Only the Torrance and Lincoln County commissions named nominees to replace Phil Griego in the state Senate after his resignation.The Torrance County Commission nominated former Estancia mayor Ted Barela while the Albuquerque Journal reported the Lincoln County Commission named Thomas Stewart. Both are Republicans.
Critics say that making a decision without 72-hour notice is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
The six counties that make up parts of Griego’s district get to name nominees and Gov. Susana Martinez will choose one to fill the rest of Griego’s term. For more on the process, see the New Mexico Political Report story from this weekend.
Martinez asked the county commissions to provide her with a name by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. A letter to the Torrance County Commission obtained by KRQE outlined her request.
I am requesting that the County Commission invoke its emergency meeting provisions for the purpose of submitting a nomination to fill the vacancy. If an appointment is not made before the Senate reconvenes on Monday morning, all residents of Senate District 39 will be unrepresented and your voters will be disenfranchised. This is a serious issue affecting core constitutional rights of New Mexicans.
Martinez said she intended to name a replacement by Monday morning before the Senate meets.
The decision will now come later in the week according to a response by the governor’s office to the Journal.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government issued a statement saying that the vacancy does not constitute an emergency.
Although the Act includes an emergency exception to the 72-hour notice requirement, this exception is very narrow and is limited to situations, which, “if not addressed immediately by the public body, will likely result in injury or damage to persons or property or substantial financial loss to the public body.” No such situation exists. The residents of Senate District 39 deserve to have their senator appointed in a manner that allows for thoughtful, reasoned consideration, and are entitled to meaningfully participate in the process. Whoever is appointed to fill this position will serve not just for this week but for the remainder of Sen. Griego’s term. As a result, the process must be done with due care and in compliance with the Act.
Senate Democratic leadership also said the decision should not be rushed.
“While it is the Governor’s right to make the appointment, it is important that the public has the opportunity to have input in this selection and that the county commissions are given sufficient time to consider and nominate well-qualified individuals with the characteristics needed to fill this very important seat,” a statement by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said in a statement.
According to video of the Torrance County Commission Meeting meeting, Barela’s name was put forward by the Republican Party of Torrance County.
The Torrance County Democratic Party said the action was a violation of the Open Meetings Act in multiple ways, saying not only was the 72-hour rule violated but that two commissioners voted on the decision in a meeting of the Torrance County Republican Party, which they contend is an illegal “rolling quorum.”
The Lincoln County Commission will officially announce the nominee later in the week.
The Santa Fe County Commission met on Sunday but delayed a decision until Friday—the day before the end of the session. From the Santa Fe Reporter:
In the Sunday meeting, all five commissioners approved a resolution to accept applications for the vacancy by 5 pm Wednesday and to consider those applications in a meeting scheduled for 10 am Friday. The governor had requested nominations from counties by 5 pm Sunday.
The Bernalillo County Commission will meet on Wednesday to decide who to put forward.
Griego resigned on Saturday after admitting to benefiting from a contract made possible by legislation that passed the Legislature. Since he is a member of the Legislature, this violated the state constitution.