Thursday, September 03, 2009
Las Vegas, N.M., Releases E-Mails to Newspaper
LAS VEGAS, N.M. — A New Mexico city has released more than 100 pages of e-mails between city councilors and the mayor, giving in to six months of requests by the local newspaper.
Las Vegas city officials acted after the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, in response to a complaint from the Las Vegas Optic, recommended they comply with New Mexico's open records act and hand over the documents.
Assistant Attorney General Lesley Lowe said she disagreed with the city's determination that it didn't have to comply with the request because the e-mails were sent from Mayor Tony Marquez's personal account.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government executive director Sarah Welsh said any documents dealing with public business, no matter what form, are public records.
"If an agency wants to withhold a document, the burden is on them to prove that it falls under one of the law's limited exceptions," Welsh said.
City Attorney Carlos Quinones disagreed. The city responded to the Optic's request for the e-mails by saying it couldn't locate any e-mails between council members on the city's e-mail server.
The newspaper later obtained 20 of the e-mails, including many that had been copied to Quinones.
Neither Quinones nor Marquez immediately returned telephone messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Topics of the e-mails included the firing of former Utilities Director George DuFour in February.
In a letter to the Attorney General's Office last week, Quinones said the mayor would voluntarily give up the e-mails from his personal account but argued there was no legal requirement to do so.
"There is no specific legal authority in New Mexico providing for the inspection of private e-mail accounts of government officials," Quinones said in the letter.
"If the law needs to be changed, then it is up to the New Mexico Legislature to amend the (law) to include a provision clearly making private e-mail accounts of government officials 'public records,"' he wrote.
Quinones cited a judicial ruling in Alaska that found then-Gov. Sarah Palin didn't have to release her e-mails related to public business.
He also cited a quote from a Missouri journalism professor who said the governor of Iowa didn't have to give up his e-mails from nongovernment servers.
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