Santa Fe, NM – In response to a complaint filed by former New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) Director Norm Gaume, the New Mexico Attorney General (NM AG) determined that the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity (NM CAPE) violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act (OMA). In a July 12, 2016 letter sent to NM CAPE attorney Pete Domenici, Jr., Assistant Attorney General Dylan Lange concludes that the NM CAPE violated the OMA during meetings it held on January 14 and March 1, 2016.
Lange stated, “…we conclude that the NM CAP Entity violated OMA when it improperly discussed matters in closed session that were not covered by an exception from OMA’s requirements for open, public meetings.”
Specifically, the NM CAPE held closed sessions during otherwise open meetings to discuss a contract negotiation process involving an ISC request for proposals for an engineering services contract. The contract relates to design work relevant to the proposed New Mexico Unit of the Central Arizona Project (NM Unit) pursuant to the 2004 Arizona Water Settlement Act (AWSA).
Although the exemption to the OMA claimed by the NM CAPE was discussion of “the contract negotiation process regarding competitive sealed proposals for engineering design,” the NM AG properly found that the OMA only allows closed sessions regarding “the contents of competitive sealed proposals.”
“The NM CAP Entity and other public bodies subject to OMA may conduct business in private only for the narrow purposes set forth in OMA. Because the NM CAP Entity discussed matters in closed session that were not excluded from OMA’s requirement for open, public meetings, we determine that the January 14 and March 1 meetings were unlawfully closed,” stated Lange.
Because “action taken by a public body at a meeting that violates OMA is invalid and without effect,” the NM CAPE has 30 days to correct the violations, report back to the Attorney General, and avoid further legal proceedings.
Former ISC Director Norm Gaume explained, “The NM CAP Entity was really deciding the location, configuration, and cost of the Gila River diversion and storage project. That violated the law, which requires these discussions take place in public. Secrecy has been the pattern and practice of the Interstate Stream Commission and the NM CAPE. I hope the Attorney General’s determination will cause that illegal secrecy to stop.”
“As the NM AG found, the NM CAPE needs to clean up its act and follow the OMA. Citizens have a legal right to public access to its proceedings. The Entity’s decisions related to a Gila River diversion could saddle taxpayers and water users with hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs and harm New Mexico’s last wild river,” stated Gila Conservation Coalition executive director Allyson Siwik.