CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) - Investigators for the attorney general were unable to determine if three Curry County commissioners held an illegal meeting in November.
But according to an opinion issued Friday, investigators admonished commissioners to exercise caution when gathering in a quorum.
In February, the Clovis News Journal complained about what it believed was a violation of the New Mexico Open Meetings Act.
The complaint followed the Nov. 17 discovery that Commissioners Wendell Bostwick, Caleb Chandler and Dan Stoddard had lunch with Eastern Plains Council of Governments interim director Richard Arguello at a Clovis sandwich shop.
The newspaper claimed the meeting constituted an illegal quorum because the group discussed county business, based on Arguello saying he acquainted the group with his agency and its services.
Bostwick said no discussions of county business took place while the quorum was together.
"In my mind, I just don't think we were in violation," Bostwick said.
Bostwick said there are times when a quorum of commissioners attend the same events. While they try to notify the news media when they know it will happen in advance, that's not always possible.
"In a small community, you're subject to run into people at different times, and we know that," Bostwick said.
Clovis News Journal Editor David Stevens said he doesn't know if the commissioners simply listened to Arguello, as they claimed, or if they interacted. In either case, Stevens called the AG's opinion a reminder that officials need to discuss public business in the open.
"If you're really representing the public, why would you want to try to avoid the law on a technicality like that?" Stevens asked. "Hopefully, they got the message and this won't be a problem in the future."
Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said the AG's opinion should send Curry County commissioners "a stern warning."
"It's a very fine line to draw between a 'one-way' transmission of information and a 'discussion' among a quorum," she said.
Information from: Clovis News Journal, http://www.cnjonline.com