The nongovernment Gmail account was set up after Keller was elected auditor last year and before he had access to an official account on state computers, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. He has since continued to use it, along with his state account, for work-related interactions.
“It is not a ‘private’ email account in the sense of being a personal account or exempt from public disclosure,” said Justine Freeman, Keller’s deputy chief of staff.
However, the president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said that although Keller appears to be complying with the state’s open records law, his use of the nongovernment account for state business is not a good idea.
“For purposes of transparency, all government agencies should only use public email accounts to conduct public business,” said FOG President Greg Williams, an Albuquerque attorney. Not doing so “increases the likelihood that public records requests won’t be complied with and contributes to confusion,” he said.
Keller, a Democrat, has come under fire from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for investigating possible wrongdoing by one of Martinez’s appointees, Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla.
The auditor’s emails came to light after the Republican Party of New Mexico, citing the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, requested Keller’s emails, expense payments and cellphone records for a four-month period this year. Some of the emails that were eventually turned over in response to the request were from the nongovernment account.
A state GOP spokesman blasted Keller on Wednesday, alluding to the fact that Keller, while a member of the Legislature, pushed for more government transparency and criticized the Martinez administration on the issue.
“This is yet another example of hypocrisy and how Tim Keller plays politics by a double standard – one standard for himself and another for everyone else,” state Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett said.
The Governor’s Office has also faced criticism for using a nongovernment email address to discuss and handle state business. Hundreds of private emails to and from Martinez administration officials were made public in 2012, at least some of them after her former campaign manager hijacked the account.
Several weeks after the first of the emails were released, Martinez mandated that all state employees use government-operated email accounts when conducting state business – a directive that still stands.
Keller’s deputy chief of staff claimed Wednesday that there are differences between how the two offices used nongovernment email accounts.
“The Governor’s Office used private email accounts because they were attempting to conduct official business ‘off the radar,’ ” Freeman told the Journal . “With the auditor Gmail account, we always considered it official and public, and that’s why emails from it are included in the GOP’s intentionally burdensome and overly broad records request.”