Removal of Public Comments in Anthony, NM Board of Trustees meetings sparks protests
During the Anthony New Mexico Board of Trustees meeting on March 15th, Mayor Pro-Tem Elva Flores asked a constituent to leave the meeting. On video, she was heard telling the board and the constituent:
“She did some really silly, childish, gross, and very abusive signs towards me, so I would like to have her (the constituent) escorted out. I would like her not to come to the next two meetings. I’m not here for your childish thing, and your nasty, nasty gestures.”
Anthony Mayor Diana Murillo told me in a recent phone interview that that incident was the primary reason behind the decision to end public comments at Anthony’s Board of Trustees meetings. “It was removed (because of) that, plus some of the individuals when we maintain order…you know, point of order,” she said. “They refuse to keep quiet to maintain order. They make noise and laugh…we can’t keep going with our meetings because of that.
This has caused concern among citizens of Anthony, who claim that the removal of public comments causes a lack of transparency from the city. Mayor Murillo responded, “We’ve had transparency ever since 2010. I mean, we have email; or phone call, just like you did right now…we’ve had people go meet at the office. We’ve had that kind of contact with residents. But for right now, until they stop and act professional…It’s been getting out of hand. They refuse to listen to what the presiding officer is requesting to maintain order.”
Anthony Board of Trustee Gabriel Holguin disagrees with the mayor’s timeline and her reason as to why public comments were removed. “This amendment to the Open Meeting Act Resolution occurred in the meeting prior to when the individual was kicked out,” says Holguin. “What’s being done is that the community is organizing, and they are going to the city council meetings. They were letting the council have it. Essentially, we’re breaking the city manager ordinance and the city didn’t like that, and that’s why Public Comment was removed. It wasn’t removed because of the individual who made the gesture at the council. It was removed because the city is trying to silence the community.”
A public protest arose over the recent amendment that removed public comments from Anthony Board of Trustees meetings, Resolution 2017-08. Melanie Majors, Executive Director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG), spoke to me about that resolution. “Under the Open Meetings Act, the state does require each government body to annually pass a resolution stating specific things on how they will organize their meetings, where they will be held, the time, etc.,” she told me. “One of the provisions in a resolution is usually how the public can address their individual bodies. So if someone wanted to address the county commission or the city council, there’s usually in that. The big issue with all of this is, the Open Meetings Act itself does not have a provision in it that requires an opportunity for the public to address the body. It’s a big black hole in the Open Meetings Act. It can cause some organizations problems. The Anthony council did nothing wrong in omitting that part of their resolution. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow with the spirit of the law. If these meetings are supposed to be open, and the public is supposed to be able to attend them, you have to ask yourself a question: Shouldn’t the public be allowed to address their elected representatives in a public meeting?”
Trustee Gabriel Holguin has gone so far as to call for Mayor Murillo to resign. “She has caused nothing but lawsuits against the city, such as the hiring of the city manager,” Holguin said of the mayor. “She has done nothing, and she has silenced the community.”
“There’s no ground for me to resign,” Mayor Murillo told me when asked to respond to Holguin’s calls for her to do so. “I mean, I’m not gonna resign. I haven’t done anything wrong. I have conducted my business as it should be done. I’ve followed a code of conduct. I know it’s a personal issue with (Holguin) that he doesn’t want me there. This has been going on ever since he became a city trustee. We’ve just had a negative impact towards demoralizing the city.”
So will public comments be reinstated into Anthony board of trustee meetings anytime soon? “Oh, yes,” said Murillo. “We’re planning. But it’s just that we want some of these individuals to know that we want to keep peace and maintain order, and what the presiding officer is supposed to do.”
The next Anthony Board of Trustees Meeting is scheduled for May 3rd. According to the agenda posted on the city’s website, public comments still have not been reinstated.