The Torrance County commission changed the zoning for KXNM Radio station’s zoning last week in an uneventful meeting; meanwhile, allegations by a former commissioner were formally answered by the county.
A letter was drafted by the law firm Wallin & Huss Associates, which represents Torrance County, and sent to the Attorney General’s office, responding to former commissioner Lonnie Freyburger’s allegations that the county had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The county’s response details its reasons for disagreeing with that position.
Freyburger had said that a Jan. 19 meeting this year had not been properly noticed to the public. “Mr. Freyburger’s complaint fails from both a legal and a factual standpoint,” the attorneys’ letter says.
The letter says that the meeting information had been made public, providing a copy of the “email chain” describing the process. “Second, Mr. Freyburger’s assertion that the notice was not provided to anyone other than the Commissioners is inaccurate,” the letter goes on. “I am attaching the email from the County to the list of people who have requested notice of public meetings; … The agenda of the meeting was attached to that email. Ironically, the notice was sent to Mr. Freyburger himself.”
Another claim by Freyburger to the AG’s office said that two meetings in March to name the county’s choice to replace Sen. Phil Griego were illegally held.
Griego had resigned suddenly just before the end of the legislative session under ethical questions about a real estate deal. Gov. Susana Martinez sent letters to the affected counties requesting that they hold emergency meetings and name their choices by March 15; Torrance County did so, later holding a second meeting March 18 and voting again.
At the March 14 meeting, and in the letter to the AG’s office, the county’s attorney said that the lack of representation at the legislative session was an “unforeseen circumstance” that would “likely result in substantial financial loss to the county,” advising the commission that it was on solid legal ground with the meeting.
The letter said the March 18 meeting was held as “a precautionary measure.” Notice of that meeting was sent out March 15. “Here, the Commission believed the Governor was correct and the absence of representation for the remainder of the legislative session constituted an emergency under the Act,” the letter says. “The follow-up meeting ratified the decision in an abundance of caution based on citizen requests.”
Freyburger’s third complaint said that because fellow commissioners had been at a meeting together. If a quorum of a public body like the county commission is present, that can constitute a public meeting under the Open Meetings Act. Torrance County’s attorneys said that because the two commissioners were not seated together and did not discuss county business there was no violation.
In other business, a zoning request by KXNM Radio was granted, changing two different zones into D-2, or major development. Previously the property was zoned in two different parcels, one AP-5 for “agricultural preservation,” and the other piece D-2, or “minor development.”
Several people in the audience spoke in favor of the zone change, with none speaking against it. The radio station’s office is next door to Torrance County dispatch and animal control services in McIntosh.
The vote to change the zoning was unanimous, with LeRoy Candelaria moving to approve the zone change, seconded by Jim Frost.