Friday, April 16, 2010

Gov May Have Violated Public Records Act, AG Says

Gov. Bill Richardson, according to the state attorney Gary King’s staff, appears to have violated the state’s open-records act by denying an open-government group information to identify the 59 political jobs Richardson said he eliminated early this year.

It's not believable that Richardson would make a formal announcement about 59 layoffs last October without the records to support it, Chief Deputy Attorney General Albert Lama wrote in an opinion this week. “It creates the impression that some staff member in the Governor’s Office possesses, contrary to your response letter’s assertions, records pertaining to the 59 exempt employees ...”

Several news organizations, including ours, requested the names, titles and salaries of the exempt employees whose jobs were eliminated to help balance the state budget.

But, as explained by Foundation for Open Government executive director Sarah Welsh in a letter to the attorney general’s office, the only information Richardson provided was a press release about the layoffs and more than 90 pages of e-mail correspondence, mostly between reporters and the governor’s office. Walsh in January asked the attorney to intervene.

Richardson’s office argued that under the Inspection of Public Records Act, a state agency isn’t required to create new documents to meet an open-records request.

But in the Attorney General’s written opinion, “... the information available to us at this time suggests the Governor’s Office possessed additional records that were responsive to Ms. Welsh’s request that were not released for inspection.”

Lama said it’s unlikely that Richardson’s office wouldn’t know which state agencies had the records sought by FOG and the reporters.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos responded, “We respectfully, but strongly disagree with the opinion. The Governor’s Office complied with the law and the Attorney General’s Compliance Guide when it turned over 98 pages of responsive records. The fact that the requester was not satisfied with those records doesn’t mean the Governor’s Office must create new records or act as a clearinghouse for all of state government.”

Here's a copy of the opinion. Unfortunately because of the way it was sent to me, the last 3 pages are crooked. When you get to page 2, just right click, then click "Rotate Counterclockwise." Sorry for that hassle.

IPRA Complaint Determination