A high-profile case involving the City of Farmington established years ago that the public has the right to see all applications for a city manager job in New Mexico.
But the City of Las Cruces says it’s not releasing the names of city manager candidates interviewed by councilors on Friday — three out of about 50 people who have submitted applications, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima was quoted by the newspaper as saying the city’s search firm, The Mercer Group, Inc., told applicants their names would be confidential unless they were picked as finalists — and the city hasn’t yet named finalists. City Councilor Jack Eakman said releasing names might discourage some qualified people from applying.
“If they’re not chosen here or don’t wish to come here, we want them to go on with their careers without them being threatened by an employer who might not like them searching,” the Sun-News quoted Eakman as saying. “…We don’t want to close ourselves off from top candidates by not protecting their identity until it’s OK for them to release it.”
The N.M. Court of Appeals rejected such arguments years ago when the City of Farmington tried to keep its city manager applications secret.
“…when, as here, the application is for a high-ranking public position, the public’s interest in disclosure outweighs the City’s concern that fewer people will apply, and, thus, disclosure is required,” the Court ruled in 2009 in upholding a district judge’s order to release the applications.
New Mexico’s appellate court leaned on a 1982 Alaska Supreme Court ruling:
“Public officials such as City Managers, and Chiefs of Police have substantial discretionary authority. The qualifications of the occupants 14 of such offices are of legitimate public concern. Disclosing the names and applications of applicants allows interested members of the public, such as the newspapers here, to verify the accuracy of the representations made by the applicants, and to seek additional information which may be relevant to the selection process.”
Alaska’s high court also stated:
“It may be that in some cases an individual will not wish his current employer to know that he has applied for another job. That desire is one which cannot be accommodated where the job sought is a high public office.”
With that Alaska ruling as support, New Mexico’s appellate court concluded “that an implicit guarantee of confidentiality, as the City [of Farmington] argues it made to its applicants in this case, is insufficient to overcome the public’s interest in information regarding applicants for a high-profile public position.”
As for the fear that some might not apply if their names are made public, the Court stated in its ruling, “based on the speculative nature of the City’s argument — that people might not apply — this justification is also insufficient to overcome the public’s interest in disclosure.”
In 2015, New Mexico State University proposed adding an exemption to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) that would allow government agencies to keep secret the identities of applicants for public jobs. The Legislature and governor have not approved the university’s proposal.
NMPolitics.net filed an IPRA request with the City of Las Cruces on Wednesday asking to inspect “all applications received by the City of Las Cruces and/or its hired search firm, The Mercer Group, for the position of Las Cruces City Manager.”