Meetings should be open
I read Julia Dendinger’s Feb. 20, 2020, column “Public’s Right to Know …” and agree wholeheartedly with all she says. Well, almost all.
Having attended numerous committee meetings at our state Legislature, and watched many more on my computer, it’s so interesting and important to the political process to have the opportunity to actually “be there” and hear the deliberations and votes.
It’s also a wonderful aspect of our New Mexico Legislature to be able to stand up, just an ordinary person, and address the committee on the bill being deliberated. We’re so fortunate to have that opportunity.
However, I have learned that according to our state’s Open Meeting Act, not all committee meetings need be open to the public. Dendinger accurately describes the committee process of meeting, debating, revising, getting feedback and testimony from the public and experts, concluding that this “has to be open, transparent, watched, and documented.”
However, this can be totally circumvented, according to the Open Meetings Act.
If a public body limits committee membership to one member less than a quorum then no public notice is required. These committee meetings are closed to other elected members of the body as well as the public.
No record of deliberations is required. Though such committees have no power to take action, they can present their work product at the regular-announced meeting of the entire board, which is open to the public, and with or without public comment or board debate, revision, deliberation, the committee recommendations can be voted on.
According to the Open Meetings Act, whenever an elected body delegates its decision-making authority to a committee, though the committee only makes recommendations to the board, if the board routinely adopts the committee’s recommendations, the meetings are subject to OMA.
Apparently, however, there is no violation if, at the regular meeting, the chair asks the board whether there is any discussion, the majority indicates no, the board votes, and the committee recommendations are accepted.
So, Dendinger is absolutely correct that the committee meeting process is “a good system, but it has to be open, transparent, watched and documented.” Sadly, however, this very transparency can be easily circumvented within the very structure of the Open Meetings Act if some board members may wish to exclude other members or the public from planning, funds allocation, or any other activity where diversity of perspectives is not actually welcome.
Gail Goodman, Ed.D.