Six will receive the 2022 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award


ALBUQUERQUE — The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) has chosen five New Mexicans as recipients of its 2022 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Awards.

The awards are given annually to New Mexicans who believe in government transparency at the state or local level – and who have made a significant contribution to the sunshine (transparency) of government operations in the state.

Dixon Award winners will be honored with a Dixon Award event taking place October 6 at the Albuquerque Marriott Hotel on Louisiana Boulevard in Albuquerque.

“For many years, FOG has honored New Mexicans who believe that open government is good government,” said FOG President Kathi Bearden. “This year’s group acted on their beliefs instead of talking about transparency and accountability. Their actions have changed policies, procedures and empower everyone to participate in government.

The 2022 Dixon recipients:

Marshal Byron, Citizen
Marshal’s nomination focused on his dogged citizen advocacy for the Hobbs City Commission to adopt video streaming and archiving of commission meetings — an activism that began in 2015 and continues today. The city has repeatedly and proudly cited it as a means of government transparency and citizen engagement and in a March 2022 column titled “City of Hobbs Resilient in the Face of COVID Closures”, the Mayor of Hobbs, Cobb, noted that the streaming service will be reaching its sixth year. Not only the creation of the program, but its longevity, is due in large part to Marshal’s work to protect and strengthen open government. This is an interesting turnaround for the city because when the marshal first suggested the policy, it was met with resistance from the then city manager and members of the municipal commission. His contribution to transparency and accountability extends to efforts regarding the city’s paid vacation policy and employee cash payments associated with the city’s new PTO policy. His persistent efforts inspired many other Hobbs residents to become informed and involved in local government.

Thomas Grover, right
Albuquerque attorney Grover has an extensive record as a litigator for people who have been unable to obtain public records. Her extensive knowledge of the IPRA and OMA helps her clients understand their rights. “(IPRA) is my favorite four-letter word,” said Grover, who has successfully sued cities, counties and others for non-compliance with IPRA. His actions have resulted in changes to the procedures of records custodians and public agencies, including the Albuquerque Police Department, which now provides investigative disciplinary records on officers. In 2019, Grover was the attorney when his client was awarded $40,000 in his lawsuit against the city of Espanola for withholding records and another client was awarded $180,000 in a lawsuit against APD. Grover also represented a retired Santa Fe police lieutenant in his lawsuit against that agency. A district judge ordered the city to pay this plaintiff for failing to comply with a request for public records.

Kathleen Hager, education
This recipient specifically used the law, the Attorney General, and NMFOG advice to hold APS accountable. She endeavored to uphold the public’s right to examine the records, even when the records were held in part by a private organization acting on behalf of the public entity. Through Hager’s efforts, she was able to change the way the state’s largest school district handled employee promotions and raises, changing a system that was onerous and detrimental to individual employees. Prior to its public records questions, the AFT union acted as a de facto human relations department for APS when considering promotions and raises for non-teaching staff. Now APS runs its own process. Her career path has taken her from banking to working as a child life specialist at Dayton Children’s Hospital, as well as an intern at the Air Force Base Family Support Center. ‘Andrews. She worked at Carlos Rey Elementary School and Desert Ridge Middle School and is now a school counselor at North Star Elementary School. This recipient is a member of the APS Counseling Steering Committee and was named the 2018-19 APS Counselor of the Year and the 2022-23 NM School Counselor of the Year.

Representative Marian Matthews, Government
Matthews is a state representative for House District 27. A strong advocate for better government and transparency, she has become a tireless advocate for pushing back CYFD’s mantle of secrecy and working to ensure that this department becomes more transparent. In 2021, Rep. Matthews criticized the CYFD for its failure to be open and transparent with the public, culminating in a scathing, multi-page LFC memo identifying multiple systemic concerns about transparency and accessibility. Since taking office in 2021, she has been honest, accessible, and forthright in her dedication and commitment to bringing this agency to light and holding this public entity accountable. She is a model legislator for leading ethically. She continues to be a champion as she works to create an independent, stand-alone ombudsman’s office, as well as amend public disclosure laws and ensure that the confidentiality clause in the code of Childhood Protects children and families impacted by the department, not the department itself. She began her career as a reporter and journalist in Springfield, MO, then Alamogordo, NM.

Greg Trapp, government
As Executive Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, Greg Trapp has worked vigorously to ensure equal access, accountability, and transparency within the Commission and other state agencies and boards. Trapp was on the front line at the start of the COVID lockdown, asking the Attorney General to ensure public access, including people with disabilities, to meetings, materials and records. He worked with the AG to develop advice from that agency’s Open Government Division on how public bodies could comply with the IPRA and OMA during the pandemic. He worked on drafting procedures wording for his organization and other state agencies to make the process less cumbersome. His efforts were evident long before Covid. Trapp is considered a stickler for detail, including following all aspects of OMA before, during and after meetings. He has worked to urge other boards and agencies, including those he is on, to follow the law. His efforts include directing staff to build an electronic bulletin board that allows the public to receive updates to legal notices, agendas, and other meeting materials via email.

Vincent Rodriguez, media
Rodriguez is the lead watchdog journalist in KOAT TV 7’s newsroom. He is currently head of digital media and was previously editor-in-chief. He takes time every day to ensure that staff understand the power of an open records request and what is available just by asking. He has created a system to track when IPRAs are sent and what responses, if any, they receive. In December 2021, when a child was fatally shot in Rio Rancho, the city refused to turn over documents. For months into 2022, the station told viewers what was requested and what was denied. When the city used the Children’s Code to deny documents, he helped explain how the city used the Children’s Code to justify not handing over documents. Eventually, the AG sided with KOAT, and the station let the public know that the city was changing course due to their persistence. He instills knowledge of the law in the newsroom and ensures that other employees know that it is not just for the media, but for the citizens. If a New Mexican has a problem and he doesn’t get answers, he tells him how to get what’s granted to him through the Sun Laws. He is the person in the newsroom who questions everything and teaches others to question everything.

The annual Dixon event honors New Mexicans who believe in open government at the state or local level – and who have made a significant contribution to spreading the sun (transparency) on government operations in the US. State.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government was established in 1989, as New Mexico’s only nonprofit, nonpartisan, member-supported organization serving the open government interests of the general public, business community, elected officials, journalists, and lawyers. They work on behalf of the New Mexicans from the rotunda to the school. Members of the public with questions or concerns about the IPRA or OMA can contact the helpline at 1.505.764.3750. “Open government is the best government.

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