Many acequias are holding their annual meetings this Fall and have time-sensitive issues – including elections – that need to be addressed. NMAA is providing some basic guidance to acequias for how to address the need for annual meetings and also protect your members from spread of COVID-19 by following the requirements of the public health orders issued by the Department of Health (DOH).
The most important requirement that affects acequia meetings is that any gatherings over five people are prohibited. The DOH public health order, which was updated November 5, 2020, prohibits “mass gatherings” which are defined as any public or private gathering that brings together more than five individuals indoors or outdoors. There are some limited exceptions and “mass gathering” does not include individuals who are public officials or public employees in the course and scope of their employment, and it does not include the presence of more than five people who reside together. In summary, the prohibition on mass gatherings includes acequia membership meetings.
The Attorney General has provided a guidance letter for public bodies, such as acequias, during the COVID-19 State of Public Health Emergency recommending that public entities “follow the guidance of the Department of Health and other health officials to ensure the health and safety of both members of the entity and the public.” They also recommend the following:
- Public bodies should not proceed with an in-person meeting at this time given that the current Public Health Order limits mass gatherings to 5 people even in an outdoor space.
- The best and most efficient way to comply with the Open Meetings Act and the current public health orders would be to postpone or cancel a public meeting.
- A virtual public meeting may be held if a public body has to address an issue that is “time-sensitive.” Virtual meetings may be held through telephone conference, videoconference, live streaming, or similar technologies provided that the public is provided instructions on how to access the meeting.
NMAA is available to assist acequias during this public health emergency. Some examples of services we can offer related to conducting acequia meetings include:
- Assistance drafting a meeting notice to include all the information necessary to ensure compliance with the public health order and the Open Meetings Act;
- An NMAA staff member can attend and help with the virtual or telephone meeting to ensure the meeting runs smoothly and is in compliance with the Open Meetings Act; and
- We can offer the use of our Zoom video conference platform or telephone conference line. Any acequia can request use of our Zoom link or conference call number. We ask that the request be made well in advance to manage schedule conflicts.
We also understand that this is a very difficult time and many areas of the state do not have reliable internet service or phone service. We are available to discuss additional options for you at this time to ensure all members of the community are safe and have an option to attend the meeting. Please contact our office to discuss your options.
Elections. If it is an election year for your Acequia, you may decide to hold a virtual meeting under the “time-sensitivity” standard. Voting may take place either by conference call or via an online platform such as Zoom. On the other hand, the Attorney General’s guidance allows postponement until it is safe to hold a meeting in order to ensure maximum participation.
Proxy voting. Proxy voting may still be utilized during virtual meetings. In order to implement proxy voting, your Acequia will need some clear procedures for your members to follow. If proxies are utilized, we encourage the commission to carefully review the Acequia’s bylaws to familiarize themselves with the Acequia’s unique proxy requirements.
Some examples of how to manage proxies include setting a deadline for delivering written proxies to the Commission of the acequia and/or allowing proxies to be presented at the virtual meeting. The acequia may require that proxies be mailed to the Secretary of the Commission by a deadline in advance of the meeting. The acequia can also allow proxies to be presented at the virtual meeting provided that the written proxy be delivered to the commission within five days. Your acequia can determine your own procedures as long as you communicate it clearly with your members. Please contact our staff to discuss the specific details related to proxy voting generally, and, in particular, how to effectively use proxies at virtual meetings held during the pandemic.
Bylaws amendments. Also, we suggest that, if your Acequia is adopting or amending its bylaws at the annual meeting, you send the bylaws to parciantes ahead of the meeting and ask them to send questions or comments prior to the meeting to facilitate discussion during the meeting.
Please contact NMAA staff if you have any questions in making a decision about whether to postpone or proceed with your meeting. We are also available to provide guidance on conducting your meeting virtually, attending your meeting to assist in using Zoom, or providing our teleconference number or Zoom meeting link. We are also available to assist with election procedures, including the use of proxies. Contact us at 505-995-9644. We are not working in the office, but we receive our messages daily and will respond to your request as soon as possible.