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AG: Councilors who met with monitor didn’t violate meetings act

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office found no violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act when six city councilors met one on one or two at a time with James Ginger, the independent monitor selected to oversee Albuquerque police reforms.

In a letter written by the office to KOB-TV, Assistant Attorney General Mona Valicenti said there was no evidence the councilors discussed the nature of the small meetings with a quorum of councilors. Six of Albuquerque’s nine city councilors met with Ginger in waves on May 11.

“You did not allege or cite to any fact suggesting that the six City Councilors who met with Mr. Ginger discussed what happened in their separate meetings amongst themselves,” Assistant Attorney General Valicenti wrote.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government disagreed with the attorney general’s letter and said the series of meetings were, even if not in violation of the law, an attempt to circumvent the Open Meetings Act.

KOB-TV first reported on the meetings, and the news station filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Greg Williams, a lawyer and president of the open government group, said it’s FOG’s position that the meetings created a “rolling quorum” of councilors and violated the Open Meetings Act.

“They are splitting hairs in a way that undermines the (open meetings) act,” he said. “We think it’s too fine a distinction. All of this should have been done in public.”

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said the city followed the law.

“These meetings were scheduled in a deliberate effort to comply with the Open Meetings Act, not circumvent or violate it,” she said in a statement. “The Attorney General’s finding confirms that the City Council fully complied with the Open Meetings Act while still providing councilors with the critical information they need to make the best decisions possible.”

Councilors Isaac Benton, Diane Gibson, Don Harris, Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña attended the meetings, according to Journal reports. The meetings were held while the City Council was considering Ginger’s payment for serving as independent monitor.

“The City Council is committed to full compliance with (the Open Meetings Act) and to the public’s right to be present for Council decisions, and I appreciate the AG’s affirmation that the process we had in place for these limited briefings honored that commitment as intended,” Jon Zaman, the director of Council Services, said in a statement.

Gibson said the meetings were similar to other routine briefings city councilors receive. She said they gave the councilors an opportunity to ask their own questions about the reform process.

“This doesn’t surprise me at all,” she said of the AG’s findings.

Williams pointed out that the City Council had been calling on Ginger to meet with them in public at a council meeting prior to the six councilors meeting with him individually.

“Going forward, we hope the City Council and the DOJ will do everything they can to ensure the public has a role in this ongoing discussion of APD,” he said. “This matter is too important to be done in secret.”

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