ALBUQUERQUE – A New Mexico lawyer wants a state judge to toss out a University of New Mexico’s decision to eliminate four sports, claiming the school violated the state’s open meetings law
Maria Touchet of Albuquerque filed a complaint in state district court Friday, the latest in a saga surrounding the university’s decision. It accuses the school’s board of regents of disregarding open meetings laws when it voted in July to cut men’s soccer, men’s and women’s skiing and women’s beach volleyball.
“(University of New Mexico) violated the Open Meetings Act by not providing an agenda 72 hours before the July 19 meeting that gave adequate and reasonable notice to the public that it intended to discuss and vote on the elimination and reduction of specific teams,” the complaint said.
That made the board’s vote unconstitutional, court documents said. Touchet is seeking to have the vote voided.
University of New Mexico spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair didn’t immediately return an email from The Associated Press.
The athletic department overestimated revenues and overspent its budget nine of the past 11 years, resulting in a deficit of nearly $5 million. While it was tasked with reducing its annual spending by nearly $2 million by 2020, officials are still predicting a recurring deficit of $2.3 million in 2019.
The complaint comes a day after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas warned the University of New Mexico he’d sue the school for violating the state’s open meetings law during the sports elimination vote.
On Friday, the attorney general said he supported the complaint.
“We stand behind today’s court filings, and continue to call on the UNM Board of Regents to comply with transparency laws,” said Balderas in a statement. “The board is not above the law, and we will utilize all legal options to ensure timely compliance with the Open Meetings Act.”
The regents voted unanimously July 19 to eliminate the four sports, cut diving from the women’s swimming and diving program and dramatically reduce the men’s track and field roster.
The vote came after the board heard hours of testimony from coaches, players, alumni and community members about the importance of the programs. Some people in the crowd responded with boos.
Men’s soccer had perhaps the highest profile nationally among Lobos men’s sports teams. Men’s soccer has twice reached the NCAA Final Four and the championship game once. The team is led by head coach Jeremy Fishbein, who is in his 16th season as the Lobos’ head coach. Fishbein coached at Fort Lewis College in Durango from 1992-98. His FLC teams won four conference titles and twice made the NCAA Division II tournament.
With the vote, the programs will be discontinued as of July 1, 2019. University officials say they will honor the scholarships of the student-athletes through their graduation.
Last year, longtime New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs stepped down in the midst of the investigations by the state attorney general into allegations of misspending.
He was replaced by Eddie Nunez, who served in a variety of high-level jobs at LSU.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.