Tensions high as Sandoval County proposes new oil and gas ordinance

Sandoval County’s attempts to plan for oil and gas development continue to draw heated criticism. At their October 19 meeting, county commissioners pulled a proposed ordinance from the agenda, but the commission fielded public comments for nearly an hour, mostly from people who oppose the proposed oil and gas ordinance. Sandoval County covers 3,700 square miles, stretching from Bernalillo to Counselor and Placitas to Torreon. Widespread drilling already occurs in the northern part of the county, which overlaps with the energy-rich San Juan Basin. Those wells are concentrated along Highway 550 north of Cuba and near the Navajo Nation.

State backs off controversial science standards

Hundreds of people turned out in Santa Fe on Monday to oppose the state’s plans to enact science standards that left out facts on climate change and evolution. Now, the head of the Public Education Department (PED) says he has reconsidered those controversial changes. Related: Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Under PED’s original proposal, New Mexico would implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But the department planned to adopt those standards with some key changes, including to lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. Public Education Department (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski didn’t attend that hearing, during which not one person gave public comment in support of the altered standards.

Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Hundreds of New Mexicans waited in Santa Fe outside the Jerry Apodaca Building on Monday morning. They were there to share their thoughts about the statewide science standards proposed by the Public Education Department’s (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. Update: State backs off controversial science standards
Under the proposal, New Mexico would join about 20 other states around the country and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But New Mexico plans to adopt those standards with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. People started arriving an hour-and-a-half before the start of the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and others didn’t leave until almost 2:00 p.m. Some New Mexicans stood in line for more than three hours, waiting for their names to be called so they could enter the building, stand before public officials in a small auditorium and speak for three minutes each.

ISC ‘wins’ Black Hole Award for lack of openness

The Society of Professional Journalists gave the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission the dubious honor of its sixth annual Black Hole Award, which goes to “government institutions or agencies for outright contempt of the public’s right to know.”

The nomination came from NM Political Report reporter Laura Paskus, who has reported on the agency for years. “Making these sorts of heavy decisions and citing data to back those decisions but refusing to produce this data is ridiculous. Agencies should be transparent in their effects on publicly owned bodies, land or water” Gideon Grudo, chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, said. “They certainly shouldn’t be this aggressive to the press, either. Hats off to Laura Paskus for being persistent.”

Related: Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

From the SPJ announcement:
“The agency has been sued for Open Meetings Act violations, gives me plenty of hassles about releasing public documents, and for years now, has refused to answer my questions.

Open government group names veteran journalist as new executive director

New Mexico’s top open government advocacy group announced a new executive director Thursday. New Mexico journalist Peter St. Cyr will be the next executive director for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. St. Cyr will begin on Jan.

Regent involved in UNM Hospital shake up deleted emails

Last month University of New Mexico Regent Rob Doughty shepherded to success a little-scrutinized plan to restructure the leadership and governance of the university’s Health Sciences Center. As one of the plan’s architects, Doughty also kept the plan secret — from the public, medical staff at UNM Hospital and at least two of Doughty’s fellow regents in the weeks before a March 14 vote that set the restructuring in stone. Now, the black hole of information surrounding how the plan came to be is growing murkier. New Mexico In Depth has learned that Doughty deleted emails he sent and received in the weeks leading up to the last-minute, controversial vote that changed oversight of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, which has an annual budget of $1.9 billion. The change did away with a board composed of community members and regents and replaced it with a panel of three regents, who are political appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez.

ABQ city councilors defend private meetings with DOJ monitor

In 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.

Police union agrees with personnel hearing video recording ban

In response to a complaint filed in March alleging a violation of a state open government law , the City of Albuquerque last month maintained that it can ban members of the public from video-recording its personnel hearings. It’s a stance that the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, the union that represents the city’s 878 police officers, shares. Toni Balzano, a spokeswoman for the union, told New Mexico Political Report that city personnel hearings “should be private unless the city chooses or finds some reason that it should not be.” “We do feel like there’s a lot of information—personnel information—that would not be available to the media or the public through an [Inspection of Public Records] request that is part of these hearings,” she said. The controversy began earlier this year when Charles Arasim, a resident who’s been video-recording and uploading personnel meetings involving police officers online, was  told he could not videotape hearings.

Sunshine group criticizes ABQ’s stance on personnel hearings

A state advocacy group for government transparency disagrees with the City of Albuquerque’s contention that its public personnel hearings aren’t subject to the New Mexico Open Meetings Act. Greg Williams, board president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the public should be able to videotape the meetings. “We think they are subject to OMA,” Williams told New Mexico Political Report. “But even if they are not, [the hearings] are public. And if they’re public, that means anyone can attend, and that includes being able to video- and audio-record the meetings.”

ABQ: City personnel hearings not subject to Open Meetings Act

Albuquerque contends that its public personnel hearings aren’t subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act. The city said so last week in a formal response to a complaint filed with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Charles Arasim filed the complaint with the office on March 9, alleging the city violated the Open Meetings Act after being blocked from videotaping multiple city personnel hearings. In the response, interim Albuquerque City Attorney Jenica Jacobi and assistant attorney Nicholas Bullock wrote last week that the city’s personnel hearing officers do not have to make accommodations for members of the public who want to record the hearings. The city’s Personnel Board, which weighs grievances from city employees who contest their disciplines or firing from city government, consists of five people.