May 18, 2015

ABQ city councilors defend private meetings with DOJ monitor

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Albuquerque city councilors in May, 2015.

DSC_0056In a city council meeting on Monday night, some councilors addressed recent allegations that they violated the state Open Meetings Act.

The discussion was initially regarding a stipulated order by Mayor Richard Berry to establish the office of and payment for an Independent Monitor. Dr. James Ginger, who currently holds the position, was tasked with overseeing reforms of the Albuquerque Police Department as ordered by the U.S Department of Justice following an investigation into the department.

Last week the Albuquerque Journal reported that a group of councilors met with Ginger individually and may have violated the Open Meetings Act. City officials and councilors have denied that there were any violations.

According to the open government law, public bodies are not allowed to meet in a “rolling quorum” or meet separately outside of regular meetings.

From the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:

A quorum is generally half the members plus one, unless otherwise specified in the board’s law or regulation. The quorum doesn’t need to be in the same room to hold a meeting; they might discuss public business in a series of e-mails or phone calls, over several days. This is called a rolling quorum, and it’s illegal unless the participants follow all the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Councilor Ken Sanchez, who did not meet with Ginger because of a scheduling conflict, said the council often holds informal briefing meetings.

“We have been briefed for years,” Sanchez said.

He also added that he was disappointed with news media reporting that the council violated the Open Meeting Act. Still, Sanchez said he didn’t think it was appropriate to vote on the issue, as Ginger was not present for the meeting.

Councilor Dan Lewis said he met with Ginger specifically to discuss the monitor not being able to attend public meetings. Lewis, along with other councilors, expressed concern with Ginger not attending council meetings

“I also want to make clear that if Dr. Ginger continues to find scheduling conflicts, we’re going to be hearing about it some more,” Lewis said.

Lewis added that he also didn’t think the council should have considered the directive from Berry establishing the office of an Independent Monitor since the council was not able to speak with Ginger in a public forum.

City attorney Jessica Hernandez told councilors that Ginger had not refused to attend city council meetings.

“Dr. Ginger has never said he’s unwilling to come to a meeting,” Hernandez said.

She added the DOJ may have directed Ginger not to meet with the council in public.

“The real issue is the DOJ feels like as an officer of the court essentially that Dr. Ginger should interact with the city in a different way,” she told the council.

Councilor Rey Garduño said he actively chose not to meet with Ginger because he felt it was inappropriate to speak to his constituency on behalf of Ginger.

“I won’t do it. It doesn’t matter how many times I’m invited. I’m not a filter,” Garduno said.

According to the stipulated order Berry sent the council, Ginger’s contract would cost about $4.5 million.