A subcommittee of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission complied with New Mexico open meetings law in its review of a controversial Gila River water project because it never constituted a quorum of the body, the state agency’s attorney said Tuesday.
“Only meetings of a quorum of the full Commission are subject to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act,” commission chief counsel Amy Haas wrote in a written statement. “The Gila Committee does not constitute a quorum and its meetings are not public meetings requiring notice under the Act.”
Haas was responding to project critic Norm Gaume, who alleged in a letter delivered to the commission Monday that a series of meetings of the commission’s Gila Committee over the last four years violated state law.
Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe attorney representing Gaume, said the Gila Committee’s meetings violated the law even if a quorum was not present, because the full commission had delegated decision-making authority to the group. The New Mexico Attorney General’s open meetings handbook explains that a subcommittee is subject to the act “if it makes any decisions on behalf of, formulates recommendations that are binding in any legal or practical way on, or otherwise establishes policy for the public body.”
Egolf, a state legislator who said he is representing Gaume in his capacity as a private attorney, argued that is what the Gila Committee did.
Gaume’s letter starts a 15-day clock ticking before he can take the matter to court.
Here is Haas’s full statement:
Mr. Norm Gaume’s allegations of violations by the Interstate Stream Commission of the Open Meetings Act are a nothing more than a show to cast aspersions on the Commission’s public process to consider projects under the federal Arizona Water Settlements Act.
Gaume claims that the Gila Committee of the Commission has been meeting in secret, without public notice, and exercising the authority of the full Commission by creating policy and taking action regarding the Gila River.
Only meetings of a quorum of the full Commission are subject to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act. The Gila Committee does not constitute a quorum and its meetings are not public meetings requiring notice under the Act.
The Gila Committee is merely advisory in nature and not empowered to take action on behalf of the full Commission. None of the existing 5 committees of the Commission—neither the Gila nor the Acequia, Ute, Planning, Pecos Committees—is authorized to act on behalf of the Commission absent a delegation of authority by it. No such delegation has been made to the Gila Committee.
Even though Gila Committee meetings are not subject to the Open Meetings Act, in the spirit of transparency the Commission requires that after any meeting of a committee, its recommendations be reported publicly to the full Commission at its next scheduled meeting .
Legitimate technical criticisms of the Arizona Water Settlements Act process are taken seriously by the Interstate Stream Commission. Baseless legal claims merely distract the Commission from doing the work it is required to do on behalf of the state of New Mexico—to select and fund projects under the Arizona Water Settlements Act.