ISC ‘wins’ Black Hole Award for lack of openness

The Society of Professional Journalists gave the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission the dubious honor of its sixth annual Black Hole Award, which goes to “government institutions or agencies for outright contempt of the public’s right to know.”

The nomination came from NM Political Report reporter Laura Paskus, who has reported on the agency for years. “Making these sorts of heavy decisions and citing data to back those decisions but refusing to produce this data is ridiculous. Agencies should be transparent in their effects on publicly owned bodies, land or water” Gideon Grudo, chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, said. “They certainly shouldn’t be this aggressive to the press, either. Hats off to Laura Paskus for being persistent.”

Related: Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

From the SPJ announcement:
“The agency has been sued for Open Meetings Act violations, gives me plenty of hassles about releasing public documents, and for years now, has refused to answer my questions.

Senate OKs bill on redacting names from police reports

The state Senate approved a bill Monday that would allow government agencies to redact the names of victims and most witnesses from police reports of rape, stalking and domestic violence until a defendant has been charged. Senate Bill 149 would amend the state’s public records law to add this exception. Senators voted 40-0 for the measure, which next goes to the House of Representatives. The sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, said the bill would “extend the same protections and dignity to victims of rape and intimate partner violence as the law currently provides to their rapists.” New Mexico’s public records law already prohibits government agencies from releasing the names of people who are suspected of a crime but have not been charged.

Effort to make college research secret stalls over fears it goes too far

Angelo Artuso warns that a move by lawmakers to shield some university research from the public eye could lead to harrowing consequences. At a Wednesday morning House committee hearing, Artuso invoked some of history’s darkest state-sanctioned university research projects. For decades, researchers at Tuskegee University studied the effects of syphilis by pretending to offer infected Black men free health care. And several colleges and universities from the early 1950s until 1973 were involved in Project MKUltra, a CIA program that used drugs like LSD unknowingly on human subjects to experiment with mind control. Programs like those, involving government-funded atrocities at institutions of higher learning,  Artuso maintained, would remain hidden at New Mexico public higher education institutions under a bill sponsored by state Reps.

State Sen. wants parents to have access to investigations into school police

Laura Gutierrez has been trying to get public records from Albuquerque Public Schools for more than a year. In 2014 a school law enforcement officer allegedly used force against her autistic son. APS opened an investigation and soon cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Gutierrez wants to see all the documents from this investigation. In the fall and winter of 2015, Gutierrez filed four public records requests with APS for the district’s internal investigation of the officer, an employee of the school district.

Senate committee kills bill to keep government job applications secret

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to stop a bill that would have changed the public records law to allow state agencies to keep secret the names and résumés of most job applicants. The Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 5-0 to table Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. The bill would have restricted public access to most applications for government jobs. If an applicant didn’t become a finalist for a position, the application would be kept secret forever. “Some positions merit disclosure,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, a committee member.

Open government group names veteran journalist as new executive director

New Mexico’s top open government advocacy group announced a new executive director Thursday. New Mexico journalist Peter St. Cyr will be the next executive director for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. St. Cyr will begin on Jan.

Judge: Public officials’ Facebook subject to IPRA

Public officials’ Facebook pages are subject to the state’s open records law, a district court judge ruled last week. District Judge Jerry H. Ritter Jr. ruled that the City of Alamogordo violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act over a request by Wendy Irby, according to the Alamogordo Daily News. The city did not hand over relevant documents—and actually said they did not have access to the documents. This appears to be a first in New Mexico, according to Susan Boe, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. “The Facebook issue hasn’t really come up here in New Mexico, but it has in other states,” she told NM Political Report on Monday.

After appeal, SoS’ office has to pay big in open records case

An open records case related to unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud will cost the Secretary of State’s office $90,000. The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported on the decision by the state Court of Appeals. Then-Secretary of State made national headlines when she alleged that 117 foreign nationals were registered to vote—and that 37 had actually illegally voted. Duran checked voter registration records against motor vehicle and Social Security databases; she sent 64,000 records with alleged irregularities to state police to investigate. Some questioned why Duran sent the files to the state police instead of to individual county clerks to check the voter rolls; experts said at the time that these were likely clerical errors or voters just using variations on their name (Tom instead of Thomas, for example).

Regent involved in UNM Hospital shake up deleted emails

Last month University of New Mexico Regent Rob Doughty shepherded to success a little-scrutinized plan to restructure the leadership and governance of the university’s Health Sciences Center. As one of the plan’s architects, Doughty also kept the plan secret — from the public, medical staff at UNM Hospital and at least two of Doughty’s fellow regents in the weeks before a March 14 vote that set the restructuring in stone. Now, the black hole of information surrounding how the plan came to be is growing murkier. New Mexico In Depth has learned that Doughty deleted emails he sent and received in the weeks leading up to the last-minute, controversial vote that changed oversight of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, which has an annual budget of $1.9 billion. The change did away with a board composed of community members and regents and replaced it with a panel of three regents, who are political appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez.

Former APD records custodian files whistleblower suit

A former Albuquerque Police Department employee filed suit earlier this week claiming the department wrongfully fired him in retaliation for raising concerns that the department broke state law. The whistleblower lawsuit, filed by former records custodian Reynaldo Chavez, alleges APD fired Chavez after he alerted his superiors to violations of New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act. The suit names APD, the City of Albuquerque and a number of top officials as defendants. According to suit, while Chavez fielded records requests for APD, he was instructed to delay the return of certain records and was later fired when he objected. The suit also alleges that APD instructed Chavez “to overproduce materials to requesters,” requiring them “to spend time consuming hours sifting through boxes of irrelevant materials when no such responsive records were produced.”

The lawsuit describes a timeline that goes back six years and includes a number of high profile cases involving APD, local news media and members of the public.