SANTA FE – An ad hoc commission appointed by the state Supreme Court to evaluate the guardianship process in New Mexico voted Friday to ask the state attorney general whether it should be complying with the state Open Meetings Act.
The 16-member commission, which held its fourth meeting on Friday, unanimously agreed to ask for a formal AG opinion at the urging of commission member Georgia Armijo-Brasher, who is the city of Albuquerque’s director of the Department of Senior Affairs.
“I ask myself why would we not want to be as open as possible,”she said. “This effort and charge of the commission is the one most single important chance we have to make a significant difference in the guardianship process and it shouldn’t be status quo.”
Vice chairwoman Patricia Galindo, who works for the Administrative Office of the Courts, noted that audio recordings of each of the all-day commission meetings are posted on the court’s website. The public can file written comments online and agendas are available at least 72 hours before a meeting, if not earlier.
She said the courts are excluded from having to comply with the law, but the commission has nevertheless adhered to the spirit and intent of the law.
Compliance with the law would include posting minutes of each meeting, voting on minutes and requiring that any votes or action items be listed on the agenda, Armijo-Brasher said in an email.
But Armijo-Brasher said, “This commission came about because there exists a clear public concern that the existing guardianship process is too secret and too much of an insider game. We would do the public and ourselves a disservice if we do not proceed in the most open manner possible.”
Armijo-Brasher said she’s received complaints about the lack of meeting minutes.
“People come to me and say… ‘I have to listen to the whole thing (recording online) to get to the point of what I wanted to hear’ … they don’t have hours to sit and listen.”
The committee chairwoman, retired Albuquerque District Judge Wendy York, in a letter to the commission, defended her decision to ask the public to refrain from naming names when speaking or writing to the commission about specific guardianship cases.
York, who was out of the country on Friday, wrote that she made the decision before the commission first met April 28 after receiving letters “from both lawyers and family members who wanted to level accusations against each other.” She said the commission, which is to make its first initial report to the Supreme Court on Oct. 1, doesn’t have the time to get into personal disputes but is charged with making recommendations on improving the system.
York also proposed that she set aside a day to meet personally with people who may be reluctant “for a variety of reasons” to speak to the commission. The commission might also consider recommending an ombudsman or special court commissioner to field individual concerns on a regular basis, her letter stated.