That was Gov. Susana Martinez talking to a police dispatcher in December 2015 after hotel employees called in a noise complaint. Many of her critics focused on her slurred speech that night. But Martinez’s demand for what she deemed a public record grabbed the attention of journalists and open records advocates because of her administration’s history of delaying or outright denying public records. When she first ran for governor in 2010, Martinez vowed to be more transparent than her predecessor, Bill Richardson.
Sandoval County’s attempts to plan for oil and gas development continue to draw heated criticism. At their October 19 meeting, county commissioners pulled a proposed ordinance from the agenda, but the commission fielded public comments for nearly an hour, mostly from people who oppose the proposed oil and gas ordinance. Sandoval County covers 3,700 square miles, stretching from Bernalillo to Counselor and Placitas to Torreon. Widespread drilling already occurs in the northern part of the county, which overlaps with the energy-rich San Juan Basin. Those wells are concentrated along Highway 550 north of Cuba and near the Navajo Nation.
Hundreds of New Mexicans waited in Santa Fe outside the Jerry Apodaca Building on Monday morning. They were there to share their thoughts about the statewide science standards proposed by the Public Education Department’s (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. Update: State backs off controversial science standards
Under the proposal, New Mexico would join about 20 other states around the country and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But New Mexico plans to adopt those standards with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. People started arriving an hour-and-a-half before the start of the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and others didn’t leave until almost 2:00 p.m. Some New Mexicans stood in line for more than three hours, waiting for their names to be called so they could enter the building, stand before public officials in a small auditorium and speak for three minutes each.
A lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court aims to uncover how much New Mexico taxpayers shelled out for a private attorney to represent Gov. Susana Martinez’s office in a number of court cases. Journalist Jeff Proctor* filed the lawsuit against the state’s General Services Department (GSD) for not releasing attorney Paul Kennedy’s invoices for his public work, claiming the department failed to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The suit calls for the state to release specific invoices and bills that show how much the state has paid Kennedy to represent Martinez as contract counsel in several cases. In addition to retaining Kennedy, Martinez also has access to four state employed legal staff, whose combined salaries total $341,850. The lawsuit states by not releasing Kennedy’s billing records GSD not only violated the open records law, “but also offend the spirit and intent of the law governing matters of public concern.”
That spirit of the law, said Proctor’s lawyer Frank Davis, “is to make sure we have an informed electorate.”
“We need to know where dollars are being spent,” Davis said.
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.
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.
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.
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
The biggest issue for legislators this session is New Mexico’s perilous financial situation—and how they plan to fill a projected $67 million budget deficit. Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed moving $268.5 million from state agencies into the general fund budget. Of that $120 million would come from local public education reserve funds. Martinez’s plan also would require state employees to pay roughly 3.5 percent more into their retirement plans. This piece also appeared in this week’s edition of the Weekly Alibi.
A southern New Mexico state senator Thursday filed a bill that would exclude job applications for public positions from the state’s open records law. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, filed SB 93, which would exclude “records that would reveal the identity of an applicant for public employment” from the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Papen told NM Political Report the bill is aimed at protecting job applicants’ privacy. “People should be able to apply for a job without having their name on the front page of the newspaper if they’re not a finalist,” Papen said. The bill specifies that finalists’ names and applications would be made public “no fewer than seven days prior to the final decision to hire the individual.” But the bill does not provide a definition for what a finalist is.