The city of Rio Rancho is unfortunately going down a well-worn path of trying to make its records so expensive the public won’t ask for them.
Officials should stop while they’re behind.
Because it does not honor the letter or the intent of the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act to charge $30 for a CD of a single 911 call. Or to require each 911 call in a request be burned onto a separate CD. Under IPRA, government entities can recover the “actual cost” of producing a record. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has long argued that the statute does not permit entities to try to include charges for the labor that goes in to producing a record because answering to the public is, well, the government’s job.
Yet not only is Rio Rancho charging thirty bucks for a recording of a 911 call, it wants to burn separate CDs for each call requested by a resident, meaning four calls equals four CDs equals a whopping $120 for Dianne Goodman – all when she can buy 100 in a spindle on Amazon for around $16 – with free shipping if she’s an Amazon Prime member. Or hand the city a thumb drive or her email address for free.
And all when the New Mexico Attorney General’s website states clearly “the reasonable fee is $6.75 for videos/DVDs and $2.75 for audio tapes.”
Goodman made her request back in January but has rightly refused to fork over the exorbitant sum the city is demanding. And just because the city’s pricing policy has been in the wrong for two decades does not mean it should continue.
Peter St. Cyr, executive director of NMFOG, spoke up for Goodman at the June 14 governing body meeting – arguing the records fee structure is onerous and has the effect of making such records unavailable to the public. And he has written that “the city’s $30 fee per call is 500-600 times higher than other public entities” and the city’s “decision to put each call on a separate CD to run up the cost is also a clear sign that the city is trying to collect an unauthorized ‘records tax.'”
Councilor Cheryl Everett responded to the numerous public comments about city compliance with the Open Meetings and Inspections of Public Records Acts, saying, “I believe a lot of what we’ve heard tonight simply doesn’t ring true – this is not the city I know, is not the city government I’ve been a part of, is not the staff that serves the citizens of Rio Rancho.”
The city can show she’s right by immediately revising its records fee structure so it’s in line with state law and AG policy. And other governmental entities in the state should take note and avoid traveling down the path that leads away from public accountability.
(This editorial first appeared on the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Page.)