Board of Regents hit with second complaint on meeting that cut sports

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A second formal complaint has been filed with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office calling into question whether the meeting that led to four University of New Mexico sports to be eliminated violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The complaint, filed by Albuquerque attorney Maria “Mia” Touchet, addresses last Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting in which six of the seven members of UNM’s governing body were on hand, each voting to accept the recommendation of first-year president Garnett Stokes and first-year athletic director Eddie Nuñez to eliminate four sports and drastically alter the rosters of two others.

Due to what UNM says was a three-part decision covering finances, Title IX federal gender equality mandates and Mountain West Conference affiliation factors, the sports of men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and women’s beach volleyball were voted to be discontinued as of July 1, 2019.

Touchet told the Journal she attended last week’s meeting and left having great concerns about the governance of the university and the handling of what is required to have been an open, transparent process. That, she says, is why she filed the complaint.

“It’s important for the citizens of the state of New Mexico,” Touchet said. “We have the Open Meetings Act for a reason. … If these decisions are allowed to be made behind closed doors, that wouldn’t be good for the people of New Mexico, not just for the students and coaches affected by this at UNM, but it is the wrong message for everyone in this state.”

One part of her complaint echoes a separate one filed last week by Socorro attorney David Pato alleging the Regents violated the Open Meetings Act by not adequately following the proper protocol for posting of the agenda, with specific details of the sports being cut, in a timely manner to give the public proper notice of what was being discussed. If true, the meeting, and thus the vote, could be deemed invalid.

While notice of the meeting was given July 3, the agenda only stated it would cover a “Discussion and Action on Athletics.”

The Open Meetings Act compliance guide states, and Touchet notes in her complaint, agendas for public meetings “must contain a list of ‘specific items’ of business to be discussed or transacted at the meeting” and that the board “should avoid describing agenda items in general, broad or vague terms.”

Shortly after 5 p.m. on July 18, the day before the 9 a.m. meeting, UNM released the details of the proposal, including for the first time which sports would be cut and how many other team rosters would be affected.

Monday’s complaint also argues that members’ comments during the meeting implied that the regents had already discussed and decided the vote prior to the meeting. The complaint argued that constituted a “rolling quorum,” which should invalidate the meeting and vote.

Regent Michael Brasher spoke of having talked to Stokes days before the meeting about the recommendation before it was made public and student regent Garret Adcock read from a statement prepared before the public comment and included the phrase, “we must support the administration’s plan” for the cutting of sports.

“What happens when there is a finding of a violation of the Open Meetings Act is that the court’s normal remedy would be as though the public vote never occurred,” said Susan Boe, Vice President of the Foundation for Open Government. “If that happened, you would have to re-post the notice and have the public vote take place again in another public meeting.”

Touchet’s complaint also argues the inclusion on the UNM Board of Regents of Adcock, the board’s student regent who graduated from law school in May, leaves the board “unconstitutionally comprised.”

New Mexico’s Constitution requires at least one of the regents to be “a member of the student body.”

In February, Adcock received a “recess” appointment from Gov. Susana Martinez, extending his spot on the Board through Dec. 31, though he graduated in May.

UNM spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair, handling a Journal request for comment made to both Regent Presentident Rob Doughty and Adcock, said, “it is the opinion of the University that the action taken by the board is valid.”

Blair, on Adcock’s behalf, also said the former UNM football player also plans to take classes in the fall semester.

The Governor’s office did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment on Tuesday, nor did it do so in February when asked about what would happen with Adcock’s position when he graduated.

“I have not decided what I will do,” Adcock told the Journal in February. “But I will probably confer with and defer to the Executive who appointed me to the position when the appropriate time comes.”

Balderas’ spokesman David Carl wrote in an email response to the Journal, “The AG takes enforcement of the Open Meetings Act very seriously and will do a thorough review of these complaints.” There is no specific timetable on when Balderas would act on these two complaints.

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