The New Mexico Open Meetings Act ensures that the public receives the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Secret meetings and democracy don’t mix.
If a particular meeting is subject to the Open Meetings Act, here are the requirements for holding an open public meeting:
1. Give reasonable notice to the public.
a. Every public body establishes its own procedures for notifying the public, which is spelled out in an annual Open Meetings Act Resolution. The Attorney General’s Office recommends the following notice for best practices: 10 days for a regular meeting, 3 days for a special meeting and 24 hours for an emergency meeting.
b. Meeting notices must be sent to broadcast stations and newspapers that have requested it.
2. Make a final agenda available to the public 72 hours in advance (Note, this is a change in the law that became effective in 2013.)
a. The agenda must list specific items of business to be discussed or transacted.
b. Except in cases of emergency, the public body can only take action on items which appeared on the final agenda. New action items cannot be added during the meeting, unless there is a true emergency.
3. Allow the public to attend and listen.
a. Reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the use of audio and video recording devices.
b. The Open Meetings Act does not guarantee citizens the right to speak at public meetings. However, most public bodies in New Mexico do include time for public comment. When a forum is made available for public speech, citizens have a First Amendment right to speak freely. Public bodies risk running afoul of the First Amendment if they attempt to regulate citizens’ speech based on its content or the identity of the speaker.
4. Close the meeting only for certain topics.
a. There are 10 topics that a public body may discuss behind closed doors. To close an open meeting that’s already in progress, a public body must take these three steps: 1. Approve the closure by a roll-call vote of all the members. 2. Announce the authority for the closure (i.e., which section of the Open Meetings Act allows a closed discussion) and the subject that will be discussed, “with reasonable specificity.” 3. After the closed session, state for the record that the closed-door discussion was limited only to those topics specified in the motion for closure.
b. A public body can hold a meeting that’s entirely closed if advance notice is provided to the members and the public. The notice states the authority for the closure and the topic to be discussed, again with “reasonable specificity.”
5. Keep minutes.
a. Minutes must include, at a minimum, the date, time and place of the meeting, the names of members in attendance and those absent, the substance of the proposals considered and a record of any decisions and votes taken that show how each member voted.
b. All minutes, including draft minutes, are open to public inspection. Draft minutes must be prepared within 10 working days after the meeting, and approved, amended or disapproved at the next meeting where a quorum is present.
View a complete Compliance Guide to the Open Meetings Act, or ask NMFOG.