New Mexicans, including one from Hobbs, as the recipients of its 2022 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Awards.
The awards are annually presented to those New Mexicans who believe in government transparency at the state or local level – and who have made significant contributions to casting sunshine (transparency) in government operations in the state.
Dixon Award winners will be honored with a Dixon Award event set for Oct. 6 at the Albuquerque Marriott Hotel on Louisiana Boulevard in Albuquerque.
“For many years, FOG has honored those New Mexicans who believe that open government is good government,” Kathi Bearden, FOG president, said. “This year’s group acted on their beliefs instead of giving lip service to transparency and accountability. Their actions changed policies, procedures and allow everyone to participate in government.”
The 2022 Dixon Recipients Are:
Byron Marshal, citizen
Byron’s nomination focused on his dogged citizen advocacy for the Hobbs City Commission to adopt video streaming and archiving of commission meetings – activism that began in 2015 and continues today. The city has repeatedly and proudly cited it as a means of government transparency and citizen engagement and in a March 2022, column entitled “City of Hobbs resilient in the face of COVID shutdowns,” Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb noted the streaming service would be reaching its sixth year.
Not only the program’s inception, but its longevity, is thanks in large part to Marshal’s work to protect and strengthen open government. This is an interesting turn around for the city as when Marshal first suggested the policy, it was met with resistance by the then-city manager and members of the city commission. His contribution to transparency and accountability extends to efforts regarding the city’s paid-time-off policy and employee cash payouts associated with the city’s new PTO policy.
His persistent efforts have inspired many other Hobbs residents to inform and involve themselves in local government.
Thomas Grover, law
Albuquerque Attorney Thomas Grover has an extensive record as a litigator for individuals who have been unable to secure public records. His vast knowledge pertaining to the IPRA & OMA assists his clients in understanding their rights. “(IPRA) is my favorite four-letter word,” said Grover, who has successfully sued the cities, counties and others for noncompliance with the IPRA.
His actions have resulted in changes in procedures by records custodians and public bodies, including the Albuquerque Police Department which now provides disciplinary records of investigation of officers. In 2019, Grover was the attorney when his client was awarded $40,000 in his lawsuit against the City of Espanola for withholding records and another client awarded $180,000 in a suit against APD. Grover also represented a retired Santa Fe Police lieutenant in her lawsuit against that agency. A district judge ordered the city to pay that plaintiff for failing to comply with a public records request.
Kathleen Hager, education
This recipient specifically used the law, the attorney general and advice from NMFOG to hold APS accountable. She has worked to enforce the public’s right to review records, even when the records were held in part by a private organization acting on the public entity’s behalf. Through Ms. Hager’s efforts, she was able to change how the state’s largest school district handled employee promotions and raises – changing a system that was onerous and detrimental to individual employees. Before her questions about public records, the AFT union acted as a de facto human relations department for APS when looking at promotions and raises for non-teachers.
Rep. Marian Matthews, government
Marian Matthews is a State Representative for House District 27. A staunch advocate for better government and transparency, she has become a tireless advocate to push back against CYFD’s cloak of secrecy and works to ensure this department becomes more transparent. In 2021, Rep. Matthews was critical in calling out CYFD for their failure to be forthcoming and transparent with the public, resulting in a scathing multi-page memo from the LFC identifying multiple systematic concerns about transparency and accessibility.
She began her career as a journalist and newspaper reporter in Springfield, MO, and then in Alamogordo.
Greg Trapp, government
As the executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Greg Trapp has worked vigorously to ensure equal access, accountability and transparency in the Commission and for other state agencies and boards.
Trapp was on the front lines at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, petitioning the Attorney General to ensure public access, including those with disabilities, to meetings, materials and records. He worked with the AG to develop that agency’s Open Government Division Advisory on how public bodies could comply with IPRA and OMA during the pandemic. He worked to draft language for procedures for his organization and other state agencies to make the process less cumbersome. His efforts were evident long before Covid.
Vincent Rodriquez, media
Vincent Rodriguez is the leader of the pack when it comes to watchdog journalism in the KOAT TV 7 newsroom. He’s currently the digital media manager and previously was an assignment editor. He created a system to track when IPRA’s are sent and the responses if any, they receive. In December 2021, when a child was shot and killed in Rio Rancho, the city refused to turn over documents. For months into 2022, the station told our viewers what we asked for and what was denied.