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Bill to shield applicants’ names advances

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A plan to allow the names of applicants for top New Mexico public school, law enforcement and other taxpayer-funded positions to be kept secret cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, despite opposition from a government transparency group.

Backers of the measure, Senate Bill 39, say some would-be candidates currently do not apply for high-profile jobs out of concern their names might be publicly disclosed.

“Our boards have struggled to get the highest-quality candidates from time to time because of the law we’re trying to change,” said Joe Guillen, the executive director of the New Mexico School Boards Association.

But critics of the measure there is no proof that an open hiring process affects the ability of school districts and government agencies to make top-notch hires.

“Secrecy is not necessary to get qualified candidates,” said Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

During their Wednesday meeting, members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee acknowledged mixed feelings about the bill.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, a member of the local school board, said there’s already a lack of superintendent candidates across New Mexico, and some up-and-coming education professionals might feel uneasy about having their interest in a job post disclosed.

But he still voted against the bill, saying, “I don’t know that I’m willing to lose the transparency and open government just to fill a position.”

Ultimately, the bill passed the committee 5-2, with all Democrats on the panel voting in favor and Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, joining Gallegos in opposition.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, all “appointive executive positions” would be subject to a new exemption under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, although the names and résumés of at least three finalists would have to be disclosed.

That definition would include nonelected chief executive officers of state agencies, institutions and political subdivisions, but would not apply to political appointees like state Cabinet secretaries.

Debate on the bill comes as searches are underway for several high-profile Albuquerque jobs.

The Albuquerque Public Schools board is aiming to pick its next superintendent in March, after previously putting its search on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s administration launched a national search for the next Albuquerque Police Department chief and recently narrowed the field to three final candidates.

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