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Editorial: Rio Rancho gets schooled on its open records fees

Rio Rancho city officials should consider why state law NMSA 1978 Article 14, Chapter 2, is the “Inspection of Public Records Act” and not the “Copying of Public Records Act.” Contrary to the actions of the city clerk’s office, the act is not supposed to be a copy-shop revenue stream.

Back in January, Rio Rancho resident Dianne Goodman, a frequent user of IPRA, formally requested access to all 911 calls and call-for-service reports for a specific address in Rio Rancho since 2012. But a city official told Goodman the audio recordings of 911 calls were unavailable until they were copied and put into a different format – and that a fee of $30 per call was required in advance.

While the illegal and exorbitant fee would have scared off many public-records seekers – and that could have been the intent – Goodman went to the state Attorney General’s Office, one of the agencies charged with upholding IPRA.

The AG’s Office has now informed Rio Rancho city clerk Stephen Ruger that inspection of public records should cost the requester nothing and that the law allows government agencies to charge a “reasonable” fee for downloading or copying records should the requester ask for copies. It says they cannot charge fees for the cost of “identifying and isolating records,” called the $30 fee for downloading the records excessive, and recommends the city re-evaluate its fee structure to ensure IPRA compliance.

Goodman got her records; the city is refunding her $30. Unfortunately, the fight isn’t over. A spokeswoman says the city disagrees with the AG’s “interpretation” of “relevant statutory language” and will review the “suggestions” to determine if it will amend its policy. The AG and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government have been down this road before; the smart (and public) money is on them.

Every record Rio Rancho officials produce is on behalf of the citizenry, and with narrow exceptions that citizenry should get full cooperation to know what government is doing.

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.