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Municipal League wants secrecy for job applicants

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SANTA FE – The group that lobbies the Legislature for New Mexico’s cities wants to keep secret the names of applicants for top local government jobs, proposing legislation that would reverse court decisions that have opened those applications and résumés to public inspection.

The New Mexico Municipal League has endorsed a proposal to shield the applicants from having their names and applications made public upon request.

Requiring applicants for city manager and other top posts to be disclosed immediately “really does inhibit people who would like to apply but don’t want to lose their current jobs,” Municipal League Executive Director Bill Fulginiti said Monday.

New Mexico’s leading open government group has vowed to fight the Municipal League effort.

Greg Williams, an Albuquerque lawyer who becomes president-elect of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government on Jan. 1, said the public has a right to know who applies for jobs funded by taxpayer dollars.

“It’s bad public policy to hide information about applicants for public jobs,” Williams said.

“Courts around the country, including those in New Mexico, have ruled that the public interest in learning about the applicants outweighs the applicants’ supposed right to privacy.”

The New Mexico Court of Appeals in 2009 upheld a lower court decision that required Farmington to disclose the names of individuals who had applied for its vacant city manager position.

That came after the city denied a request by the Farmington Daily Times for a list identifying all 91 applicants for the job.

“It may be in some cases an individual will not wish his current employer to know that he has applied for another job,” Judge James J. Wechsler wrote in his opinion. “That desire is one which cannot be accommodated where the job sought is a high public office.”

Wechsler also said, “It is not intuitively obvious that most well-qualified potential applicants for positions of authority in municipal governments will be deterred from applying by a public selection process, and we have been referred to no studies tending to prove that point.”

Currently, state law carves out only one exception to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act when it comes to job applicants for publicly funded positions.

The exception is for individuals seeking to be university presidents. It specifies that the names of at least five finalists for such jobs must be publicly announced at least 21 days before a final hiring decision, while allowing the names of other applicants – those who are not selected as finalists – to be withheld.

The resolution endorsed by the Municipal League claimed that a similar exemption should be enacted for high-ranking local government posts.

It also claimed that requiring disclosure of job-seeker information could contribute to the “growing epidemic” of identity theft.

The Municipal League, which represents 105 communities across New Mexico, adopted the IPRA proposal – and numerous other resolutions – during an August membership meeting in Taos.

However, Fulginiti said Monday that the idea was not given “priority” status for the 30-day legislative session that begins Jan. 21.

As such, he said, the proposal could be put on hold until the 2015 legislative session, when legislation on any subject can be introduced, not just budget-related bills and those approved for consideration by the governor.

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that the first-term governor has not completed the agenda for the coming session.

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said a Journal question about the Municipal League’s idea was the first the Governor’s Office had heard about such a proposal. He did not immediately say whether Martinez would support the plan.

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