June 2, 2016

Taxpayers spend $1.1 million for Gov’s press team that refuses to let her talk to the press

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“With a team of communication directors and public information officers who collectively earn more than $1 million annually, getting information from the Martinez’ administration shouldn’t be a problem, but for many reporters, such access is limited or nonexistent.” – Peter St. Cyr, Santa Fe Reporter

After coming into office promising to be the most transparent and accountable governor in New Mexico history, Susana Martinez’s administration has developed the reputation for closing the door to anyone with a tough question or in-depth follow up to her public relations team’s carefully scripted photo ops and polished press releases.
But it’s not for lack of staff to help facilitate that public communication – in fact, taxpayers pay more than a million dollars per year, the Santa Fe Reporter found, for a team of spokespeople and public information officers who ignore the press and public questions.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. On a frigid New Year’s morning in 2011, shortly after being sworn into office, Martinez pledged, “Transparency and accountability will be core values of my administration,” adding, “we aren’t going to hide anything from you in the hope of escaping your fair judgment of our performance.”

Six years later, the day-to-day reality of covering the Martinez administration, however, suggests something altogether different.

In one notable exchange, St. Cyr retells the story of a longstanding political reporter’s encounter with Martinez’s chief of staff in a Santa Fe hardware store:
[PBS host Lorraine] Mills recalls running into Keith Gardner, the governor’s chief of staff, at Home Depot and asking him to schedule an interview with the governor. She says she was disappointed when Gardner told her, “National won’t let us.”
Never mind that despite Martinez’s extensive national travel schedule for her volunteer gigs and political junkets raising money for fellow Republicans, she (and Gardner and their herd of communications) are actually paid by New Mexico taxpayers and are, at least in theory, accountable to us.
“It’s not a position of intelligence or sophistication,” [Lorraine] Mills says. “They don’t trust the democratic process. They want to control everything. It’s very immature.”
A tally of the public salaries for the governor’s appointed spokespersons by reporter Peter St. Cyr show taxpayers putting out more than $1.1 million per year for a team of 16 staffers whose duties include responding to reporters questions and providing public information.
Read the full story in this week’s Santa Fe Reporter
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