SANTA FE – A nongovernment email account that New Mexico state Auditor Tim Keller had been using for at least some state business in recent months is no longer in use, a top staffer said Wednesday.
In addition, Keller’s chief of staff, Sunalei Stewart, also said the Gmail account – set up after Keller was elected state auditor last year – will be deactivated in the next several days.
“I think the bottom line is there is a perception issue, and that’s why the auditor has decided to disconnect it,” Stewart told the Journal.
He also said Keller never intended to use the nongovernment account permanently.
The president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said last week that although the Auditor’s Office appeared to be complying with the state’s open records laws, it’s more transparent for government agencies to use only public email accounts to conduct public business.
That came after the Republican Party of New Mexico, citing the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, had requested Keller’s emails, expense payments and cellphone records for a roughly four-month period this year. Some of the emails that were eventually turned over in response to the request were from the nongovernment account.
The Auditor’s Office has maintained that the nongovernment account was never intended to be used to circumvent the state’s open records laws, and Stewart said Keller never used it as his primary means of communication. Keller also has a state-issued account.
Public officials’ email habits have emerged as a thorny issue in New Mexico in recent years.
In 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration came under criticism for using a nongovernment email account – one set up during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign – to discuss and handle state business. Hundreds of emails to and from administration officials were divulged that year, at least some of them after the governor’s former campaign manager hijacked the account.
Martinez, a Republican, later mandated that state employees use government-operated email accounts when conducting state business – a directive that still stands.
In recent weeks, Keller, a Democrat, has come under fire from Martinez’s administration for investigating possible wrongdoing by one of Martinez’s appointees, Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla.