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New regent schedule starts with closed session

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The regents at the state’s flagship university held their only meeting of the month on Wednesday night, drawing the school’s top main campus, health sciences and athletics officials for more than three hours of discussions.

What they talked about is anybody’s guess.

Because the board met only to go into an executive, or closed, session for discussions, as was stated on the agenda posted three business days before the meeting. The agenda cited four exceptions to the state Open Meetings Act, which open government advocates said lacked the “reasonable specificity” required to comply with OMA.

It’s possible that UNM regents will hold more special meetings than they have previously.

Earlier this year, regents at UNM significantly cut their regularly scheduled meetings, saying that, if needed, they will call special meetings like the one last week. November was the first month regents didn’t have a regularly scheduled meeting, and board members called a special meeting with a sparse agenda.

One of the reasons cited for meeting behind closed doors was to discuss “limited personnel matters,” according to the agenda.

Virtually that exact language appeared on a UNM regents agenda in the summer of 2018 – when regents discussed cutting sports and other matters – and it garnered a rebuke from the Attorney General’s Office, which enforces state sunshine laws.

John Kreienkamp, an assistant attorney general, in August 2018 sent UNM a letter saying the university must provide the public with some “reasonable specificity” of what will be discussed in an executive session. He zeroed in on the fact that the regents’ agenda said there would be a “discussion and determination where appropriate of limited personnel matters,” but didn’t identify the employee or even describe the position.

“To be clear: OMA’s limited personnel matters exception allows a public body to discuss an individual public employee, and to satisfy the reasonable specificity requirement, the public body must list the specific individual employee to be discussed by the Board,” Kreienkamp said in the letter, which also identified other violations by UNM. “Here, the Board did not list the employee’s name or provide any identifying information whatsoever, meaning that there was no reasonable specificity.”

Reached last week, the Attorney General’s Office urged UNM to be “as transparent as possible.”

“The Attorney General cautions the university to be as transparent as possible in creating agenda items when dealing with issues that impact students and involve the use of public funds,” Matt Baca, a spokesman for the office, said in an email.

UNM defended the agenda.

“We believe it is” (reasonably specific), said UNM Chief Legal Counsel Loretta Martinez. She declined to comment further.

Doug Brown, the president of the Board of Regents, said that no action was taken during the closed session.

On Monday, UNM announced it was parting ways with football coach Bob Davie, but Brown said Monday the regents left the coach’s status to the administration and expects the agreement to be discussed at the regularly scheduled Dec. 10 meeting.

“We had a personnel matter and some negotiation matters that were timely,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We had our counsel review (the agenda) carefully … and we felt it was with sufficient specificity.”

The executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government disagrees.

“The AG has really given UNM clear guidance if they go into a closed meaning what they have to put on the agenda. And I honestly don’t think this agenda reflects that guidance,” said Melanie Majors, FOG’s executive director. “You should give the name or enough information so the public knows what is going to discussed. Are they going to discuss a custodian or are they going to discuss a coach? The public has no way of knowing.”

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