Tuesday, November 04, 2008

AG Rules Against Acequias Group

By Juan-Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer

      A South Valley acequia association repeatedly violated the state Open Meetings Act and the Inspection of Public Records Act, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

       According to a letter of determination issued by the office Friday, the Los Padillas Acequia Association has failed, since its incorporation in 2006, to annually adopt an open meetings resolution, something all public bodies, from the city and the county on down, must do. In addition, the association either created insufficient or no minutes from their meetings on four occasions.

       Acequia association President Robert Kyzer said the association will have a lawyer review the Attorney General's Office's document and therefore had no comment at this time.

       Los Padillas residents Susan White, Gerald Padilla and Mike Gadler filed the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records complaints with the Attorney General's Office earlier this year because they felt the association had not followed proper procedures as it came into being.

       White said she feels “slightly vindicated” about the letter of determination issued by the office.

       “I look forward to (the acequia association) doing everything by the book,” White said.
      The letter states that any actions taken at a meeting that violated the Open Meetings Act are invalid. However, the letter says that could be remedied if the association holds a properly noticed meeting “at which it must adopt an open meetings resolution and address past problems with providing reasonable notice of its meetings and preparing and adopting minutes that comply with the law.”

       The association must report back to the Attorney General's Office about the meeting.

       Also according to the letter, the association violated the Inspection of Public Records Act by taking eight weeks to turn over records requested by White, Padilla and Gadler, who wanted copies of the minutes of past meetings.

       A public body that receives a request for public documents has 15 days to turn them over to the requesting person. If the request will take longer than three days to process, the public body is required to send a written letter notifying the requester of that delay and stating when the inspection may take place or when the body will respond to the request.

       The letter says the association must post a written notice of the right to inspect public records at its office, or, since it doesn't have one, at a public place.

       According to the letter, if the association follows the directions to fix the past problems, the Attorney General's Office will take no action against it.

       The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has also requested an Attorney General's opinion about whether an acequia association may receive legislative appropriations if it exists within the boundaries of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.

       The Los Padillas Acequia Association and seven other acequia associations in the South Valley received legislative appropriations in the amount of $220,000 during the 2007 legislative session. All of that money is still being held by the commission until the Attorney General's Office issues some guidance.

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