March 16, 2017

ISC ‘wins’ Black Hole Award for lack of openness

Laura Paskus

Gila River

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.”

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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. Even the agency’s public information officer won’t return calls or answer emails” she wrote in her nomination letter. “Currently, there’s a bipartisan bill in the New Mexico State Legislature to make the agency more accountable in its spending on the proposed diversion. At the bill’s first committee hearing…, the ISC and members of the [Central Arizona Project] Entity opposed it.”

NM Political Report wrote about records issues with the program this year.

Retired ISC director Norman Gaume sought public information in the form of an unlocked copy of a spreadsheet that would indicate how much used along the Gila River and its tributaries each year.

ISC denied the request, saying it was political, the state Inspection of Public Records Act allows denials of open records requests if they are used for “political or commercial purposes.”

Later, when U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich got involved after reading the story by NM Political Report, ISC released the unlocked spreadsheet.

The agency also previously faced lawsuits for Open Meetings Act violations and has been generally unresponsive to requests for comment or open records.

NM Political Report and each of its reporters are members of the Society of Professional Journalists. Paskus is the president and Andy Lyman is the immediate past president of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter.

Another finalist was from New Mexico—the Hobbs mayor and city manager.