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NM commission sued over alleged meetings violations in Gila deliberations

Gila River

A proposal to divert water from the Gila River in southwest New Mexico underestimates the cost and overestimates the water available, the former head of the New Mexico state agency considering the idea says. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Norm Gaume, former head of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, filed suit Wednesday charging his former agency with violating the New Mexico Open Meetings Act for alleged closed-door discussion of a proposed water diversion from the Gila.

The 13-page suit, filed in First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, alleges that the agency took a series of actions, including a decision to spend $700,000 on a consulting contract, during meetings of a “Gila Subcommittee” that met in secret without public notice.

In a written statement last month issued when Gaume first raised the issue, Interstate Stream Commission attorney Amy Haas said meetings of a quorum of the full Commission are subject to the Open Meetings Act, but the “Gila Committee does not constitute a quorum and its meetings are not public meetings requiring notice.”

The court action comes as the Interstate Stream Commission works toward a Dec. 31 deadline to make a decision on whether to accept federal funding to help build a water diversion and storage reservoir system to take water from the Gila River for use in farms and cities in southwest New Mexico. Critics say the project is a waste of money because little water would actually be available. Supporters say New Mexico must take advantage of the opportunity to develop the water, which otherwise would flow downstream for use in Arizona.

Interstate Stream Commission spokeswoman Lela Hunt declined comment.

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Gaume asked for a temporary restraining order and injunction that would effectively halt deliberations and require the agency to go back and redo, in public, things he alleges were done in secret meetings without opportunity for public input or participation. He charges that the commission delegated key decision-making authority to a “Gila Subcommittee.”

Brian Egolf, Gaume’s attorney, said the subcommittee must abide by the law, providing notice and holding its meetings in public, if it is doing substantive work. “Creating a subcommittee doesn’t get you out from under the open meeting act if public business is being discussed,” Egolf said.

 

Norm Gaume open meetings act complaint

Gila River

A proposal to divert water from the Gila River in southwest New Mexico underestimates the cost and overestimates the water available, the former head of the New Mexico state agency considering the idea says. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

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