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Applicant-secrecy bill moves forward

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A bill that would ensure secrecy for applicants looking to get an appointed, executive job in state and local government in New Mexico has gained traction.

Late Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 259 with little opposition, sending it on to the full Senate.

The proposal would allow government agencies to keep the applicants’ identities secret, except for the top three finalists.

Currently, the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act requires most entities to provide all applicants’ information for any public job. SB 259 expands the exemptions under IPRA to include candidates for such positions as a superintendent, city manager or other chief executive position in a local government or school district. The exemption would not cover political appointments such as Cabinet-level secretaries.

The proposal would also make finalists’ letters of reference, medical and psychological information confidential.

Opponents such as the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government pointed out that this bill would allow hiring processes for these top-level executives to take place behind closed doors.

Sen. Bill Tallman, an Albuquerque Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said the legislation would mirror what most other states are doing, adding that it was modeled after a law in Colorado.

He said New Mexico is at a “disadvantage” and claimed the law as is deters applicants.

Tallman has experienced this, he says.

Anecdotally, the senator recalled applying for a city manager job in Florida about 30 years ago. After his name was printed in the newspaper, he said, his work life was affected and he worried about backlash.

Melanie Majors, executive director of NMFOG, said in an interview Tuesday that anecdotal stories have been the basis for the proposed change.

However, she notes, there’s no hard evidence.

“The bill’s sponsors have offered no study, or other empirical proof, showing that an open process affects the ability to hire a qualified person,” she said.

The exemption would have ripple effects, she said.

For example, if an agency announces finalists that are all white men, the public can’t verify that the top contenders were the most qualified without knowing who else applied.

“FOG supports transparency from the start to the finish of a process,” she said.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque cast the lone vote against the bill, saying candidacy transparency is “just the process” and having your name in the public for a public position comes with the territory.

The city of Albuquerque and Albuquerque Public Schools are backing the bill, according to Tallman.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo; Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque; Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque; Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe voted to approve SB 259.

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