26 June 2012
by Alex Curtas, ProgressNow NM
Governor’s Lack of Transparency Goes Deeper Than Just Emails
Requests for Public Information are Made Difficult as Public Information is Denied to Public
ALBUQUERQUE – Though the recent “Emailgate” scandal has highlighted the Martinez administration’s lack of transparency, shielding public information from the citizens of New Mexico is not limited to the improper email correspondence that has recently surfaced.
ProgressNow New Mexico has been engaged in an ongoing attempt to obtain official schedules and visitor logs from the Governor’s Office in an effort to determine where our public officials go and with whom they meet. We have been told, in response to these requests, that “The Office of the Governor does not have or maintain any visitor logs,” nor does it maintain official schedules for any key staff.
When requesting information, for example, about Chief of Staff Keith Gardner’s official record of who he meets with in his public office to discuss matters of public concern, we were told that because Mr. Gardner’s actual schedule might not exactly correspond to his contemplated schedule, the public therefore has no right to any of the information about those appointments, meetings, etc.
The response from the Governor’s Office concerning Keith Gardner’s official schedule continues:
Furthermore, any notes or preliminary materials maintained by Keith Gardner regarding preliminary or tentative appointments or meetings are not public records…
Those notes and preliminary materials do not share the degree of finality contemplated by IPRA, “and generally are not intended to perpetuate, formalize, or communicate information for or on behalf of the public agency,” nor do they accurately reflect Keith Gardner’s actual schedule
This refrain is eerily similar to the one used by members of the Martinez administration when commenting on why state business was being conducted with private email accounts. According to Steve Terrell at the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Last week, in response to my questions about several emails showing the administration was using personal email accounts to communicate about routine business, spokesman Scott Darnell said, “the types of communications in personal email accounts fall into categories that are not required to be maintained – preliminary in nature, do not reflect final action, etc. Final agency action is conducted through official state email or other correspondence and maintained.”
Such a policy effectively hides every meeting conducted with government officials from public view and such rigid interpretations of what classifies as “public information” places an undue burden on members of the public who wish to obtain information about their government.
In light of the recent email scandals, it is important to note that the Governor’s Office does not deny that Gardner keeps a schedule or calendar, only that what he keeps is private, even when discussing public business.
Like their first attempts to explain away the email problems, this answer smells fishy.
“Despite efforts by the Martinez administration to make government more open and accountable, there are many aspects of state government that remain hidden from public view,” said Pat Davis, Executive Director of ProgressNow New Mexico. “Using private email accounts to shield state business from the public is bad enough, but at least the governor has made an effort to change course. When it comes to visitor logs, schedules, and official calendars, however, this administration shows the public only what it wants to show, which is only a fraction of what really goes on behind closed doors.”
“Putting a welcome mat at the front door to a government office does little for transparency if all the business is done through the back door,” adds Davis.