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Editorial: State’s Email Directive Corrects a Bad Idea

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Gov. Susana Martinez’s order that from now on all workers under her authority must use government email accounts for any state business is a good step toward transparency — and corrects an ill-advised practice.

Martinez’ administration recently came under fire for using private email accounts to conduct or discuss government business. Some emails concerned the apparent use of Public Education Department workers and computers to compile information that was forwarded privately to Martinez’s political adviser and others. The state attorney general has been asked to determine if compiling that list violated the Governmental Conduct Act.

Martinez’ order applies to preliminary discussions as well as final decisions or actions “that have occasionally been sent via personal email because they are not required to be maintained under state law.”

Government watchdog groups have long contended that preliminary documents or communications are subject to the Inspection of Public Records Act and reject the argument that a public record is narrowly defined only as one that must be archived. The definition under IPRA is much broader and is based on the policy that citizens should have as much information as possible on the workings of their government.

That’s pretty tough if communications are being conducted back channel.

The governor’s order sends the right policy message and removes the onus on state workers to determine what should be communicated on state email and what should not. And it will make it much easier to apply IPRA.

Using private emails to discuss government business isn’t limited to the Martinez administration. It would appear legislators and previous administrations also used them. The governor challenged lawmakers and other officials to adopt similar policies. They should do so.

Even if using private emails in some instances doesn’t violate New Mexico law, it isn’t consistent with good government. And it gives the appearance that private communications keep the information out of the public domain. A transparent government should not operate behind a wall of private email correspondence. Removing that wall is appropriate.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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