The New Mexico Attorney General’s office sent a letter to the University of New Mexico stating last month’s Board of Regents meeting to cut sports “violated” the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).
In response, the University said it did nothing wrong.
“Although this issue is moot in light of the upcoming meeting and agenda, the University would nevertheless like to address the alleged non-compliance because (1) it was never the University's intent to be vague or overly broad in the agenda item and (2) the University believes that the agenda item complied with the guidance provided by the AG Compliance Guide,” Associate University Counsel Patrick Hart wrote in a letter.
The letter called for the Attorney General to “reconsider his conclusions and rescind” the prior letter.
While the letter does not specify a date for the special meeting, it says it will be held in the next fifteen days, in compliance with the Attorney General’s Office directive.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, a Board of Regents meeting will be held in Ballroom C at 9 a.m. No revote was mentioned on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
On Wednesday, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office wrote an opinion addressing two complaints filed in the wake of the contentious decision to cut four sports and drastically alter the rosters of two more.
“Based on our review…we have determined that the Board violated OMA and failed to provide the public with meaningful notice of the Board’s intention to vote on matters pertaining to the defunding of four athletic programs,” the letter said.
The letter leveled that the Board of Regents’ agenda item for the July meeting “lacked specificity” mandated by OMA.
“The term “Discussion and Action on Athletics” is broad enough to encompass virtually any conceivable action or discussion related to any aspect of UNM’s various athletics programs,” the letter continued.
The letter quotes the broad policy of the Open Meetings Act, which reads, “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government.”
The University removed men’s soccer, the diving portion of women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s skiing and beach volleyball.
The plan jointly presented by President Garnett Stokes and Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez was said to alleviate financial pressure and address Title IX compliance within UNM Athletics.
Eight of past ten fiscal years, the department has operated in a deficit, which ballooned to $4.7 million dollars in 2018.
Reporter Geoff Grammer wrote in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal that UNM Athletics will narrowly operate in the black for fiscal year 2018, due to nearly $2 million in one-time donations.
The Daily Lobo has not yet received a response from the University’s Board of Regents.
The AG’s letter was addressed to UNM attorney Kevin Gick who is the governmental investigations liaison.
The Attorney General’s Office said if the 15 day requirement for a new meeting is unmet it may “subject the Board to further enforcement actions.”
The Daily Lobo reached out to David Carl, the media contact for the Attorney General’s Office, to clarify the ramifications for UNM.
"All provisions of the Open Meetings Act may be enforced by the Attorney General in District Court,” Carl said. “However, nothing in the Open Meetings Act prevents an individual from independently also applying for enforcement through the district courts."
To clarify, “individual” is not limited to any person or group, meaning anyone could take it upon themselves to pursue legal action against the University.
Greg Williams, an open government attorney in New Mexico and with a son who is an in-coming freshman slated to play for Lobo men’s soccer, has been outspoken regarding the cuts.
Williams said the Regents should have included others in the process from the beginning, by asking the legislature for additional funding and asking for community fundraising.
“So the worst thing the University could do right now is schedule another meeting and go through the motions and rubber-stamp their prior decision (to cut four sports),” Williams said. “The community since this decision has been very strongly in opposition to this decision.
In the days after the July 19 BOR meeting, democratic state legislators held a press conference, requesting the Regents reverse their decision to defund four sports and cut the rosters of two others.
However, more than a rivalry, state appropriations for the New Mexico State University Athletics program were half a million dollars more than UNM Athletics. This year, as stated in House Bill 2, NMSU received $3,117,600 compared to UNM’s $2,617,300.
Earlier this month a meeting was held regarding the future of men’s soccer, which was not open to the public. Williams identified himself as one of the organizers.
“The whole purpose of the notice provisions of the (Open Meetings) Act is to make sure the public is as informed as possible and has a chance to participate,” Williams said. “Otherwise, the public has no confidence that the result reached, was the right one.”
This story is developing and will be updated as more information is provided.
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. You can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @ProkopDani.