What does “immediately” mean?

When should public records be made available for inspection?  The New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, IPRA, requires a record custodian to allow inspection of a public record “immediately or as soon as practicable under the circumstances, but no later than 15 days after receipt of a written request.”  (NMSA 14-2-8 D.)

The statute further provides that if the inspection is not allowed within three business days, then the public records custodian must explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection.

Instead of immediate inspection, too many public bodies believe they automatically have 15 days to comply with an IPRA request even if the records are readily available.  One state agency recently revised its public records policy and nowhere in the 10 page document is the “immediate response” language mentioned.  Another state agency upon receipt of an IPRA request responded that the requestor would soon be receiving his “three day receipt letter.”  Later, the “three day receipt letter” stated the documents would be available in 15 days.

     Fifteen days should be the exception not the norm for receiving IPRA responses.  Such delays are particularly problematic for the media, where daily deadlines are a reality.  By the time the documents are delivered, the story has grown cold with reduced news value.

The job duty of a records custodian is to maintain records for the public and promptly respond when a citizen wants to inspect records that already belong to him or her.  Though some requests may be burdensome or require unusual attention, those are the exception.  A request by an attorney, for example, should not put an agency on heightened alert requiring extra scrutiny or analysis.

      Contact FOG at info@nmfog.org if you have unnecessary delays to your IPRA requests.  Let’s start complying with the plain language in the IPRA statute.