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Six will be honored for open-government advocacy

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Top from left, Teri Garcia, Stefanie Mortensen, Rep. Jim Townsend. Bottom from left, Ethan Watson, Adam Flores, Ryan Lowery.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has chosen six recipients for its 2020 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Awards, which honor people who have made significant contributions to government transparency in the state.

The winners will be honored at a virtual ceremony Oct. 1, NMFOG said in a news release.

They are Gallup citizens Teri Garcia and Stefanie Mortensen, state Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, Albuquerque City Clerk Ethan Watson, lawyer Adam Flores and freelance reporter Ryan Lowery.

Garcia and Mortensen are parents of children who attended a Gallup charter school. They filed a lawsuit for Inspection of Public Records Act violations against Gallup McKinley County Schools in July 2018 after the district would not produce records they requested about policy changes concerning charter school students.

In July 2019, the school district agreed to settle the lawsuit and pay Garcia and

Mortensen $14,000 and provide them with copies of the documents they requested, according to a news release from NMFOG.

Mortensen said she was grateful to win the award.

“It really does have an effect on other people,” Mortensen said in a phone interview. “Other citizens might be encouraged to fight for truth and transparency, especially when it comes to our children.”

Earlier this year Townsend sponsored three House rule changes to help make it easier for the public to access voting records, and he supported the establishment of the ethics commission.

Flores litigated and prevailed in a case against the Albuquerque Police Department in which the Supreme Court decided that law enforcement agencies could not withhold records because a matter is “under investigation.”

Lowery, working with the Las Vegas Optic, filed two IPRA complaints with the state Attorney General’s Office after the Las Vegas Police Department denied requests to release information about several homicides around the city. Lowery’s work also highlighted how Las Vegas City Schools violated IPRA by charging unlawful fees for access to public documents.

Ethan Watson developed a centralized program for responding to IPRA requests and prioritized digitizing the most frequently requested documents and posting them on the city’s website.

“I’m grateful to receive this award, and appreciate the recognition,” Watson said in a statement. “This administration and my office work every day to make the government more accessible, and I look forward to continuing this important work.”

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