ALBUQUERQUE—In a letter delivered yesterday to the Office of the Governor, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) has asked Governor Martinez to clarify her policy directing inquiries from legislative committees to her chief of staff, Keith Gardner.
Although an Associated Press story on Monday did not mention the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), FOG sought clarification from the governor on Mr. Gardner’s status in regard to IPRA requests.
“The governor has a right to review all records requests through Mr. Gardner, but the public needs to be informed of his status as the state’s chief records custodian so citizens know where to direct their inquiries,” said Kathi Bearden, president of FOG.
In its letter, FOG also made an IPRA request for the memorandum or documents sent by the governor to department directors which established the new policy.
“Was the directive only in regard to information requests from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee or all persons seeking information from state agencies?” Bearden asked.
NMFOG Urges Supreme Court To Maintain Public Access to Metro Court Documents
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Urges
State’s Highest Court to Preserve Metro Court Records
Albuquerque—The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, FOG, has urged the justices on the state’s Supreme Court to ensure that records from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court remain available to the public online.
In a letter sent last Thursday to the state’s highest court, FOG expressed concern about the Metro Court’s transfer of data to the Odyssey software system from the AS-400 system that the local court had used for many years. As a result of that change, years worth of public records contained on the AS-400 software will no longer be available online.
FOG noted in the letter that although the records may presumably still be available in some form from the Metro Court, that availability is not clear, and their removal from the internet significantly restricts access to the public.
“Requiring citizens to obtain records directly from the Metro Court results in substantially more expense and delay, unfairly burdens those persons outside of the Albuquerque area, and places an additional burden on the staff and resources of the Metro Court itself,” noted Susan Boe, executive director of FOG, in the letter.
The FOG letter pointed out that having easily accessible case information going back decades benefits the public in numerous ways. First, those criminal defendants and civil litigants who are the subject of the records have a strong interest in access to the records, for such purposes as showing dismissal of criminal charges, completion of sentences, or payments of restitution;
demonstrating satisfaction of judgments; or asserting claims for collection of past judgments. Furthermore, there are any number of ways that past records are of use to other members of the public, including background checks by schools, volunteer organizations and employers; inquiry by the media into matters of public importance; and investigations by law enforcement, just to name a few.
FOG requested that the justices take all necessary steps to ensure that previously accessible records of the Metro Court remain available online to the citizens of New Mexico.
A copy of the FOG letter to the Supreme Court is attached to this press release.
FOG, a nonprofit corporation, is the state’s leading advocate for transparency in public affairs, and is supported by members’ contributions and special events advocating open government. Visit or donate to FOG at www.nmfog.org.
Sunshine OpEd Article—Celebrate the Sunshine!
March 16-22 is Sunshine Week in New Mexico and nationwide. Take a moment to celebrate. Sunshine Week focuses on the importance of open government. No open government, no democracy. No transparency, no government accountability.
I care about Sunshine Week both as a citizen and as a former newspaper employee/publisher for 22 years. We relied heavily upon the State of New Mexico’s strong public records and opening meeting acts to help keep public officials accountable and public bodies honest.
We have many good examples of open government in our state. If the leader of a local government, school board, state department or other entity is committed to open, professional government, the citizens of that government are well served.
In my career we used the acts to shine a light on government business, such as inequities in salaries of public employees or incorrect and illegal payment of expenses to government employees. When citizens can’t obtain such information, rumors proliferate, trust in our public servants dies and our officials lose the ability to lead.
Our newsroom once requested records about a police shooting which had set the community on edge. Rumors were rampant and police were placed in the position of being the recipients of wild speculation and accusations. The police report was clearly a public document under our state’s Inspection of Public Records Act. A law enforcement official refused to turn over the records to our newspaper. Fortunately the district attorney’s office faxed the requested records. We then published the story and the community could form opinions based on facts, and rumors were laid to rest.
This district attorney is one of many public servants I have encountered over the years who want to follow the law, do the right thing and conduct open government. They are shining examples of good government leaders and employees.
On the other hand, I am puzzled and sometimes shocked when public bodies or officials choose not to comply with open records and meetings laws. Such decisions may stem from a lack of education or training about our transparency statutes. Noncompliance may arise out of a misguided belief that secrecy is the better path. It never is.
Officials may not realize they have become the lawbreakers when they refuse public information that is legally obtainable. Our country’s history has proven on more than one occasion that secrecy always makes problems worse and erodes public confidence in government. Secrecy is the hallmark of a totalitarian society, not a democracy. Secrecy serves only special interests and not the citizens.
Sunshine laws aren’t a special benefit for the press. Sure, it’s often up to media to be our witnesses in public meetings, to request and inspect records then report news that often protects the public. But all citizens have a right to know. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government strengthens that right by educating, advocating and litigating on everyone’s behalf for transparency. NMFOG can turn the voice of one person into a mandate for government to conduct business with its doors wide open.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government hotline at 1-888-843-9121 answers questions from citizens, government employees and even elected officials. We all benefit from an open government collaboration that serves the citizens of New Mexico.
So go ahead and celebrate this week. Celebrate your right to know. And help bring 365 days of Sunshine to New Mexico.
Kathi Bearden is former publisher of the Hobbs-News and is a Dixon journalism awardee. She currently is president of the Board of Directors of The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (www.nmfog.org). NMFOG, a nonprofit organization, is the state’s leading advocate for transparency in public affairs. In its 24-year history, NMFOG has helped thousands of citizens break down the closed doors of government through education, direct intervention and litigation. For more information or to donate to NMFOG, go online at www.nmfog.org.
Albuquerque—The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, NMFOG, will observe Sunshine Week March 16-22 with panel presentations and editorials by NMFOG board members and staff. Sunshine Week focuses on the importance of open government and was first observed in 2005 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. It has since spread nationwide with a number of activities planned in Washington, D.C. and throughout the states in recognition of the growing need for transparency and accountability in government.
In Santa Fe on Tuesday, March 18 at 6 p.m., Ray Rivera, editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Daniel Yohalem, Santa Fe attorney, and Susan Boe, NMFOG executive director, will discuss open meetings and public records issues at Collected Works Bookstore. Rivera and Yohalem are members of the NMFOG board of directors. The event is free and open to the public at the bookstore, located at 202 Galisteo in downtown Santa Fe.
Boe will also speak about open government at a forum at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 20, at Bookworks bookstore at 4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW in Albuquerque. Her presentation is also free and open to the public.
An editorial by Kathi Bearden, president of the NMFOG board of directors, has been distributed to newspapers throughout the state. In her op-ed piece, Bearden, former
publisher of the Hobbs Sun, discusses the use of public records and open meetings to maintain a vibrant democracy and informed citizenry.
“We all benefit from an open government collaboration that serves the citizens of New Mexico,” Bearden said.
Sunshine Week is celebrated in March to coincide with the birthday of James Madison on March 16, 1751. Madison is considered the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights.
NMFOG is the state’s leading advocate for transparency in public affairs. In its 24-year history, FOG has helped thousands of citizens break down the closed doors of government through education, direct intervention and litigation. The NMFOG Hotline, available free of charge at (888) 843-9121, handles hundreds of telephone calls each year from across the state of New Mexico and surrounding regions, providing information and advice on questions of access to meetings and records.
The nonprofit organization is supported by its members and events throughout the year.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) is pleased to announce the hiring of Susan M. Boe as Executive Director. Ms. Boe will begin her duties January 6, 2014.
NMFOG is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help the general public, students, educators, public officials, media and legal professionals understand, obtain and exercise their rights and responsibilities under New Mexico "sunshine laws" – the Inspection of Public Records Act, Open Meetings Act and Arrest Record Information Act, their rights under the federal Freedom of Information Act and their First Amendment rights. NMFOG was incorporated on June 28, 1989.
Duties of the executive director include Education/Outreach, legislative matters, coordinating any litigation matters, fundraising and financial/administrative duties.
Ms. Boe holds a, a B.S., Science Journalism from Iowa State University and a J.D. from the University of Iowa. Ms. Boe began her career as a copy editor for the Corpus Christi Caller Times. Her work experience includes working as a public information officer, a copy editor-reporter, Counsel for a life insurance/financial services company and an associate and partner for Faegre & Benson. She has also served as a part-time counsel for Cassult, Hays & Friedman in Santa Fe and a part-time instructor in Media Law and Regulations at the University of New Mexico.
Ms. Boe was chosen from an impressive field of candidates after a two month search was initiated. The search committee consisted of seven directors of NMFOG and was chaired by Del Esparza, President of Esparza Advertising and a member of the NMFOG board.
“The quality of the candidates for NMFOG’s executive director was excellent. We welcome Susan to NMFOG and look forward to working with her as we continue the important work the organization”, said Terri Cole, President of NMFOG.
NMFOG has received both state and national honors, including the New Mexico Bar Foundation’s Media Award in 1991 for responsible reporting of law-related issues in its newsletter, FOG LIGHT and was named the only finalist for the Scripps-Howard Foundation’s Distinguished Service to the First Amendment Award in 2000. FOG founder and longtime executive director Bob Johnson was also elected to the New Mexico Press Hall of Fame in 2000 as well as receiving the Albuquerque Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award in 2002, named one of the first three inducted into Heroes of the 50 States in 2003 and chosen for the Common Cause New Mexico "Working for the Best in Government Award in 2004.
All membership dues, donations and grant monies are used to support NMFOG’s efforts through literature, seminars, lectures, teamwork with the Attorney General's Office and litigation.
Several lawyers form a Hotline team to provide the executive director with pro bono information and advice on questions of access to either meetings or records. These lawyers are available to answer other First Amendment questions as well.
The NMFOG Hotline, available free of charge at (888) 843-9121, handles hundreds of telephone calls each year from across the state of New Mexico and surrounding regions.
More information about NMFOG can be found online at www.nmfog.org.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) received a $3,000 donation from Scot and Lisa Stinnett, and Albuquerque Business Law, P.C. attorneys following a significant settlement this year against Lincoln County, which included attorney's fees for several firms. Scot Stinnett is DeBaca County News publisher and longtime champion of open government. The donation was in appreciation of NMFOG's help over the years.
"This gift from the De Baca County News was particularly meaningful. Publisher, Scot Stinnett, was involved in one of the first IPRA lawsuits involving applicants for public positions,” said Terri Cole, NMFOG board president. Scot was editor of the Portales News Tribune in 1988 when the newspaper sought the names of applicants for the head basketball coaching position at Eastern New Mexico University. Judge Bill Bonem ruled in favor of News-Tribune, awarding attorneys fees and costs (and setting an early standard that required release of this information when certain steps had been taken by the public body). “More recently, The Stinnetts, the DeBaca County News and their attorneys established an important legal point and received a significant attorney fee settlement in the Billy the Kid case,” Cole said. "Albuquerque Business Law, P.C. attorneys Jeremy Theoret and Patrick Griebel were recently honored at NMFOG’s Dixon Awards Luncheon for their work in suing and winning to release public information on the Billy the Kid case. “Their great work makes this gift to NMFOG all the more meaningful,” Cole said. “We appreciate all they have done.”
Judge Denies Request to Release Behavioral Health Audit
NMFOG is weighing a Potential Appeal
Albuquerque – Judge Sarah Singleton of the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe today denied NMFOG’s request that the court require the Attorney General and the Human Services Department (“HSD”) to turn over a report of an audit of behavioral health providers in New Mexico.
HSD had relied on the report, prepared by a third-party contractor, to halt funding to 15 behavioral health providers. Because of the public interest in this issue, NMFOG and others requested a copy of the report. HSD and the Attorney General refused to provide it, citing an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General into possible fraud. After NMFOG filed suit to obtain access to the report, the HSD and the Attorney General released a limited portion, but continued to refuse to release the entire report.
In denying NMFOG’s request for the full report, Judge Singleton ruled that a limited exception to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, sometimes known as the law enforcement exception, allowed the Attorney General and HSD to withhold production of the audit to NMFOG. Judge Singleton stated in her written order that her review of the report confirmed that the unreleased portions of the report were covered by the exception.
Judge Singleton further stated that the court would leave the case open for six months to permit NMFOG to reapply for production of the document “if the circumstances change such that the law enforcement exception is no longer viable.”
“NMFOG is disappointed with the court’s ruling, which permits the Attorney General to classify a public document as ‘confidential’ under the law enforcement exception, even though the document was not created by a law enforcement agency or for law enforcement purposes, and even though the document’s conclusion was that no laws had been broken,” said Greg Williams, an officer of NMFOG. NMFOG is weighing a potential appeal.
Please contact Greg Williams at Greg Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (“NMFOG”), District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has decided she will review the behavioral health audit for items to be disclosed or kept confidential.
During the proceeding, the Attorney General’s made note that they believe the audit should be kept confidential, even after the investigation has been completed, which we found quite disturbing. NMFOG is hopeful in the release of the redacted audit.
NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Santa Fe in mid-September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG’s request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see “NMFOG in the News” section on the www.nmfog.org website or click here: Behavioral Health Audit
Please contact Greg Williams at Greg Williams at email@example.com for more details.
Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (“NMFOG”), the Attorney General of New Mexico and the New Mexico Human Services Department (“HSD”) today released some new portions of the Behavioral Health Audit report, which HSD relied upon in halting Medicaid payments to health care providers in New Mexico until new management was put in place.
NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Santa Fe in mid-September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG’s request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version.
The Attorney General and HSD still refuse to release the entire report. The version released today is still significantly redacted, and FOG will continue its efforts to obtain release of the full report. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see “NMFOG in the News” section on the www.nmfog.org website or click here: Behavioral Health Audit
Please contact Greg Williams at Greg Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.