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Monday, May 7, 2007
Open-Government Proposals Praised
By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
A package of open-government proposals unveiled by Mayor Martin Chávez could put Albuquerque in the forefront among U.S. cities, an open-government advocate says.
The package includes public-meeting reform, expanded use of the Internet, lower-cost copies of documents and procedures for responding to requests for public records.
Robert Johnson of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says at a city level, "this is the best I've seen." He said it should become a model for other communities.
The time is right for open-government initiatives, said Councilor Ken Sanchez, who will sponsor the legislation when it goes to the City Council in coming weeks.
Sanchez said confidence in government has been shaken by corruption scandals in New Mexico.
"I think it's important to restore faith in local government," he said.
The initiatives "show we are working in good faith, and are willing to open our doors to the community," Sanchez said. "We're not going to hide anything."
Other councilors said they haven't had a chance to review the details but will be interested in discussing the legislation.
Here are some of the major features:
An open-records ordinance would define city procedures for responding to requests for documents. It will call for cooperation from all city employees, elected officials, contractors and subcontractors. Every city department, board, commission and committee, as well as the City Council, would designate a records custodian to cooperate with the city clerk in responding to requests;
Meeting schedules and minutes for all city boards would be posted on a city Web site, as would all regulations approved by city boards and departments.
A city ordinance would set limits on communications outside public meetings among board members and city councilors, to ensure that decisions are reached during public forums and not beforehand;
The fee for normal black-and-white copies of documents would not exceed 10 cents per page, compared with a more typical charge of at least 50 cents per page at other agencies. The charge for color copies would be 90 cents per page.
There would be no fee for making an electronic copy of a computer database, including the personnel time to research and retrieve the electronic record. The charge for any materials used would not exceed the actual cost;
When a public board goes into closed session, there would be a limit on who could remain to prevent favoritism that could result in allowing some members of the public to attend the closed meeting, but not other people. The closed session could be attended by members of the board, staff, experts and attorneys representing the board on the matters to be discussed;
The city attorney and city clerk would designate staff members to serve as "public access counselors." Allegations of Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act violations would be received by the city clerk and forwarded to a public access counselor.
Boards, commissions, committees and certain employees would respond to inquiries from the counselors, who would review allegations and try to resolve disputes;
When electronic records include some information required to be confidential, the agency would have to design its system so the public information could easily be separated from the confidential material.