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Bill seeks to limit disclosure of top job applicants’ names

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – An Albuquerque state senator has – once again – filed legislation that would allow the names of applicants for top public school, law enforcement and other taxpayer-funded positions to be kept secret.

Sen. Bill Tallman

While at least three finalists for any such public positions would still have to be disclosed, the bill filed by Sen. Bill Tallman, a Democrat, is already generating opposition from at least one government transparency group.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also said Thursday the governor is committed to “transparency and open government,” though she did not say specifically whether Lujan Grisham would sign or veto the bill if it reaches her desk during the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

Tallman, a former city manager in Connecticut, said New Mexico is one of the few states nationwide that requires disclosure of all applicants for a range of appointed government positions – from city managers to school superintendents – under its Inspection of Public Records Act.

He said that has led to a dearth of qualified candidates in some instances.

“People don’t want their employers to know they’re looking,” Tallman told the Journal. “I believe in transparency, but there’s an exception to everything.”

However, Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the bill would make the hiring process more secretive.

And she said there has been no empirical proof shown that an open hiring process affects the ability of school districts, universities and government agencies to hire qualified candidates.

“These jobs are paid for by taxpayers with important public duties, and the public has the right to know as much about the candidate pool as possible,” Majors said Thursday.

NMFOG has opposed similar bills, saying that limiting disclosure to finalists fails to allow the public to know the expertise, ethnicity or gender of the field of candidates.

Under the just-filed bill, all “appointive executive positions” would be subject to the public records exemption. That definition includes nonelected chief executive officers of state agencies, institutions and political subdivisions of the state, but would not apply to political appointees like state Cabinet secretaries.

Meanwhile, the bill’s introduction comes as searches are underway for several high-profile Albuquerque jobs.

Albuquerque Public Schools recently resumed its search for the district’s next superintendent, after previously putting it on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The APS board is aiming to pick a superintendent in March so the new leader can start working by June.

In addition, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has launched a national search for the next Albuquerque Police Department chief and a public safety chief.

The names of 39 candidates who had applied for the police chief job were recently disclosed to the Journal in response to a public records request, including a former police chief of a small Florida town – and to the city manager who fired him.

Tallman proposed a similar change to New Mexico’s open records law in 2019. That year’s bill passed the Senate by a 27-14 vote but ultimately stalled in the House.

In past years, the APS board has backed the legislation to limit the disclosure of job applicant identities. And this year’s bill would take effect immediately if it gets at least two-thirds support in both legislative chambers and is signed into law by Lujan Grisham.

The 60-day session begins Jan. 19.

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