Albuquerque Journal

Bill to shield applicants’ names advances

Cutting transparen­cy wouldn’t aid hiring, critics say


SANTA FE — A plan to allow the names of applicants for top New Mexico public school, law enforcemen­t and other taxpayer-funded positions to be kept secret cleared its first legislativ­e hurdle Wednesday, despite opposition from a government transparen­cy group.

Backers of the measure, Senate Bill 39, say some would-be candidates currently do not apply for high-profile jobs out of concern their names might be publicly disclosed.

“Our boards have struggled to get the highest-quality candidates from time to time because of the law we’re trying to change,” said Joe Guillen, the executive director of the New Mexico School Boards Associatio­n.

But critics of the measure there is no proof that an open hiring process affects the ability of school districts and government agencies to make topnotch hires.

“Secrecy is not necessary to get qualified candidates,” said Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

During their Wednesday meeting, members of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee acknowledg­ed mixed feelings about the bill.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, a member of the local school board, said there’s already a lack of superinten­dent candidates across New Mexico, and some up-and-coming education profession­als might feel uneasy about having their interest in a job post disclosed.

But he still voted against the bill, saying, “I don’t know that I’m willing to lose the transparen­cy and open government just to fill a position.”

Ultimately, the bill passed the committee 5-2, with all Democrats on the panel voting in favor and Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, joining Gallegos in opposition.

Under the legislatio­n, sponsored by

Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerqu­e, all “appointive executive positions” would be subject to a new exemption under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, although the names and résumés of at least three finalists would have to be disclosed.

That definition would include nonelected chief executive officers of state agencies, institutio­ns and political subdivisio­ns, but would not apply to political appointees like state Cabinet secretarie­s.

Debate on the bill comes as searches are underway for several high-profile Albuquerqu­e jobs.

The Albuquerqu­e Public Schools board is aiming to pick its next superinten­dent in March, after previously putting its search on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Albuquerqu­e Mayor Tim Keller’s administra­tion launched a national search for the next Albuquerqu­e Police Department chief and recently narrowed the field to three final candidates.

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