AG tells Sunland Park to fix Open Meetings Act violation
The Attorney General’s Office asks for confirmation by May 4 that the Sunland Park City Council has met to re-deliberate the appointment of a mayor – unless the council wants to instead argue that it didn’t violate the law.
The Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that, assuming its understanding of the facts was correct, the Sunland Park City Council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it selected a new mayor last week.
To make the selection of a new mayor legal, the council needs to meet again, accommodate all people who want to attend and re-deliberate the matter, Assistant Attorney General Mark Reynolds wrote in a letter to Isabel Santos, the city’s mayor pro tem.
Reynolds asked that the council provide confirmation that it had remedied the violation by May 4.
“If the Council takes these actions and provides confirmation that it has done so, then no further action on this matter by this Office may be necessary,” Reynolds’ letter states.
In the alternative, Reynolds wrote, if the council believes it complied with the law, it should explain why to the AG.
The city council appointed 24-year-old Javier Perea to the mayor’s job last week after postponing a previous meeting that got rowdy because there were too many people to fit in the room. But the crowd was still too big to fit into the larger venue chosen for the new meeting, and many people – including at least two who wanted to ask for the appointment to the mayor’s job – were kept by police from entering.
The Open Meetings Act requires that anyone who tries to attend a public meeting of a government body be allowed in. Actions taken in violation of the law can be invalidated by a court. In addition, a violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine, though the act has rarely been enforced with criminal charges.
The AG’s letter came in response to a formal complaint filed by the Las Cruces Sun-News. The newspaper wrote in its story about the AG’s letter that it was unable to reach Sunland Park officials, including Perea, for comment.
What happens next is up to those Sunland Park officials. If they meet and re-deliberate the issue, they might once again opt to appoint Perea. Or someone else might get the job.
Reynolds’ reference to no further action being necessary if Sunland Park corrects the violation may indicate a willingness by the AG to take further action if needed. The AG could take the city to court to try to invalidate Perea’s appointment, or file misdemeanor charges against councilors, or both.
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