ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) will award the 2023 William S. Dixon First Amendment Award to six New Mexicans at its luncheon on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, in Albuquerque at the Sandia Golf Event Center. The honor recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of citizens and organizations in New Mexico who champion transparency and defend the people’s right to know the affairs of government.
“The Dixon Awards demonstrate the dedication and hard work of everyday citizens across New Mexico who are committed to transparency in local and state government in our state,” Kathi Bearden, Dixon Award chair, said in announcing the names of the recipients. “Each of the awardees have shown leadership and perseverance and allows all of us to exercise our rights to an open government.”
Two individuals will be singled out as Lifetime Achievement Recipients – They are Billie Blair and Susan Boe, both of Santa Fe.
Billie Blair has been a reporter, editor, copy editor, and a publisher. She is the owner of her own communication firm and for two decades she has been an ardent supporter of FOG. During her newspaper tenure, she wrote editorials and directed news coverage in favor of strengthening IPRA and OMA. Specifically, she spoke out when Santa Fe County withheld public records from FOG in a test case—a case FOG later settled for $3,500 in attorney’s fees and damages. During the 1993 session of the Legislature, The New Mexican, in cooperation with FOG, other groups and the Attorney General’s Office won passage of three bills to clarify and strengthen the Inspection of Public Records Act, the Arrest Record Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.
Susan Boe has been a champion for open government for more than 50 years. She filed an amicus brief in one of the most important civil cases regarding transparency in New Mexico civil law in 2011 when with the firm Cassutt, Hays and Friedman. The primary issue before the Court was whether Defendants Petitioners (the “State”) could refuse to produce public records that are complaints against a specific state police officer. Her law background was front and center again when she worked on several with amicus briefs with positive outcomes. The writing of the Cox brief cemented her place in FOG long before she became its executive director, a job she took in 2013. As the FOG executive director, she worked with the Secretary of State’s office to improve the agency’s website and require that information be “sortable, searchable, and downloadable. She also opened closed door legislative committee meetings; created and published an online database of county and state agency records custodians and conducted an IPRA audit of state agencies and all 33 New Mexico counties.
The other Dixon recipients are as follows:
Citizen – Maralyn Beck has been instrumental in educating and training others on how to request public information. By conducting workshops and providing guidance, she has empowered individuals to exercise their right to access government records, ensuring greater transparency and accountability. Recognizing the importance of a well-informed community, through these efforts, she has enabled individuals and organizations to navigate the process effectively and obtain the information they seek. She has actively lobbied legislators and government officials to make various records, data, and reports available to the public. Her advocacy has played a crucial role in breaking down barriers to access information, resulting in increased transparency in government operations.
Government – State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez championed SB 153 requiring publication of expenditures. The legislative council service now is required to publish on the legislative website, a searchable list of each appropriation contained in a supplemental general appropriation act that passes the legislature after January 17, 2023. The list includes the name of each legislator who allocates a portion of each appropriation and the amount of the verified allocation. The list, including vetoes, is published 30 days after the adjournment of the legislative session in which the supplemental general appropriation act is approved by both chambers of the legislature. For the past 44 years, legislators have appropriated funds to specific infrastructure (or “capital outlay”) projects without having to disclose which projects they are sponsoring. This opaque system has made it impossible for members of the public to hold legislators accountable for how they are choosing to spend public funds. Sen. Rodriguez worked with several good government groups, including FOG to ensure passage of this SB 153. She felt strongly about this bill and included a clause to make it effective immediately
Media – D’Val Westphal was the Albuquerque Journal editorial editor until recently and she has worked tirelessly on behalf of government transparency. She consistently used the newspaper’s platform to educate the public about the importance of open government. As editorial page editor, she steered, edited and often wrote the editorials. She has made it her mission to educate the public about open government and to keep it top of mind for Journal readers. In addition to all of the above, she was responsible for scheduling editorial board meetings with public officials, readers and others. This was an opportunity for officials to come in and express firsthand their views on some public policy. Often transparency was part of the discussion. She took the lead in pressing officials for answers, reminding them of the current law and its importance. From PED to CYFD, these were important meetings helped educate key figures. After such a meeting with CYFD officials, the agency went on to support proposed changes that would make CYFD more transparent. Unfortunately, the changes did not make it through this year’s legislative session.
Law – Matthew Beck was of paramount importance this past legislative session in his undertaking and leadership to rewrite the Children’s Code Confidentiality Clause to ensure the highest level of public disclosure allowable under federal law and CAPTA. He spent countless hours of pro bono law time working across both aisles (Rep. Marianne Matthews and Rep. Greg Nibert), as well as with bill drafters and advocacy organizations to write a well-drafted, thoughtful bill that was ultimately bipartisan sponsored, and endorsed by CYFD and advocates. He was the expert witness for both the public disclosure and confidentiality rewrites as well as the multiple legislative efforts to create an independent, objective and outside office of the Child Advocate to improve transparency and accountability for the agency. He has litigated against CYFD for their vague and ambiguous statute on confidentiality (and won) and continues to advocate for legislative change to ensure the utmost transparency and accountability for public disclosure relating to child abuse fatalities and near fatalities in child welfare.
The award honors the late William S. Dixon, a First Amendment advocate and FOG co-founder well-known as a leading defender of free speech and public-access rights. FOG asks members of the public to submit nominations.
The luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Sandia Golf Event Center at I-25 in Albuquerque on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. Individual tickets are $60, and sponsorship opportunities are available. All proceeds benefit the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a 501(c)(3) New Mexican nonprofit corporation. For more information, call 505-764-3750.