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.
Headlines about federal probes, conflict of interests in contracts and excessive force incidents have plagued Albuquerque Police Department for some time. Now, the police department’s public relations folks are pushing back. Last Friday, police Det. Chris Whigham sent an email to officers titled, in all caps, “IT’S HIGH TIME WE SHOW EVERYBODY WHAT APD IS REALLY ALL ABOUT!!!” “Many of us have said that there is way more good that happens in our department than bad,” Whigham wrote.
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.”
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.