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Editorial: Security detail’s records are not protected by law

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The legal justification given by the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez for refusing to release expense records for her security detail would appear to fall into the category of wishful thinking.

The Associated Press had requested, among other records, the security detail’s travel expenses for a three-month period in 2012. In its refusal, the Department of Finance and Administration records custodian said disclosure of procurement card records that show details such as city, state, restaurant and/or hotel could “compromise the security of the Governor or her family …”

While it certainly would appear a stretch to say records that old would present a threat, the response neglects a major change in New Mexico law.

In a case brought by the Republican Party against the Richardson Administration over the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, the state Supreme Court sharply narrowed the scope of executive privilege and also did away with the so-called “rule of reason” balancing test that government agencies often used to justify withholding a record even though state law had no specific provision making it confidential. The court noted that the Legislature had enacted many such provisions.

To her credit, after Martinez took office she issued an order limiting the use of executive privilege – which had been widely abused by her predecessor’s administration. She also made a significant improvement by issuing an order halting the practice of using private email accounts for state business – after several examples by her administration drew heated criticism.

Now, she has a chance to embrace the Supreme Court decision in the Republican Party case and order the release of the documents sought by the AP.

So far, the state has produced only summaries. Seven State Police officers filed for more than 1,600 hours of overtime and $43,783.35 for lodging, meals, mileage and fares and other transportation costs during that period. But it is likely those summaries came from underlying documents, notes, receipts or memoranda. And access to those has been denied.

Also not forthcoming are details of expenses paid for first gentleman Chuck Franco’s 2011 alligator-hunting trip in Louisiana and copies of Martinez’ past or present calendars, so the public can know when she’s been in Santa Fe or elsewhere.

This is basic public information. There is no apparent legal justification for withholding it.

The administration should reassess its position and avoid a legal battle that will likely end with the records being declared public, the taxpayers getting stuck with hefty legal bills and the public more cynical than ever.

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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