Saturday, December 24, 2011

Journal chasing public records

The Journal reports, link, they have asked for security video of the now infamous dust-up between Reps Sheryl Williams-Stapleton and Nora Espinoza.

They have been informed by the Legislative Council Service that security videos are not public records and not subject to surrender. We are told that the LSC made an audio recording of the meeting, but that the recorder was turned off at the beginning of the (working?) lunch break.

According to the Journal, Legislative Council Service Director Raul Burciaga, responded to the Journal's Public Records Request by arguing;

“I believe that the security videos of the state Capitol are not public records.”
Burciaga offered the following instead;
  • a promise to provide a written explanation "by the end of the month", though the Inspection of Public Records Acts requires;
    if the inspection is not permitted within three business days, the custodian shall explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection or when the public body will respond to the request.
  • His personal opinion that recordings “really don’t relate to public business.”
  • His assurance that (despite the fact that it was a "working" lunch break);
    “There’s no policy being set. … "
  • His opinion that the recordings are public records because, "
    There’s no context to them,” particularly because of the lack of audio ..."
    Begging a question; if it was in fact, a "working" lunch break, was the audio recording actually turned off, and if so, why?
  • His opinion that because "... a policy manual specifies that the surveillance cameras are for safety, security and law enforcement purposes", they are not public records, and
  • finally, since
    "it has been the Legislative Council Service’s long-standing practice not to release security videos."
    they cannot be expected to start releasing them now. This is a particularly curious argument since, according to the Journal;
    Neither Burciaga nor New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Sarah) Welsh was familiar with any previous IPRA requests for Capitol surveillance tapes. (emphasis added)
Welsh offered;
“Everything that is produced in the course of government business is assumed to relate to public business.”
Most oddly, Burciaga inferred that one of the reasons he was not going to release the video was because he informed both Williams-Stapleton and Espinoza about the public record request for the video and
“Neither of them felt I should release the tape.”
Espinoza telling him;
“There’s no need to, when you already have so many witnesses that saw what took place.”
Like so many aspects of government in New Mexico, this would comic if not so tragic.

If nothing else, it points to the need to overhaul governmental transparency law, top to bottom.

photos Mark Bralley

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