PRC member wants another review of public safety at meetings
In an era of metal detectors and suspicion, New Mexico’s government is a throwback to the 1970s.
Visitors walk right into the State Capitol. No metal detectors surround doorways, even when the Legislature is in session and the building teems with thousands of guests, lobbyists and employees.
At the state Supreme Court, courteous guards have airport-style detection equipment, but they generally just ask visitors if, by chance, they are carrying a pocketknife or any other weapon. The staff waves through semi-regular court attendees without making them empty their pockets or open their briefcases.
In this climate of Old West trust, a change could be brewing at the state Public Regulation Commission.
Commissioner Doug Howe, above, an independent from Santa Fe, proposed today that the agency reconsider whether it needs a security force or other protective measures.
Triggering Howe’s concern was a complaint from a female employee of CenturyLink. She said an angry man threatened her last week, first in PRC headquarters, then in the parking lot.
Howe said the episode was disturbing enough for him to renew the idea of adding security at the PRC’s twice-weekly meetings.
The commissioners already considered security measures once this year. But they let the matter drop against the wishes of the PRC chairman, Patrick Lyons.
At a meeting in May, an engineer who was fired from the PRC in 2009 walked toward the commissioners during a public meeting. Lyons, R-Clovis, grabbed the man, Martin de la Garza, then pushed him away from the commissioners’ dais.
“We don’t have a sergeant at arms or any security. As the chairman, I was in fear for the safety of the other commissioners,” said Lyons, right.
Other commissioners thought Lyons overreacted, especially when he proposed getting a court order to ban de la Garza from the agency’s building and public meetings.
De la Garza occasionally gives rambling speeches when public comment is allowed at PRC meetings. One of his themes is that Lyons should resign or be impeached.
Howe and Commissioner Jason Marks, D-Albuquerque, said they did not want to limit attendance at meetings or restrict free speech. Though no fans of de la Garza’s speeches, they opposed any move to bar him.
The PRC’s public sessions occasionally draw a crowd, such as when a rate increase is proposed for a utility company. But most of its meetings are so quiet they resemble a small book club in a library.
After Lyons’ clash with de la Garza, the PRC administrative staff suggested that agency could hire a security detail, install a panic button in the meeting room or put up signs reminding visitors not to approach the bench where commissioners sit during meetings.
In the end, no changes were made. But Howe, who leaves office at year’s end, said the trouble last week persuaded him that the issue of public safety be revisited.