August 7, 2015

State GOP criticizes Keller over emails

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The latest in a long line of public records accusations have come down, this time with the Republican Party of New Mexico criticizing the State Auditor for using a Gmail account.

gmail logoTim Keller has been at the center of headlines, and in the crosshair of Republicans, for months. His office says it has to do with his investigation into Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla.

The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported on the criticism from the political party.

Concerning Keller’s use of the Gmail account, GOP spokesman Patrick Garrett said Tuesday, “Tim Keller’s obvious disregard for the law and transparent government is the epitome of hypocrisy. He preaches government ethics but ignores the actions of his own office.”

“The account is, and was always intended to be, an official email account,” Chief of Staff Sunalei Stewart told New Mexico Political Report in a statement. “It was used to conduct official business and is subject to IPRA in the same manner as any other official email account.”

The account was set up during the transition, after Keller was elected but before taking office.

Stewart also said that this would not change the way that Keller was doing his job as State Auditor.

“This is just another misleading attempt to create a distraction to avoid addressing the issues raised in the TRD investigation,” Stewart said. “We expect continued retaliation from the Governor’s political machine but we won’t back down in our efforts to combat fraud, waste and abuse in government.”

The Albuquerque Journal also reported on the flap.

However, the president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said that although Keller appears to be complying with the state’s open records law, his use of the nongovernment account for state business is not a good idea.

“For purposes of transparency, all government agencies should only use public email accounts to conduct public business,” said FOG President Greg Williams, an Albuquerque attorney. Not doing so “increases the likelihood that public records requests won’t be complied with and contributes to confusion,” he said.

Keller’s office receive an anonymous tip that Padilla improperly attempted to influence the case of a former client. Keller looked into the claims and sent the investigation to the state Attorney General, who will decide what to do next.

Padilla’s office failed to properly redact the name of what appears to be the former client for whom she worked as an accountant.

This isn’t the first time that the use of private emails by public officials has caused controversy. After using private emails to conduct public business for a year and a half, Gov. Susana Martinez ordered employees to only use state email accounts for public business.

“This directive goes beyond what has been required or practiced in the past in New Mexico, and it exceeds what is practiced in most other states,” the executive order said. “In addition, given that numerous other public officials, including legislators, discuss public matters on personal email addresses, I am urging the Legislature, other executive branch agencies, and local governments and municipalities to also adopt a similar policy that requires official email to be used when conducting state business and retained according to state regulations.”

Update: Added information about when the email account was set up.