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Public records audit details response of N.M. offices

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An audit by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government found it took anywhere from two days to several weeks for many government offices in the state to fulfill public records requests and more than a dozen failed to respond at all.

The open government advocacy group released the findings of its audit Tuesday. It marked the foundation’s first public records audit in four years. The group — through a private citizen — filed requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act to gauge the responsiveness, attitudes and practices of more than 120 state agencies and boards and the state’s 33 counties.

The audit focused on the logs of all the record requests that had been submitted to the offices between 2014 and 2016. Not all agencies — including the governor’s office — keep such logs.

The state Sentencing Commission, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and the Livestock Board were among the agencies that failed to respond.

“We discovered a few practices that were troubling,” said Susan Boe, the foundation’s executive director.

Aside from the lack of response from some agencies, Boe said a handful of public bodies declined to deliver documents until the request was submitted on official county or state forms. That’s not a requirement under the statute.

According to the audit, the majority of state agencies and boards responded to the foundation’s requests within the 15-day maximum timeframe under the statute. Seven offices took longer, including one records custodian who had to track 29 agencies.

The audit also showed that of the nearly 9,800 requests received in 2015 by those state agencies that track requests, most were filed with the state Department of Public Safety and the Environment Department. And most of the filers were attorneys, followed by businesses.

The most sought after documents included contracts, bids, salaries, personnel files and accident reports.

County requests covered everything from arrest records, permits and site plans to personnel records and salary information. Law firms, unions and environmental businesses made up a significant number of the groups seeking information.

Eddy County responded the same day or within one day of the request. Eddy County does not track public records requests.

“NMFOG has long noted the importance of easy access to public records to the business community,” said Gregory P. Williams, president of the foundation’s board of directors. “Our audit illustrates that access to public information is vital to private enterprise.”

In Santa Fe County, the number of public record requests has decreased and foundation officials suggested efforts to post more information online could be a reason for that. Gov. Susana Martinez’s office confirmed Tuesday that it doesn’t keep a log of public record requests but it does track how many requests are filed by assigning a number to each query.

Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan said the administration has taken steps since 2010 to boost transparency through orders that limit the use of executive privilege and legislation aimed at making public records accessible through electronic formats.

Lonergan said the governor also went beyond what’s required by law to expand the number of appointees who file regular financial disclosures and her office has been webcasting the meetings of boards and commissions that were previously not recorded or archived.

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