Transparency group urges CYFD panel to open all of its meetings

By: - May 10, 2023 4:45 am

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors said in as statement. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

After news broke that an advisory panel created by New Mexico’s child welfare agency plans to hold some of its meetings behind closed doors, the most prominent government transparency organization in the state is pushing for more openness.

In its first public meeting, the Children Youth and Families Department Policy Advisory Council indicated it will hold closed door meetings as part of a yearly “services audit” by an out-of-state independent consulting firm.

The audit is required in an executive order signed in February by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The next day, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government urged the CYFD Policy Advisory Council to reconsider and adopt a resolution opening all of their meetings.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant – words from the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis that still ring true today – except it seems for a special council formed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to address the dysfunctional Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD),” FOG Executive Director Melanie Majors wrote in a news release.

The state Open Meetings Act makes all meetings of any “policymaking body” in the government open to the public at all times.

“We know from experience it can be done,” Majors wrote.

For example, Majors pointed to the Adult Guardian Study Commission, created in 2017 by the New Mexico Supreme Court, which opened its meetings to the public and published its agendas and minutes.

“As the goal of the CYFD committee is to make recommendations to generally improve the safety and well-being of children in the care of the child protective services system, FOG believes any attempt to engage in a public decision-making process without including the public is a violation of the public’s trust,” Majors wrote. “It is basically a question of accountability and being transparent – something CYFD is sorely lacking.”

CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados said, because the nature of the panel insulates it from Robert’s Rules of Order. Having private meetings “gives the Council time to do the work that they need to do,” Casados said.

In 2020, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office found a similar advisory panel created by the Legislature in 2019, the Child Protective Services Task Force, was not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.