Albuquerque school board member Martin Esquivel resigned a long-held position with an important sunshine group last week. While I respect his 20-year service to the N.M. Foundation for Open Government, I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go.
More importantly, I hope FOG keeps elected officials off its board in the future.
As I wrote last year in a column calling for FOG to become insurgent, “Government officials shouldn’t oversee a group that holds government officials accountable.” Esquivel disagreed with me at the time, but a muddy situation he found himself in earlier this month illustrates my point.
Members of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to accept Superintendent Winston Brooks’ resignation and to pay him $350,000 on the way out the door. The school district refused to release an investigative report into what was called a “serious personnel issue” related to Brooks’ resignation. Esquivel said he couldn’t talk with the Albuquerque Journal about the situation.
So FOG filed a formal request for the investigative report and related documents. The organization also issued a news release in which FOG President Kathi Bearden said the public deserved to know why Brooks resigned and why APS spent money to end his contract early.
The problem is this: Esquivel was a member of a governmental board refusing to disclose the report to the public while also on the board of an organization advocating for the report’s release to the public.
The two are irreconcilable.
As a group that advocates for greater transparency, FOG must challenge government secrecy regardless of political affiliation, ideology, funding, or personal ties. Esquivel’s dual status put FOG in a prickly situation.
Esquivel said he resigned for family and work reasons, and remains a dues-paying member of FOG. But he admitted that FOG’s news release on the Brooks situation upset him. He specifically complained about FOG calling into question a requirement that the state’s Public Education Department approve the settlement agreement, which FOG said PED should have no authority to do without the investigative report being made public.
In his resignation letter, Esquivel accused FOG of lobbying Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera “about the approval of the APS settlement” and wrote that such a move is “highly unusual.”
That’s not really what FOG’s release states. Esquivel is making a leap. Perhaps that’s understandable given his position as a member of a governmental board that is trying to keep the report secret.
Which is exactly the point.
FOG’s job is to shine light on government. Government officials can’t police themselves, or we’d have a Legislature that actually held its members accountable for misdeeds. Because government officials have an inherent conflict when they try to hold their own accountable, FOG’s board shouldn’t include elected officials.
The FOG board should implement a policy codifying that.