New Mexico Attorney General Gary King introduced his staff at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center. The AGO gave two presentations at the Civic Center — one on the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act with a second on Meth Awareness and Prevention. (MJessica Palmer Photo)
Record Staff Writer
The New Mexico Attorney General’s AGO Road Show came to the Roswell Convention and Civic Center, 912 N. Main St., Monday. His presentations on “Sunshine Laws” compliance drew people from the city, the county and the school district.
The audience also included representatives from the Dexter School District and members of town government and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. City Administrator Larry Fry and City Clerk Dave Kunko attended for the city of Roswell. Others came from further afield, such as government officials from Curry County. One person traveled down from Springer in Colfax County, a distance of 245 miles.
The two topics under discussion during the 9:30 a.m. talk were the Open Meetings Act and the Inspection of Public Records Act.
Attorney General Gary King gave a brief history of the acts from their inception in 1942 to their most recent amendments and revisions. “When I was in the legislature, I was not only the sponsor, but the drafter of the 1992 acts,” said King.
He expressed sympathy and understanding for those who found it difficult to keep up with laws. “I received a complaint against me once for violating the acts. You would think if I wrote it I would know it.”
He pointed out that the courts are always adding to the interpretation of the laws. He then cited one of its most recent revisions came in June when the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals decision that stated citizen complaints filed against the police are public record and must be released upon demand.
When it comes to the Open Meetings Act, King noted that violation of the law is a criminal offense.
King said that the goal of his office was not only to provide information to ensure compliance, but also to provide arbitration. “If a complaint is registered, we work between the individual and the agency before it becomes necessary to go to court.”
King, then, gave a rule of thumb for government officials. “If you don’t want to talk about it openly, then you need to think about what you are doing.”
Executive Director Sarah Walsh from FOG, The Foundation for Open Government, discussed the general issues about the law, what it provides and what it does not. “It gives no protection for embarrassing situation and no exemption for “not completed yet.” She referred to openness as an essential part of any representative government.
Mona N. Valicenti, assistant attorney general, gave more details and specifics. “The government must pay $100 a day penalty for any delay in providing requested government records to the public.”
She elaborated on the redaction of records, such as blacking out social security numbers and birth dates. However when questioned about names, she answered the question with a question, “Why would you want to omit a name?”
Most audience inquiries dealt with open government meetings and what items can be discussed in closed session where it was repeated that openness is the rule. Secrecy is the exception.
King provided presentations for schools, including internet safety at Mountain View Middle School, underage drinking dangers with Century Council also at Mountain View Middle School, and a second program at the Civic Center about Train-the-Trainer Meth Awareness and Prevention.