At last, Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico’s largest school district, will have a log to track incoming public records requests.
And it will have to implement rigorous new policies that set out a detailed process by which APS must handle public records requests, including creating a log with the date of the request, responses to deadlines and other information to keep records requests on track. The district will also have to employ “a sufficient number of records custodians, software and hardware” to comply with IPRA timelines and staff training for responding to public records requests.
Three decades after the adoption of the Inspection of Public Records Act, this is an important step forward for the 73,000-student district, which has a long history of skirting or ignoring the law.
Just last year, the state attorney general determined APS has “repeatedly and flagrantly” violated IPRA, and in a separate case a judge ordered APS to pay the Journal and KOB-TV $615,000 in a public records case.
The tipping point came Tuesday when APS reached the judge-approved settlement agreement requiring it to respond to a series of public records requests made by a Rio Rancho woman and to pay $54,000 in damages, attorney fees and costs. APS had ignored her requests for records for a year and a half.
Newsflash: Complying with IPRA is not just the legal and right thing to do; it is less expensive than paying penalties for repeatedly and flagrantly violating the public records law that’s imperative for open government.
Since District Judge Lisa Chavez Ortega approved the deal between APS and Rio Rancho parent Michelle Jenson on Tuesday as a stipulated agreement, it has some real teeth. The judge placed the settlement under the direct authority of the court, meaning APS could face contempt of court proceedings if it fails to follow the order.
We hope this marks a turning point at APS and establishes a model for other large public agencies subject to IPRA.
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.