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IPRA refiling

IPRA Wars

Partisans and nonpartisans alike are responding to the private email scandal with records requests.

July 3, 2012, 1:00 pm
By Joey Peters

 While much of the focus of the past month's private email scandal has been on the governor's office, some critics aren't letting the state legislature off the hook for doing the same thing.

Several state lawmakers—both Democratic and Republican—are coming under scrutiny for listing personal email addresses listed on their official legislative webpages. On June 15, state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he forwards all legislative-related email he receives on his private account to his public account. That prompted an Inspection of Public Records request of his emails from local conservative radio talk host and GOP activist Stephen Dinkel

Specifically, Dinkel asked for "all emails sent from Representative Brian Egolf's personal email address, brian@brianegolf.com, to his legislative email address." Dinkel also asked for all private emails related to public business from Reps. Eleanor Chavez, D-Bernalillo, and Rick Miera, D-Bernalillo. He also requested all emails sent from Michael Corwin and his liberal Independent Source PAC to any state legislator, private or public. 

Since he specified no date range, the Legislative Council Service wrote to Dinkel that his request was "excessively burdensome" and encouraged him to narrow it down. It's unclear what Dinkel's done since then (SFR put in a call to him and will update this post once/if we hear from him).

But Egolf dismisses Dinkel's IPRA as politically motivated.

"I don't know what else to think other than they're trying to intimidate people," he tells SFR. 

Chavez adds that the IPRA seems like a "fishing expedition." Although she criticizes the governor's office for conducting public business on private email accounts, she says state lawmakers are in a different category.

"We're a citizen legislature, not state employees" Chavez tells SFR. 

She adds that if Dinkel's IPRA goes forward, she'll "provide what I need to provide under the law."

But just what the law demands, however, is also unclear. NMPolitics.net blogger Heath Haussamen sent out similar, albeit more focused, IPRAs on June 19 involving both governor's office staffers and state lawmakers. His state legislature request involved all emails sent from the private accounts of Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Valencia, House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-San Juan, over a 30-day period. 

He says he made the IPRAs "to see what would happen," adding that he still hasn't gotten anything back from either request. The legislature wrote back to Haussamen that "there are a lot of unresolved questions of how, or even whether, the Inspection of Public Records Act applies to emails on legislators’ personal email accounts."

But both Haussamen and the nonprofit New Mexico Foundation for Open Government take the position that any private communication between public officials regarding a public matter is a public record. Haussamen adds that the muddiness of the issue might require a legislative solution such as an amendment to the Inspection of Public Records Act.

"I don't know how this is going to shake out," he tells SFR. "I think there are a lot of officials that are real nervous right now."

As for the notion that state lawmakers are in a different category from state employees because they're "citizen legislators," Haussamen's not buying it.

"They get per deim, they get retirement benefits—they get compensation for their job. And I don't think that's the point," he says. "They're public officials."

 

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