The League of Women Voters supports the citizen’s right to know, including adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and providing access to public records.
In 2021, misinformation (incorrect or misleading) and disinformation (deliberate attempts to mislead with false information) have been major topics of concern with numerous issues. As members of the public, we can take responsibility for making sure that accurate information is readily available to us. We can do this by directly accessing public meetings and communicating with our elected representatives to hold them accountable for being transparent. Media (newspapers, TV, radio, social) can shine light on the proceedings of government, but for issues that are particularly important, there may be no substitute for first-hand observations.
We are fortunate that Doña Ana County, the City of Las Cruces, and Las Cruces Public Schools offer TV and/or online access to their meetings and post recordings on their websites for those unable to view them live. It’s not the same as being in the room during the meeting, but the recordings are particularly helpful with complex issues since segments of meetings can be viewed multiple times as needed.
Similarly, the NM Legislature has made its sessions available online. Some legislators have complained about the lack of constituent access to the Roundhouse during the pandemic, but far more of their constituents have had access online, not just to listen but to provide testimony. While access to online materials remains limited in New Mexico, improvements are being made.
A good example of transparent work is the Citizens Redistricting Committee, which met with the public (in person and online) around the state in the August-October 2021 period. Through these meetings members of the public were able to voice their concerns about a hugely important issue in representative government and the committee members clearly heard those voices.
Still, there are considerable ways to improve. Viewers of the legislative sessions may not be able to see the materials under discussion. The online audience does not have the access it should have to all of the documents in the meeting room. If slides cannot be shared in real-time, they should be made available after the meeting. More staffing may be needed to assist with the process, including technology.
There are also challenges in viewing live legislative meetings that may not start at the advertised time. Some of this may be unavoidable, but schedules need to be more accurate.
The League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico agrees with the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) in recommending improved and standardized use of technologies to augment in-person meetings of the legislature. FOG has valuable resources for learning individual rights to transparency on their website (nmfog.org). For those interested in monitoring legislative developments, a starting place is www.nmlegis.gov where calendars, agendas and links to meetings can be accessed. The League’s tips for using the legislative website are located at www.lwvnm.org/Action/ under the Advocacy Workshop heading. Civic actions to demand transparency are important for all who live in New Mexico.
Eileen VanWie and Kathy Brook are co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico.