AG to UNM regents: Hold new meeting on athletics cuts or face suit
ALBUQUERQUE — State Attorney General Hector Balderas laid down the law with the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents on Thursday.
Balderas in a news conference said he is prepared to sue the university if it doesn’t immediately schedule another board of regents meeting to properly address the recent decision to eliminate four teams from UNM’s athletic department.
At question is the methodology the regents used to reach their decision, as well as the manner in which the University of New Mexico disclosed information about the meeting by way of a detailed agenda. The latter constituted a direct violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, Balderas said.
On Wednesday, Balderas said he was ordering the regents to schedule another meeting to revisit the issue within 15 days. The deadline for that meeting would be Aug. 23.
“Under the law, I’m able to sue on behalf of the population it’s impacted,” Balderas said. “So we are asking [the regents] to take remedial action, redo the process. But we are prepared to also file our own litigation on behalf of New Mexico.”
The regents met in a special session July 19 to hear athletic director Eddie Nuñez lay out a detailed plan on how to appropriately wrangle the athletic department’s growing deficit and its $33.5 million annual budget. The agenda for that meeting was made public three days prior, but the only description was a five-word bullet point that read: “Discussion and action on athletics.”
The meeting concluded with Nuñez describing his plan to eliminate men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing, beach volleyball and the diving portion of the women’s swimming team by the end of the 2018-19 school year.
The regents approved the measure by a 6-0 vote after speakers lobbied the board for more than two hours in support of the teams being cut. The move will save UNM athletics approximately $1.2 million in annual expenses.
Balderas, who is running for re-election in the fall, made it clear he is not asking the regents to change their vote. Stopping the university from eliminating sports is not his primary concern; it’s ensuring that the regents follow proper protocol and keep the public informed at every step.
“What I’m saying is they need to be transparent with their methodology, set the highest standard of review process and artfully communicate that with the general public,” Balderas said. “Their final outcome is up to them.”
After a review by his legal team, Balderas determined UNM violated state law and the actions the regents took July 19 are therefore invalid.
Balderas’ move was lauded by Greg Williams, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government board member. He also is the father of a UNM men’s soccer player and attended Thursday’s news conference.
“The attorney general was very hard on UNM,” Williams said. “I think that he made no bones about the fact that he is very disappointed about how they have handled this process, and he was clear that what they need to do is not just hold another meeting but they need to start this process over.”
Balderas said UNM should be held to the highest standard of transparency possible.
Williams echoed that point, saying this week’s findings by the Attorney General’s Office opens the door for proper discussion and discovery for the 63 student-athletes whose scholarships will be lost by the teams being cut.
“UNM has been up and down in terms of their compliance with open government laws, and unfortunately this was a low moment for them,” Williams said. “They had an opportunity in a high-profile situation to be as transparent as possible and they chose not to, and all it does is bring their credibility into question because now the public doesn’t have any faith that that they made the right decision.”