The New Mexico Court of Appeals reinforced state open-meetings law yesterday with an opinion that should put all public bodies on notice — failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act can have serious consequences. Officials can't expect to just hold a “do-over” meeting and escape scot-free. The Court's opinion dovetails with FOG's argument, made in a friend-of-the-court brief by attorney Greg Williams.
The case arose from the firing of former Rio Rancho city manager James Palenick. City officials met in late 2006 via rolling quorum, outside of any public meeting, and decided to fire Palenick; they then voted on the decision in an insufficiently-noticed public meeting. In late 2007, the city received notice from the Attorney General's Office that their rolling quorum and subsequent action had violated the Open Meetings Act … so they "ratified" Palenick's firing in a proper public meeting. Palenick sued for back pay between the two meetings. The city argued that its second action had retroactively cured any mistake and wiped the slate clean. (The city has also maintained that it did not violate the Act, an issue which was not before the Court of Appeals.)
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC — eds.