September 13, 2018

UNM to reevaluate IPRA policy after NM Political Report complaint

The University of New Mexico is reevaluating its policy of charging for electronic copies of public records on a per-page basis in response to a reprimand from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

In an email to NM Political Report, the school’s Office of University Counsel said the UNM public records custodian is “evaluating the fee structure” for fulfilling requests of electronic records. Associate University Counsel Patrick Hart also wrote that the public records department will suspend the policy and practice of charging $0.38 a page for electronic records through the end of September.

The change comes after the state Attorney General’s office issued a determination letter in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report.

NM Political Report filed the complaint after the UNM’s Custodian of Public Records billed $0.38 a page for an electronic file that contained more than 1,600 pages. The total cost for a single file that would fit on a USB drive would have been more than $500.

In a letter to UNM, Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp wrote that the university violated the state’s Inspection of Records Act (IPRA) and called on the school’s legal department to “reevaluate its proposed fees.”

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government also sent a letter to UNM on behalf of another New Mexico journalist, who was faced with similar fees. The Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors told NM Political Report she’s pleased UNM took steps to address fees for electronic records.

“We believe that, whether intentional or not, excessive fees for public records have the practical effect of denying access to the records,” Majors said. “Fees charged for public records cannot be used as a tool to discourage access.”

The records in question were emails between top UNM officials, staff attorneys and lawyers hired on contract, regarding a legal settlement between UNM and a woman who said the school retaliated against her for reporting she was raped by a colleague.