Opinion Defines what is the Public’s Business
In a significant opinion enforcing transparency and accountability, the office of the New Mexico Attorney General (AG) has resolved the issue of what constitutes the “public’s business,” as it pertains to the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
The opinion states that when the Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) acts as a contractor for tribal and federal agencies, the records of those services are the public’s business and subject to IPRA. Under state law, contracts and agreements involving state agencies must comply with IPRA.
The Rio Grande Sun filed a complaint with the AG in April 2019 because the OMI failed to provide the newspaper autopsy reports for a two-year period and failed to provide notice for a timely response to its IPRA request. In response to the complaint, the AG also states the OMI violated state law as it did, “not comply with IPRA as it failed to account for responsive records and respond in a timely manner.”
In releasing the opinion, the AG said IPRA’s purpose is clear: “to shed light on the affairs of government adding it was interpreting the terms ‘public records and public business’ broadly and in favor of transparency.”
The OMI did not dispute the allegation that it overlooked the timelines outlined in IPRA and admitted it did not handle the newspaper’s request in a timely manner.
The AG directed the OMI to immediately allow for the inspection of the requested records and received a commitment from the OMI staff to undergo IPRA training.
“It’s significant that the AG agreed with my argument,” said Robert Trapp, Rio Grande Sun publisher. “The OMI wanted to have their cake and eat it too. You can’t use a public facility, outfitted with public equipment and operated by public employees, and then call it private. Attorney General investigator John Kreienkamp grasped that and saw through the OMI’s weak argument.”
“We are opposed to any efforts to deny the public’s access to information as records are vital to producing complete and accurate reporting on important public issues,” Melanie J. Majors, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government executive director, said. “This opinion shines light on enforcement of IPRA and we commend the AG’s work to uphold IPRA.”