January 13, 2017

Senator aims to exclude public job applicants from open records law

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

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.

Papen said she will likely add a definition when her bill goes before its first committee.

Papen posed a hypothetical situation where an applicant may face retaliation from their current job because of their application.

“That shouldn’t necessarily be public knowledge,” Papen said.

The issue of making applications public came up last year when the City of Las Cruces did not initially release names or applications related to the then-open position of city manager.

Editor and Publisher of NMPolitics.net Health Haussamen filed a lawsuit last May against the city for not releaseing the names of those who applied for city manager.

Haussamen said he had not spoken to Papen about the bill, but is not surprised she introduced it.

“I think it likely comes in response to this [lawsuit],” Haussamen said.

Papen represents the city of Las Cruces and it’s not unusual for state lawmakers to push legislation aimed at issues within their districts.

Papen’s son-in-law, though, is Las Cruces City Councilor Greg Smith.

In an email to NM Political Report, Smith cited Haussamen’s lawsuit and said he would not comment on the issues of open records and the search for a city manager. Smith added that he did not remember talking to Papen about her legislation.

“I am not familiar with this bill, and I do not recall having any discussions with Senator Papen about such a bill,” Smith said. “If any other councilors have worked with Sen. Papen on the topic, I am unaware of it.”

Papen, however, told NM Political Report that she’s discussed the issue, but not necessarily the specific bill, with Smith.

“Well, yeah we talked about it a little bit,” she said.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said the city council has not discussed the matter with Papen. The council, he added, had several meetings to discuss possible bills but exempting applications from IPRA “was not one of the items.”

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) Executive Director Peter St. Cyr said Papen’s bill goes against the idea of government openness and accountability.

“Taxpayers have a vested interest in reviewing government sector job candidates to determine if the best qualified professionals are being selected from a diverse pool of applicants to work for them,” St. Cyr said. “Enacting this type of legislation would create an environment ripe for cronyism which has never served the citizens of this state well.”

Haussamen’s lawsuit is still pending and he said he welcomes clarification on the issue from the legislature.

“I’m going to watch it,” Haussamen said of Papen’s bill. “I’m interested in how it plays out.”