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In State Government, Transparency Goes Both Ways

By Tracy Dingmann

The Albuquerque Journal makes a compelling argument today in calling for more sunshine in the Roundhouse.

In an editorial called “Lawmakers, Let’s Put the Sunshade Away,” the Journal takes the state Senate to task for passing a rule that bans people from taking audio or video of committee meetings (news media excepted).

It’s an argument we at Clearly heartily support. Committee meetings are public. Under the First Amendment, the New Mexico Senate has no business prohibiting anyone from taking audio or video of public meetings conducted in our State Capitol.

Transparency Goes Both Ways

But when you’re talking about state government, remember – transparency goes both ways.

The state Senate was prompted to adopt the no-recording rule last week after staffers for Gov. Susana Martinez videotaped parts of select committee meetings on bills the Governor wanted to see passed.

The Governor’s staffers did not ask permission of the committee chairs, as is protocol in legislative meetings. Many senators were unnerved about how the Governor intended to use the video and suspected the videos would be selectively edited.

Indeed, the videos that turned up on the Governor’s website were heavily edited and came nowhere near close to portraying the entire proceedings on any bill, much less an entire meeting.

“Bring the People to the Process”

Gov. Martinez has repeatedly pledged to maintain unprecedented levels of transparency in state government.

“My biggest promise was that I was going to bring the people to the process, and there was going to be more transparency with what was goes on in the Roundhouse,” she said recently.

Not only is that a noble goal for state government, not following it can be expensive. One needs only to look at the $150,000 in attorney’s fees a judge recently ordered the state to pay to the Journal. It all happened because the Richardson administration failed to turn over documents as required by the state Inspection of Public Records Law. The state also spent about $100,000 defending itself against the Journal’s quest for the open records. Total price tag for taxpayers – $250,000.

So, after hearing those promises from Gov. Martinez, we at Clearly were disappointed to learn that a key task force she created on her first day in office was named in secret and met in secret for weeks. We were even more disappointed when we were forced to file an IPRA request with the Martinez administration to get any information about the group’s makeup and details of decisions made at the meetings regarding important regulations that affect all New Mexicans, not just the ones represented on the task force.

It’s interesting to note that the Journal has chosen to ignore coverage of the Governor’s secrecy regarding the task force.

So we agree with the Journal – there should be more openness at the Roundhouse. The Senate should reverse that rule. And the Governor should keep her pledges to the people of New Mexico to be transparent.

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