In a victory for transparency, three New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) Determinations by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office today concluded that the records in question were wrongly withheld and should be made public.
In the first complaint, FOG alongside Searchlight NM contended that the Children, Youth and Families Department was obligated under IPRA to provide underlying raw data collected regarding its work in New Mexico’s juvenile justice system. The Attorney General’s Office found that the Department likely lacked the legal justification to deny the records request and the records should be disclosed once all individual identifying information has been removed.
In an additional complaint, Argen Marie Duncan, editor for the Rio Rancho Observer, argued the city of Rio Rancho should release the arrest records of juveniles, as required by law. The Attorney General’s Office resolved that, “In the interests of both avoiding unnecessary litigation and providing the public access to ‘the greatest possible information’ about governmental affairs, Section 14-2-5, we strongly recommend that the City take remedial action as soon as possible.”
Lastly, in a complaint filed by KOAT Channel 7 also against the city of Rio Rancho, it was determined by the Attorney General’s Office that the city violated IPRA in withholding police records relating to the death of a child. FOG has previously spoken out on this matter, and is currently contemplating legal action. In the determination letter, the AG’s office states:
“Moving forward, we urge the City to reevaluate its approach to both requests for records pertaining to children as well as public records requests more generally. The City’s policy concerns with releasing certain records are not a valid substitute for a specific exception in law, see Republican Party, 2012-NMSC-026, 16, and no provision of the Children’s Code creates a blanket exception to disclosure for any and all records mentioning or pertaining to a child in any and all circumstances. More generally, we are concerned that the City’s excessive reliance on policy concerns may indicate a lack of comprehension of its statutory obligation to provide the public with ‘the greatest possible information’ about its affairs. Section 14-2-5. To be clear, providing public records upon request is ‘an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of public officers and employees,’ id. (emphasis added), and it is our sincere hope that the City’s public records practices will better reflect this in the future.”