EPCOG director: Lunch meeting with county commissioners focused on EPCOG services

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A quorum of Curry County commissioners discussed Eastern Plains Council of Governments services at a private lunch on Tuesday, according to EPCOG’s interim executive director.

EPCOG’s Richard Arguello said he had lunch with three commissioners after Tuesday’s County Commission meeting so he could acquaint them with what’s been going on with his agency and the services it provides.

State law requires advance notice of a meeting anytime a quorum — a majority gathering of a policymaking body — gathers to discuss public business.

Arguello and Commissioners Wendell Bostwick, Caleb Chandler and Dan Stoddard had lunch at a Clovis Main Street sandwich shop on Tuesday. Commissioners have said they were not discussing county business at the lunch meeting.

None of the commissioners returned telephone calls on Thursday to respond to Arguello’s comments, made during a telephone interview on Wednesday night.

Arguello, from Union County, said he was in Clovis and stopped by the regular-scheduled County Commission meeting on Tuesday morning to introduce himself. Following the meeting, he said spur-of-the-moment plans were made to have lunch.

“We talked about the Eastern Plains Council of Governments and some of the transitions that’s going on there and what we’re doing to try to serve some of our local governments,” Arguello said

“(I met with them) so they’re able to know what services we offer and how they can use the COG to their benefit.”

Arguello said a goal of EPCOG has been outreach to local governments.

“The organization belongs to them and they need to work with us, they need to be involved,” he said.

“I’m excited that your County Commission has been very involved.”

Curry County pays $7,317 in annual dues as a member of EPCOG, records show.

Tuesday’s lunch was not announced at the Commission meeting, nor was it listed on the agenda. Under state law, a violation of the Open Meetings Act is classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Discussing a sales pitch to the county on what an agency can provide the county would certainly constitute public business, said Sarah Welsh, executive director for New Mexico’s Foundation for Open Government.

“Anytime he (Arguello) was speaking to them in their role as county commissioners, to me that’s a signal that this involves the county and their role as county commissioners. It sounds like county business to me,” she said.

In an interview Tuesday, Stoddard said commissioners did not discuss county business at the lunch, but said commissioners passed a resolution early this year that allows them to meet for lunch as a quorum.

Bostwick said Tuesday that commissioners discussed issues with Union County, but not Curry County business at the lunch.

Chandler, when confronted at the restaurant on Tuesday, said commissioners were not discussing county business.