Editor’s note: Freedom New Mexico invited attorney general candidates Matt Chandler and Gary King to share their views on New Mexico’s Open Records Act and Inspection of Public Records Act. King accepted the invitation we made to both candidates to write a guest column. Chandler responded to questions submitted via e-mail.
Open Meetings Act needs stronger enforcement action
Question: How would you grade New Mexico’s state and local governments on compliance with the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act?
Chandler: New Mexico’s state and local governments are failing when it comes to compliance with the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act due to the fact that there is limited, if any, accountability for those that are violating the Act.
Q: What would you do to improve compliance?
Chandler: I would enforce the current laws that call for compliance, and support legislation for criminal sanctions for those that do not comply with proper requests for the inspection of public records.
Q: Do you believe the AG’s office should prosecute violations?
Chandler: I believe it is the attorney general’s responsibility to prosecute and enforce violations of the Act.
An example of this is the recent lawsuit filed by the Albuquerque Journal against Gov. Bill Richardson for allegedly violating his legal obligations under the Inspection of Public Records Act. This stems from Richardson’s failure to comply with the Albuquerque Journal’s repeated requests to inspect documents identifying the political appointees Richardson announced he laid off in the face of a budget crisis.
As attorney general, I will do all within my statutory duty to bring transparency to those that work for the public because I believe an open government creates an honest government.
Q: What would you do to ensure that more public information is available online?
Chandler: With today’s technology, public information should be made viewable online to the public. I support the idea of having all public records, including legislative sessions and the state’s current finances, listed online in a real-time format.
Matt Chandler, district attorney for Curry and Roosevelt counties, is the Republican candidate for New Mexico attorney general. He may be contacted through his campaign office at 505-306-8202. His website is: www.mattchandler2010.com
Open government high priority
As a legislator, I sponsored and passed the modern versions of the Open Meetings Act and the Inspection of Public Records Act. Therefore, it will be apparent that I feel that these are two of the most important tools we have to foster transparent operations of government.
Compliance with these Acts, often referred to collectively as the Sunshine Laws, is critical to the operation of a government that our citizens can trust.
During my term as attorney general, I have focused much of the efforts of the office on training state agencies in the requirements of compliance. I believe that most elected officials want to comply and will do so if they have knowledge of the requirements. Therefore, we have monthly “road shows” where we take experts from the AG Office to communities throughout New Mexico for a half-day training session. At the trainings we provide free copies of the compliance guides and inform officials how to access the most current information on our website: nmag.gov
We also answer questions and make sure that local officials know how to contact our experts if they have questions.
I believe that this results in general compliance. How-ever, there are definitely occasions when the statutes are violated by public officials. Our office has a formal intake system to log in complaints of noncompliance and assign them to experts for review. If it appears a violation has occurred we first contact the agency and explain to them how to cure violations. If the agency refuses to comply, we will bring direct action to force compliance or work with the complainant to help bring an action for enforcement.
Occasionally we find that the sanctions in the law are not sufficient to compel compliance. Therefore, we are also advocating to the Legislature to add criminal sanctions to the Inspection of Public Records Act, similar to those found in the Open Meetings Act. Such sanctions are rarely brought to bear, but do help to assure voluntary compliance at an earlier stage of the proceeding.
Our office continues to work with the Foundation for Open Government to advocate for changes that would improve the efficacy of the Sunshine Laws.
We successfully advocated to include provisions in IPRA to allow for electronic requests for documents. I believe that we need to implement changes in the agency operation so that all documents are stored electronically and can be delivered in that format, thus significantly reducing copying fees and improving searchability.
Our office has made all recent AG opinions available online in a searchable format and I believe this could be done with state contracts and budget documents for all agencies. Some progress has been made in this area in recent years. The issue of open government will continue to get high priority in the next term under my administration.
Incumbent Gary King is the Democratic candidate for New Mexico attorney general. He may be contacted through his campaign office at 505-803-0942. His website is: www.garyking2010.com