More than six months after the attorney general ruled that the work records of Gov. Susana Martinez’s security detail are subject to public disclosure laws, her administration is refusing media requests for details on past expenses of State Police officers who travel with her and her husband, citing safety.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reported June 20 that the Republican administration says there is only $123.94 in expenses for food for the officers who accompanied Martinez’s husband, Chuck Franco, on a six-day 2011 Louisiana alligator-hunting trip because they were hosted privately. But it refused to say who was the host and denied the paper’s request to see food receipts the administration said covered the officers’ meals in New Mexico on the first and last days of the trip.
Likewise, for the past six months, the Department of Public Safety has delayed and refused a public records request filed by The Associated Press for details on expenses incurred by the governor’s security detail in the three months leading up to last year’s presidential election. The governor’s office also has in the past refused to give the AP copies of her past or present calendars, meaning the only way to know if the governor leaves town and why is when she discloses such information.
As the nation’s first Latina governor, Martinez was popular on the national GOP circuit last year.
Records released by the Department of Public Safety in April show seven State Police officers filed for more than 1,600 hours of overtime in August, September and October of 2012, and incurred $33,561.58 in lodging and meal expenses. They also filed for $10,167.87 in “mileage and fares” and $53.90 in other transportation costs. But the administration has released only final tallies, refusing requests from the AP for copies of the actual expense reports or receipts filed by the officers, detailed timesheets or other documents that would tell when or why officers filed for overtime.
Initially, the Department of Public Safety said it did not have such records. After the request was forwarded to the Department of Finance Administration, agency spokesman Tim Korte said in a letter that it did not have control of any of those records. But he went on to note that “disclosure of procurement card statements create security risks to the Governor. Procurement card statements for the Governor’s security detail identify the officer assigned to protect the Governor on specific dates.”
He also said disclosing the information “could compromise the security of the Governor or her family.”
Although state laws on public records are not uniform, he cited a Texas Supreme Court ruling in favor of Gov. Rick Perry. In that case, the state of Texas argued that release of travel vouchers could establish travel patterns that could compromise the governor’s safety.
Korte gave the same reasons to the New Mexican in denying its request.
Kenneth Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition in Columbia, Mo., said citing safety for not disclosing expenses for past trips “seems like a convenient stretch.”
“When it comes to disclosure, transparency and accountability, it sets an awfully bad example when public officials place themselves above the law,” he said.
Late last year, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat who has said he plans to challenge Martinez in next year’s gubernatorial race, said the administration could not use the security argument in declining to release records related to the security detail.
King’s office cited a 2012 New Mexico Supreme Court opinion that said state agencies cannot deny release of public records for a “countervailing public policy” concern – such as the release of security details supposedly posing a greater risk than public disclosure.