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Editorial: AG King should put emails’ rule to the test

No matter which side of the aisle New Mexico lawmakers sit on, most don’t want to reveal what’s in their emails – even if they deal with public business or are transmitted via state email accounts.

In fact, in the last legislative session they passed a joint rule that shields their electronic mail from public view with few exceptions. Reasons included that they needed to protect the privacy of their constituents.

The Journal recently filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request for emails received or sent by Albuquerque Sens. Tim Keller and Cisco McSorley, both Democrats, dealing with the contract between Expo New Mexico and the Downs at Albuquerque. According to the Legislative Council Service, more than 200 emails fit that description. The Council Service, which is the custodian of the emails, has refused to produce them. The given reasons: either they don’t fit the definition of a public record or otherwise are protected from disclosure.

It’s hard to believe that none of the 200 emails dealing with a multimillion-dollar public contract fit the definition of a public record.

These emails and others from legislators that involve public business in any way – be they sent via state or private email addresses – should be viewed in the same way as regular U.S. mail, and the same way those lawmakers view emails from and to those in the executive branch. They are not similar to phone calls as Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, has suggested.

Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, and Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, agree the emails should be available for public inspection. And after the dustup with administration people using private emails for public business, the governor directed all executive branch employees to use public email for public business

King, the state’s chief interpreter of IPRA and other sunshine laws and whose office conducts seminars statewide on public access issues, should take this up as a test. After all, his office is on record that if the emails deal with public business, they are public records. And if a 25-year lease involving a new $25 million racino in which the state gets $2 million a year isn’t public business, then what is?

Meanwhile, state lawmakers should quit hiding behind their electronic devices and constituents and take the public’s business – on paper and in cyberspace – public.

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.