New Mexico Remains Tightlipped on Candidates for Insurance Chief

October 2, 2006

New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission remains tightlipped about the candidates vying to be New Mexico’s next insurance superintendent, but at least one commissioner had hoped that the names would have been released.

Commissioner David King said that would have left time for public scrutiny and more interviews before Tuesday’s PRC meeting, when commissioners are expected to make a decision.

“We need to be very careful in this process,” King said. “This is a key, key position and we have to have an open process.”

According to a copyright story published in Saturday’s Albuquerque Journal, two appointees of Gov. Bill Richardson are among the top candidates.

The newspaper reported that people familiar with the selection process identified the candidates as Edward Lopez Jr., superintendent of regulation and licensing; Pete Dinelli, a deputy city attorney in Albuquerque; Betty Rivera, who served on the Public Utility Commission; and Morris J. Chavez, the state’s gaming representative.

Following a closed meeting Tuesday, the PRC announced it had authorized its chief of staff to negotiate with one of the finalists on issues such as salary and job responsibility.

The PRC’s counsel has said that state law allows discussions about personnel matters to be held behind closed doors as long as no formal action is taken. The agency contends that authorizing the chief of staff to approach someone is different from making a final appointment.

While the PRC is defending its decision not to release the names, Bob Johnson, head of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said he believes the names should be made public.

“Elected bodies such as the PRC are obviously covered by the open meetings and public records act,” Johnson said. “They ought to comply with the law.”

The PRC is looking for a replacement for Eric Serna, who stepped down in May after being suspended by the commission over conflict-of-interest issues. At the time, he was making more than $91,000 a year.

“What we are committed to do is select somebody who has the skills to do the job and the experience and has an ethical background,'” PRC Vice Chairman Jason Marks said Friday.

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