The alleged Open Meetings Act violation was raised by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation in a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office following the May 23 commission meeting in Roswell.
The sportsmen’s group said it didn’t have an opportunity to voice support for the transfer of management proposed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., because the issue was not included on the agenda as required by the Open Meetings Act.
“We would have been prepared with more information, and we would have gotten sportsmen there who support this legislation,” said Wildlife Federation spokesman Joel Gay. “This was a really good example of why the state requires 72 hours’ notice for votes like this … .”
The commission voted unanimously to send a resolution opposing the management change, citing for purposes of the vote an “emergency” exemption to the Open Meetings Act. The commission said Udall’s office had requested a response within 10 days of the meeting, according to the complaint.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government last week requested the Game Commission to provide further explanation for the emergency vote, but received no response, FOG acting director Janice Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt noted in a letter to the Game Commission that the state’s open meetings law says, “emergency refers to unforeseen circumstances” resulting in damage to “persons or property or substantial financial loss to the public body.”
“The explanation given for the ’emergency’ vote does not seem to be consistent with ’emergency’ as defined in the Open Meetings Act,” Honeycutt said.
Udall’s office told the Journal last week that it did not ask for comment from the commission on the Valles Caldera management legislation, introduced in February.
“We did not require formal comment to consider the commission’s input, but we were happy to receive it,” said Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm.
Game Commission chairman Scott Bidegain said he “acted under a good faith belief” that the vote constituted an emergency under the Open Meetings Act, but said the commission will reconsider its vote at its Aug. 22 meeting in Grants.
“In order to quell such claims and to ensure all persons or parties have a full opportunity to be heard on the matter, I have directed the Department of Game and Fish to place the contested item back on the agenda,” Bidegain told the AG’s office last month.
The Attorney General’s spokesman Phil Sisneros said the Open Meetings Act complaint could be resolved if the commission reconsiders its vote in August.
“If they were to completely do it over with proper notice, in other words following all the steps they need to, that’s what we call a cure,” Sisneros said. “That’s what we would advise them to do … That would pretty much put an end to it.”