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UNM violated open records law again, AG’s Office says

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is once again blasting UNM’s handling of requests for public records.

The University of New Mexico violated state open records laws, the office said in a letter to UNM’s chief legal counsel on Friday. The letter strongly advised UNM to make certain documents public and reminded the institution – “yet again” – that it is a public body and should act as such.

“We conclude this determination by, yet again, reminding the University that as a public body in New Mexico, it is obligated to provide ‘the greatest possible information’ about its affairs to the public,” Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp said in the letter. “Over the past few years, this Office has repeatedly found the University in violation of IPRA in a multitude of ways.”

Friday’s letter was about UNM’s response to Journal records requests made in April for documents related to the university’s accreditation process.

UNM late Friday said it would release the documents but didn’t say when.

“We are in receipt of the Attorney General’s letter and plan to respond,” Cinnamon Blair, a university spokeswoman, said in an email. “The University believed it had a good faith argument for withholding the documents. However, we appreciate the Attorney General’s guidance on this matter and plan to disclose the documents in question.”

In September 2018, the AG’s Office found a “disturbing pattern of concealment and deliberate misrepresentation,” which was described in a “transparency report” on the state’s flagship university.

The report was connected to a financial investigation into UNM by the Attorney General’s Office. That investigation also led to pending felony fraud charges against Paul Krebs, UNM’s former athletic director.

“At the risk of repeating ourselves, we implore the University to revisit its public records policies and recommit itself to becoming the type of open and transparent government body that IPRA requires it to be,” Kreienkamp wrote to Loretta Martinez, UNM’s top attorney. “After all, IPRA is not just a set of rigid legal requirements. It represents the ‘public policy’ of the State of New Mexico.”

UNM’s latest records law violation relates to its withholding of documents about a yearslong accreditation process underway at UNM. The process happens every 10 years and has deep ramifications for everything from the university’s reputation to student financial aid.

As part of the accreditation process, UNM officials gathered self assessments written by various campus leaders and groups, including the Faculty Senate and several former regents.

The Journal in March and April filed IPRA requests for the assessments, which are called “self studies.”

UNM provided the Journal with some of the studies, including one written by former Regent Bradley Hosmer.

The university refused to disclose other studies.

UNM argued that the documents were privileged. But the Attorney General’s Office found that UNM’s explanation “disregarded clearly-established New Mexico precedent” and violated IPRA.

The attorney general’s review of UNM’s handling of the self studies came after a Journal story about Hosmer’s self study and a Journal editorial about UNM’s refusal to release other studies.

The attorney general’s 2018 transparency report on UNM was primarily related to matters that happened prior to Garnett Stokes becoming UNM president in March 2018. But Friday’s letter was entirely about UNM’s handling of public records in April under Stokes and Martinez, the chief legal counsel who Stokes hired.

After the AG’s Office first report on UNM’s transparency, Stokes in an email to the Journal “emphatically expressed my willingness to work with the AG’s office to ensure that UNM is transparent, cooperative and in compliance with the law.”

Kreienkamp’s letter to Martinez identified multiple problems with UNM’s response to the Journal’s public records requests, noting that the response “potentially subjected the university to liability.”

“Having thoroughly reviewed the documentation provided to us by both the Journal and the University, we conclude that the University violated IPRA by improperly withholding records, providing an inadequate explanation of its records request denial, and by missing key deadlines,” he said. “We strongly advise the University to take prompt remedial action.”