Comment: The League of Women Voters supports the right of citizens to be informed, including being given appropriate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and providing access to public records.
In 2021, misinformation (false or misleading) and disinformation (deliberate attempts to mislead with false information) have been major issues on numerous issues. As members of the public, we can take responsibility for ensuring that accurate information is readily available to us. We can do this by directly accessing public meetings and communicating with our elected officials to hold them accountable for their transparency. The media (newspaper, television, radio, social affairs) can shed light on government operations, but on issues of particular importance there may be no substitute for first-hand observation.
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 see them live. It’s not the same as being in the room during the meeting, but the recordings are particularly useful for complex topics, as portions of meetings can be viewed multiple times if needed. Similarly, the NM Legislature has made its sessions available online. Some lawmakers have complained about voters’ lack of access to the Roundhouse during the pandemic, but far more of their constituents have had access online, not just to listen but to give testimony. While access to online materials in New Mexico remains restricted, improvements are being made.
A good example of transparent work is the Citizens Redistricting Committee, which met with the public (in person and online) across the state during the August-October 2021 period. Through these meetings, members of the public were able to voice their concerns about an extremely important issue in representative government, and committee members heard those voices clearly.
Nevertheless, there is significant room for improvement. Viewers of Legislative Sessions may not be able to see the materials being discussed. Online audiences don’t have the access to all documents in the meeting room that they should. If slides cannot be shared in real time, they should be made available after the meeting. More staff may be required to support the process, including technology.
There are also challenges with viewing live legislative sessions, which 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 technology to enhance in-person meetings of the Legislature. FOG provides valuable resources on its website (https://nmfog.org) for learning about individual rights to transparency. For those interested in monitoring legislative developments, www.nmlegis.gov is a starting point where calendars, agendas and links to meetings can be accessed. For the League’s tips on using the Legislative website, go to www.lwvnm.org/Action/ under the heading “Advocacy Workshop”. Citizen action to demand transparency is important to everyone who lives in New Mexico.
Eileen VanWie and Kathy Brook are Co-Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico.