Open Government Foundation sends letter to city regarding CHART process
June 12 – The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sent a letter to the city raising concerns about what it said were transparency issues regarding the Culture, History, Art, Reconciliation and Truth process, but The company’s co-director contracted to guide discussions about Santa Fe’s cultural divide said the complaint lacked significant context.
The open government group sent the letter on Monday in response to a statement from Jenice Gharib, co-director of Artful Life, the contractor selected to oversee CHART. At a town council meeting last month, Gharib said those attending a “community solutions table” were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in an effort to protect the identities of participants and protect information collected until it is passed on to the council.
“While we recognize that this advisory body would not be subject to the State’s Open Meetings Act, any infringement or requirement imposed by any governmental entity or agent of such government on nonemployee volunteer citizens regarding their speech or the content of their speech, could have significant implications for the First Amendment,” the letter said.
But Valerie Martinez, co-director of Artful Life, wrote in an email to The New Mexican: “There is no ‘non-disclosure agreement’ required for members of the Community Solutions Table (CST) .”
“There is an agreement among the panelists that asks panel members to refrain from sharing recommendations and the identities of other panelists until after AFTER CHART gives its final report, with recommendations,” it said. -she writes. “This preserves the integrity and process of the CHART reporting process.”
Martinez wrote that the letter from the Open Government Foundation did not fully quote Gharib’s statement, in which she told the board that the information would be passed to the Board of Trustees before it was released to the general public.
According to the letter, the foundation received the complaint on its hotline from a resident. Martinez in her email wrote that she planned to contact the Foundation for Open Government to discuss the contents of the letter.
“We are concerned that the Foundation wrote a letter with a quote that lacks full context and unsubstantiated suggestions/accusations,” Martinez wrote. “Even though the letter was based on inaccurate information they received from a ‘citizen caller’, he did not exercise due diligence to verify this information by simply reviewing the update video of the Board of Directors or by contacting CHART/Artful Life itself.”
The Foundation’s Executive Director, Shannon Kunkel, wrote in an email that the group stands by the content of its letter “and we continue to urge the utmost transparency in this important process. I will also add that any panelist agreement stipulating confidentiality or non-disclosure would not be consistent with best practices for open speech.”
The letter comes as the CHART process reaches its long-awaited conclusion, which the city says will culminate in a report to city council, with potential recommendations regarding some of the city’s most contentious cultural issues, including the obelisk. in the Plaza known as the Soldiers Monument.
CHART was boosted by the toppling of the obelisk on Indigenous Peoples Day 2020. Native American activists and their allies had long decried the monument as a symbol of racism, in part because of a quirky inscription that dedicated the 33 foot tall obelisk to Union Civil War soldiers who defeated the ‘Savage Indians’.
The inscription was scratched in the 1970s, but the plaque’s racial implications persisted.
Some local Hispanic groups have called the destruction of the obelisk an erasure of their culture in Santa Fe, leading to multiple lawsuits against the city in the fallout from the destruction.
Structured after a similar process undertaken in Albuquerque, CHART consists of three sessions of community dialogue, as well as surveys, interviews, and various forms of artistic expression open to the public.
People who participated in the three dialogue sessions are invited to come together and help make recommendations to the governing body regarding the future of specific monuments as well as a broader approach to historical representation. This group is known as the Community Solutions Table.