Here is the background…
I put in am Inspection of Public Records Act request last week for the names of applicants for the New Mexico State Police Chief and Department of Public Safety Secretary that have been submitted to Gov.-elect Susana Martinez’s transition team. (CLICK HERE for Saturday’s story)
The initial response I got from a senior member of the transition team was:
“The transition will be very open about who is doing the searches and even interviews, and how this is being done. In fact, we’re proud of it. But applicants need to be afforded a reasonable amount of privacy. Otherwise, highly-qualified people might be reluctant to apply. Most candidates don’t tell their current employer when they are applying for a job.
“The transition is not subject to IPRA. The Web site and all matters relating to screening and hiring are being done outside of government with no government resources. Even if IPRA applied, there is an exception for personnel matters, as there should be.”
Valid concerns I will agree, but not ones legally backed by a 2009 New Mexico Court of Appeals decision in the Daily Times and New Mexico Foundation for Open Government vs. City of Farmington.
In that court ruling, Judge James J. Wechsler wrote:
“In this Court’s opinion, New Mexico’s policy of open government is intended to protect the public from having to rely solely on the representations of public officials that they have acted appropriately. … As a result, when, as here, the application is for a high-ranking public position, the public’s interest in disclosure outweighs the City’s concern that fewer people will apply, and, thus, disclosure is required.”
So with that in mind, I contacted Martinez PR man Danny Diaz about the request I had made earlier in the week and he said IPRA is very important to the Martinez camp, but as the transition team is taking no public funds, it is not subject to the state law and will not release the names.
The concern is this. The transition team may in fact not be subject to the state’s public records law, but the records are public and the public has in this case, just as in any government hiring process, the right to a transparent hiring process.
I will say that my colleagues in the media who have dealt with Martinez in Southern New Mexico have all vouched for her open stance on records and she even campaigned repeatedly that she would have a transparent administration. I have no reason to doubt she will do so (in fact when it comes to open records, I doubt she can be as bad as the Richardson administration).
So even if her transition isn’t subject to IPRA, it can be if it wants. Why not err on the side of being open as your past decisions on the matter have suggested you would be.
Considering these are no doubt public records, just being maintained by a non-government entity (the transition team… and that being a non-government entity is subject to debate as it is using state-paid facilities for office space), the question is should a sitting government official be a part of the process to be the proper records custodian? I don’t think that is what the Martinez camp wants.
So is this just a journalist’s opinion that open records law should be followed by the transition team? IPRA was not, I’ll point out to be fair, followed by the Richardson administration all the time. If Martinez was already governor, there is no question this process would be open. Should the fact that she isn’t officially the governor until January change how this process is allowed to occur?
My side of this topic is pretty clear. Of course this process should be open, but I realize not everyone may agree with my stance.