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County discusses high cost of IPRA requests

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The high cost of the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) to Eddy County was highlighted at the Sept. 5 Eddy County Commission meeting.

The IPRA is the New Mexico state law that provides the public and media access to public information.

“We have 60 to 70 active requests per day,” said Eddy County Manager Roberta Gonzales. “The complexity of them is a lot. One of them could be 50 hours of video footage the staff are looking through and redacting.”

The county has three full time employees who can’t keep up, according to Eddy County Sherriff Mark Cage. Gonzales said that in addition to the three staff in the sheriff’s office, there are up to seven people at times helping at the sheriff’s office; two to four staff at another county location; one full time; and up to four additional people in the administration office helping work on it.

“Folks are using IPRA to dig around and it serves no legitimate purpose,” continued Cage. “And sometimes they want footage from five different cameras. They want every bit of footage from five deputies, and we’re required to give it to them. We should be able to bill them for our time and that would slow the volume down.

“The burden is on us to provide information in a timely manner. If we don’t, we’re fined $100 a day. And if we didn’t redact properly, we are liable to citizens who are not redacted — we’re gonna pay one way or another. People should be up in arms about how much this is costing us. Before we provide the information, we want to ask what we need to keep out in order to protect our investigation. But it’s no longer an excuse to not provide information because it might hamper an investigation. Transparency is fine and we want that in our government, but it’s been weaponized.”

“This is such a busy area,” said Eddy County Attorney Cas Tabor. “With oil and gas activity, with all the crime that the sheriff is having to deal with, people coming across the border, the cartel, everything in the world here. We’re like a little Chicago down here, trying to supply the information these people request. The attorneys are looking for lawsuits and some of them are legislators. That’s why they pass some of this stuff.”

“There is case after case of getting information out there and people are becoming victims,” said District 2 Commissioner Jon Henry. “We are doing work for law firms for free. You can do an illegal act and then make money because we didn’t redact it perfectly. Some of the reps don’t realize it is such a massive issue.”

Cage reported the New Mexico Counties (NMC) organization has IPRA as a legislative priority in 2023. NMC legislative priorities will also focus on detention centers, which are a nightmare across the state, according to Cage.

“We’re blessed here, though, with our staff,” he said. “The liability is through the roof now. We’re going to end up being uninsurable here in New Mexico because of liberal laws that allow anybody to sue for anything.”

Cage also reported the Eddy County traffic team has progressed to five team members who are all crash reconstructionists. These members cover Eddy County hot spots and problem areas. Eddy County is sending canine handlers and supervisors to a training and is providing an SRO officer to Jefferson Montessori Academy in Carlsbad.

In other news, Eddy County Public Works Projects Director Jason Burns reported the county is applying for a New Mexico Department of Finance 2023 recreational and quality of life grant to fund the construction of new bathrooms at the Artesia Shooting Range. He reported it must be complete by June of next year.

The commission approved a budget adjustment for the rehabilitation and maintenance project on North 13th Street from West Richey Avenue to U.S. 285 in Artesia. Burns reported the project will begin soon.

Gonzales reported Advanced Air will take over Nov. 5 as the new air carrier at the Carlsbad Airport. Advanced Air will not offer flights to Dallas, Texas, but will offer flights to Phoenix, Ariz., instead.

Gonzales reported Eddy County recently received the first cannabis excise tax of $2,700 for July distribution. The cannabis excise tax is 12 percent of all retail sales but does not include medical cannabis or wholesale sales.

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