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Commission addresses OMA violations

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The Eddy County Commission reviewed previous agenda items from years past Tuesday in order to address the Open Meetings Act violations recently determined by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

The determination came after Ronald Barron, a longtime Eddy County resident, submitted a complaint to the Office of the Attorney General (AGO).

“As the citizens and public are aware, there was a complaint to the AGO primarily based on a HIPAA violation by Ronald Barren a number of months ago, and this was the response after receiving the documents,” said Eddy County Attorney Cas Tabor. “They did come back with a criticism of the closing of meetings.

“What the attorney general has indicated and determined is you can’t just say ‘limited personnel matters,’ ‘pending or threatened litigation,’ or ‘real property.’ You need to at least give some tidbit of what it’s about so the public has some idea of what you’re closing a meeting for.”

The attorney general’s letter to Eddy County afforded the county the “opportunity to cure” various improprieties as determined by the AGO concerning the lack of specificity on the topic of matters being considered during various closed sessions held at county commission meetings, with votes thereafter being taken on topics discussed.

A total of seven items were re-voted upon Tuesday, including:

• A vote of the commission on Jan. 16, 2014, restructuring the Emergency Services Department into two departments and appointing a Director of Emergency Services

• A vote of the commission on May 6, 2014, approving a motion to join a lawsuit involving the Endangered Species Act.

• A vote of the commission on May 6, 2014, approving the utility Right of Way Easement at the Happy Valley Fire Station.

• A vote of the commission on June 9, 2014, approving an agreement (A-14-55) with law firm Lynch, Chappell and Alsup, PC, and Harper Estes and Lisa K. Hooper to represent the county as a co-plaintiff in the Lesser Prairie Chicken litigation in federal court

• A vote of the commission on June 9, 2014, approving an agreement (A-14-53) with the Permian Basin Petroleum Association joining in the Lesser Prairie Chicken suit in federal court.

• A vote of the commission on Sept. 2, 2014, approving an extension of the contract for legal services (A-14-84) being provided for the Eddy County Assessor’s Office in a pending Court of Appeals case against Eddy County.

• County manager and county employee raises commencing July 1, 2014, per meetings of April 15, 2014, May 6, 2014, and May 20, 2014, voted on during the budget cycle for Fiscal Year 2014-15. County Manager Rick Rudometkin’s raise was from $130,961 to $160,000, commencing FY14-15.

All of the issues were reaffirmed and approved, the latter being the most controversial, according to Tabor.

“This has been the big objection, and why this was filed in the first place, the AGO says there was not enough notice that the county manager or the county employees were going to be given raises,” Tabor said. “They looked at the April 15 minutes and the May 6 minutes and weren’t able to visualize the fact that there was a closed meeting and then there was a budget meeting where personnel salaries, capital outlay, all the different aspects of a budget were discussed in an open meeting on April 15 and May 6. At the end of each meeting, there was a vote, 5-0.

“That packet that was included in the budget process was an administration and executive summary that had a number of items on it, including the raises to be considered. I had discussions with the attorney general after we got this letter, and they admitted their confusion about the votes that were at the end of these budget hearings. That’s why a number of items were dropped.”

Barren was present at Tuesday’s meeting and spoke during the public comments and announcements section as to what he plans to do with this information next.

“I did a lot of research on this. There’s no lying, no bull about what’s going on,” said Barren. “I’m taking this to the district attorney because I think it is fraud. I want to wish you all the best, and I want you to take my reserved parking sign out of the lot because I will never be back down here.”

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