Thursday, August 19, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Herrera Seeks Critics' E-mails

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 19, 2010

Secretary of State Mary Herrera apparently likes to know what people are saying about her, especially when she knows a controversial news story about her office is in the works.

So early this month, while an Albuquerque television station was working on a story about how a computer virus infected her laptop with links to pornographic websites, Herrera did what a reporter might do — file a public information request for documents under the state Inspection of Public Record Act.

Reporters who have had a difficult time getting timely responses from the Secretary of State’s Office for public records requests are surely rolling their eyes by now.

The target of the Aug. 2 request, obtained by The New Mexican, was Sheryl Nichols, chief deputy clerk of Los Alamos. Nichols is president of the state association for county clerks and has been quoted in this publication and other news media over the years making critical remarks about Herrera’s performance.

Herrera requested copies of all of Nichols’ e-mail correspondence from July 12 through July 16 from the County Clerk’s Office to and from a list of several people, many of whom have been critical of Herrera. And several were employees of Herrera’s own office.

Right at the top of the list was Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza and her deputy clerk, Denise Lamb. Espinoza last year considered running against Herrera in the Democratic primary. Earlier this month, my colleague Kate Nash reported that Espinoza is supporting Herrera’s Republican opponent Dianna Duran in the upcoming election.

Others on the list were Chief Deputy Bernalillo County Clerk Robert Adams; Albuquerque lawyer Daniel Ivy Soto — a former Elections Bureau chief for Herrera and a lobbyist for the county clerks; Doña Ana Deputy County Clerk Mario Jimenez; and six of Herrera’s own staff.

Among those was office administrator Manny Vildasol, the whistle-blower who used a hidden video camera to tape computer personnel in Herrera’s office working on her laptop.

Some of Vildasol’s footage was used in KOB’s report last week about Herrera’s laptop being infested by viruses that put porn links on the desktop of her laptop.

In that report, Vildasol accused Herrera of “covering up” anything controversial in the Secretary of State’s Office and made a vague reference to “criminal activity.”

Herrera has since blamed Vildasol for being the first to bring a computer virus into her office’s system. In April, Vildasol apparently was the victim of a “phishing” scam that caused unwarranted e-mails to be sent from his account.

It’s not clear why Herrera had to request her own staff’s e-mails from the Los Alamos County Clerk’s Office. It would seem that she could get them from the Secretary of State’s Office computer system — except perhaps if she didn’t want anyone in her office to know she was looking.

It’s not clear what, if any, records have been turned over to Herrera and what, if any, “smoking guns” were found.

At least one of her staff members on that list didn’t know Herrera was looking for her e-mails. Kelli Fulgenzi, administrator for the state Bureau of Elections, said Wednesday that she was surprised to find out she’d been included. But she speculated her role as custodian of the office’s public records might have something to do with her being included.

The time range included in the request coincides with the time KOB began poking around about the computer porn story. But nobody in the position of actually knowing what Herrera was seeking in her public records request is talking on the record.

Herrera didn’t return my call Wednesday. Nor did Nichols.