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Critics question APS refusal to release Brooks report

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools officials formally refused Friday to release a report by an independent attorney on a “serious personnel issue” involving Superintendent Winston Brooks.

They claim it is exempt from open records laws because it involves a personnel matter and attorney-client privilege.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government criticized that position and the denial of a Journal request for the report under the Inspection of Public Records Act, questioning whether those exemptions apply in this case.

BROOKS: Says he was interviewed by attorney (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

BROOKS: Says he was interviewed by attorney (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The report prepared by attorney Agnes Padilla of the Butt Thornton and Baehr PC law firm at the request of APS Board President Analee Maestas doesn’t involve any current or threatened lawsuit, which is where attorney-client privilege usually comes into play.

Padilla’s law firm is the same one that conducted an investigation for Bernalillo County into allegations of nepotism and mismanagement by county employees at the county-run drug detoxification center in 2010. That report, although redacted, was released to the public.

Whether to even review the report on Brooks was the subject of controversy Thursday among school board members who deadlocked 3-3 to go into closed session to even look at it.

Maestas said she will try again at Monday night’s board meeting to go into executive session to discuss the report with all board members.

APS Director of Communications Rigo Chavez said in his denial to release the report that letters or memorandums that are matters of opinion in personnel files are exempt from public inspection and that Padilla’s report falls under the attorney-client privilege as outlined by state Supreme Court rules.

Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, disagreed, saying, “A factual investigation wouldn’t constitute a ‘matter of opinion [regarding] personnel’ under IPRA.”

And Boe said that hiring an attorney to conduct an investigation doesn’t automatically cloak the attorney’s report in attorney-client privilege.

She said FOG would like to see the release of the entire report.

“The acute public interest in the job performance of the superintendent of the state’s largest school district should prompt the school board to waive whatever attorney-client privilege claim it might otherwise make and thus to release all non-evaluative portions of the report,” she said.

Maestas said in a written statement released Thursday that she made the decision to hire attorney Agnes Padilla to “get to the bottom” of a personnel issue raised during a closed board meeting in July to discuss Brooks’ performance.

Maestas said she met with Brooks and gave him a copy of the statement that she read to the board members and assured him he would be given the opportunity to be interviewed by Padilla.

Brooks told the Journal he didn’t know anything about the report but said he was interviewed by Padilla.

Brooks was put on an undisclosed improvement plan last year after he made a disparaging tweet about Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.

Padilla completed and delivered her report to Maestas on Wednesday.

In May 2010, Bernalillo County officials hired Butt Thornton and Baehr to investigate then-Deputy County Manager for Public Safety John Dantis and his son, Jamie, who was working for a drug detoxification center, overseen by John Dantis.

Dantis eventually retired in July 2010 citing medical and personal reasons.

The county released a heavily redacted version of the Butt Thornton and Baehr law firm’s report in mid-August after repeated Inspection of Public Records requests.

More than 30 years ago the University Board of Regents made public a lengthy report by an outside law firm that investigated the so-called Lobogate scandal. That scandal involved making Lobo basketball players academically eligible to play by forging transcripts and enrolling them in classes at non-existent colleges.

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