NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW MEXICO · Freedom of Information · Nov. 18, 2005
School board president recalled for open meetings violation
Nov. 18, 2005 · The president of a New Mexico school board and three board members were recalled in an election Tuesday by voters upset by allegations that they violated state open meetings laws.
Gadsden Independent School District Board President Luz Vargas-Troncoso and board members James “Dino” Anastasia , Fred Garza and Gregg Martinez are expected to be ousted for violating the New Mexico Open Meetings Act after the county clerk, the school district’s superintendent and a magistrate judge certify Tuesday’s election results, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
The recall push was fueled by the board’s August decision behind closed doors to fire Superintendent Ron Haugen. Recall organizers claim the board violated the state’s open meetings law as well as a law that grants superintendents authority over hiring and firing decisions.
The board discussed firing Haugen in executive session and while they claimed the vote was conducted in open session, there were no members of the public present.
Charles Noland, an attorney representing the four board members, told the Sun-News that even if a violation occurred, it is not grounds for recall and he thinks that any violations could be cleared by repeating the discussion and the vote in open session.
Noland initially argued the petition for a recall election should have been thrown out for four reasons. He told the Sun-News that the alleged acts do not rise to the level of “willful and knowing wrongdoing” as called for in the recall statute, that the petition violated the Voting Rights Act since it was not provided in both English and Spanish, that there was a discrepancy between what was on the petition and what petition gatherers explained verbally to Spanish-speaking signers, and that under the district court’s procedure, his clients were not allowed to present evidence.
Vargas-Troncoso, a school board member for six years, told the Sun-News she has no plans to challenge the recall election results, and firmly stands behind her decision to fire Haugen.
“I was part of the board that hired Ron Haugen,” she told the Sun-News. “If I believed he was doing the job he was hired to do, I would have supported him. If that means that I get kicked out of the office, I’d rather have that than to sit here and watch the demise of the district.”
She did not comment on allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law.