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County commission found in violation of Open Meetings Act

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The previous Eddy County Board of Commissioners has been found in violation of the Open Meetings Act, according to a letter from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

The AGO found the previous board failed to provide specific descriptions in approximately 26 past meetings between December 2013 and October 2014 for adjourning to closed meetings, stating only “limited personnel matters,” “threatened or pending litigation,” or “real property.”

These closed meeting session descriptions were deemed “too generic.”

According to the letter, written by Assistant Attorney General Jennie Lusk, during two of these closed meetings of generic description, the commissioners failed to mention pay raises for County Manager Rick Rudometkin. Rudometkin was given multiple pay raises between December 2013 and November 2014. His current salary stands at $172,000.

The letter states a January 2014 raise, which was also given to employees other than Rudometkin, was approved in accordance with the Open Meetings Act; however, a raise given to Rudometkin in June 2014 was not. This is due to the fact that neither the agendas nor the minutes for both the April 15 and May 6, 2014, meetings indicated the commission intended to issue raises.

Only three current commission members – Susan Crockett, Glenn Collier and Royce Pearson – were also members of the previous board.

“The attorney general is working with our county attorney; there are some protocol procedures that we as a board of commissioners need to adopt,” said Pearson. “It’s procedural housekeeping that needs to get taken care of, and once that’s done, we’ll be in good shape.

“Since I’ve been chairman, we’ve only had one closed meeting in which nothing was voted on. There is no malicious intent on anybody’s part. We obviously did make a mistake, and the attorney general is trying to help us fix it.”

The AGO began its investigation into the matter after receiving a complaint from Ronald Barron, a longtime resident of Eddy County.

In a letter to the Daily Press, Barron stated, “We must remind the commissioners that they must work for us and not against us. Election promises must be backed up with actions.”

The letter continues with frustration-fueled complaints and a demand that salaries adjusted while in violation of the Opens Meeting Act be paid back.

“The Commission might attempt to find a way to give those raises again unless we all stand up and tell them we do not agree,” Barron’s letter states. “We must stand up and ask questions that require answers.”

Barron has also researched that Eddy County has the second-highest-paid county managers in the state behind Los Alamos County. The salaries of Rudometkin and Assistant County Manager Kenney Rayroux add up to $304,000.

“Ronnie Barron has been hung up on this for some time; he has an agenda against the commissioners,” Pearson said. “It’s always easy to be critical when you’re on the sidelines.

“And if you look around us at other municipalities and counties, you’ll find they are also pretty generic about their closed-session agenda items. We will address and make it right at the next meeting on June 7.”

The AGO decision comes on the heels of Rudometkin, Rayroux and Finance Director Roberta Smith’s presenting of a budget proposal to the commissioners April 19 in which $4.3 million was trimmed from the budget by freezing step increases, 29 allocated vacant positions, promotions, and future creation of positions; cutting $800,000 from the Public Works Department; cutting $511,000 from detention; and cutting $228,000 from the sheriff’s office.

“Yes, it’s hard to freeze raises, yes, it’s hard to freeze allocated positions; however, we can still function, we can still operate this next fiscal year, which is more important that those other items,” Rudometkin said during the April commission meeting.

Rudometkin was unavailable for comment today regarding the Open Meetings Act violation, as were Tabor, Crockett and Collier.

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