Board member opposes early meeting times

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis school board passed an Open Meetings Act resolution at Tuesday’s meeting with one board member objecting to its language.

Board member Mark Lansford voted against the resolution outlining the board’s meeting times and compliance with state law. Lansford said the resolution would allow for meeting times that aren’t conducive to public attendance.

According to New Mexico Open Meetings Act policy, the school board must determine annually what constitutes reasonable notice for public meetings. Schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall said the board last passed that resolution in June 2003.

At the urging of Bob Johnson, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government in Albuquerque, Nuttall said he felt it necessary to address concerns about the board’s meeting policy immediately.

Johnson recently wrote a letter to the board outlining concerns he had about the board’s previous resolution.
Lansford said he shares similar concerns.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Lansford said 6:30 a.m. meetings, held once each month to discuss the board meeting agenda, takes place at a time when many members of the public have difficulty attending.

“It is just not conducive to public involvement,” Lansford said. “Do we want to involve the public in our deliberations or not?”

Lansford said the early-morning meetings, in which no action can be taken, violate the Open Meetings Act, which states that the public is “entitled to the greatest possible information.”

Board President Lora Harlan said she created the resolution under the guidance of the school district lawyer John Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, she said, the resolution complies with the meetings act.

“Whatever time of the day you’re going to have (the meeting) you’re going to have a group of people that aren’t going to be able to attend,” Harlan said. “We have never had a complaint from the public about the 6:30 a.m. meeting.”

Lansford raised similar concerns about noon meetings held twice-monthly at schools throughout the district. Action can be taken at the noon meetings.

The letter sent by Johnson said he has asked the State Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the 6:30 a.m. and noon meetings are in compliance with the meetings act. Lansford requested that the board wait until the attorney general makes a recommendation before passing its resolution.

Nuttall said that may take as many as six months and would keep the board from passing the resolution promptly.

Board member George Banister referred to NMFOG as a “special interest group,” and questioned Lansford’s connection to Johnson.

“What is your relationship to him? Are you his buddy too? Are you trying to further his special interest,” Banister said. “I don’t understand the antagonism between you and the rest of the board and what is driving you to create such disarray on this harmonious board that is here to educate kids.”

Banister said the board could amend the resolution if the attorney general found it did not comply with the law.

Lansford said his intentions are to open to the board’s actions to the public.

“I want to do things right. I want to do things fairly and ethically,” Lansford said. “I think we should be accountable to the public — that is my agenda.”

In other business, the board voted to consider changes to the school board policy addressing how items are added to meeting agendas. Harlan said the suggested policy was approved by school lawyers.

The issue will remain for board discussion for 30 days before action is taken.