More than a year after Albuquerque Public Schools denied her public records requests related to an incident involving her autistic son, Laura Gutierrez is taking the state’s biggest public school district to court. Her lawsuit, filed last month in Albuquerque’s state district court, alleges APS wrongly withheld public records responsive to requests she made in late 2015. She is asking for the school district to release the records and pay damages for violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Under IPRA, public agencies can be fined up to $100 per day in damages for not fulfilling public records requests if the person who brings the suit can prove damages. “I have decisions I need to make as a parent, and without these records I can’t move forward,” Gutierrez said in an interview.
One group that advocates for transparency in government doesn’t like the talk about legislators and the executive branch crafting a budget ahead of a potential special session. At least, not if it takes back room talks to make the deal go through. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says the process of building a deal on the state budget should be done transparently. Legislators and Gov. Susana Martinez cite the cost of a special session, tens of thousands of dollars per day, as a reason to have a deal in place before legislators meet. “FOG is sympathetic to the cost of a special session, but these critical budgetary decisions cannot be made behind closed doors,” Gregory P. Williams, president of the FOG Board of Directors, said in a statement.
Gregory P. Williams is the president of the Board of Directors of FOG and an attorney with Peifer, Hanson & Mullins, P.A.
Closed-door budget talks and a failed effort to create a transparent ethics commission largely shaded the recent New Mexico Legislative session from sunlight, but 2016 did see two incremental victories for transparency. Sunshine Week is March 13-19, 2016. The Sunshine Week campaign works nationwide to celebrate transparency and emphasize the value of open government. Here at home, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) is leading the crusade against secrecy in government and politics. Our primary mission is to educate, advocate and enforce our state’s sunshine laws – the Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act. FOG routinely encounters reports of elected officials holding secret meetings and citizens being denied access to public documents. FOG often finds that government entities in New Mexico either don’t know their responsibilities under our sunshine laws, attempt to bend the rules or ignore them. And unfortunately, sometimes that includes our State Legislature.
Before New Mexico Political Report recently reported on a botched redaction from the state Taxation and Revenue Department, we reached out to its spokesman multiple times. It took Taxation Department spokesman Ben Cloutier more than four hours to respond. And when he did, he responded with a legal threat. “Mr. Peters,” he begins in an email sent Thursday late afternoon:
Although taxpayer return information was redacted by the department to provide confidentiality, you purposely manipulated the document (i.e., you were able to get around the redaction and enhance the imagery) in order to reveal taxpayer return information and thwart the purpose of the redaction. Furthermore, you have published taxpayer return information despite the clear intent that it remain confidential.