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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Gov. Susana Martinez bills herself as the transparency governor, promoting her mandate that all state employee salaries be posted publicly, touting her support for a bill that would require agencies and elected bodies to post notices of their meetings 72 hours in advance and promising quick responses to requests for public records.
But open government advocates question whether Martinez is walking her talk.
Other than public appearances, Martinez’s office has declined to publicly release information about how she spends her work days on the taxpayers’ payroll. She refuses to release her travel schedules, whether it’s for state or political business. And even notification of her public appearances and press conferences, which are generally the only opportunity for the media to ask her questions without going through her handlers, often comes with just a few hours’ notice.
A recent request by The Associated Press for copies of correspondence between Martinez’s office, the New Mexico Environment Department and Los Alamos National Laboratory took nearly three months to fulfill.
Although deadline extensions were requested and granted, when the documents finally arrived, the governor’s office had failed to note there were exclusions, as is required under the state Inspection of Public Records Act. When pressed, her office acknowledged some information was withheld due to executive privilege.
The governor’s office said it has a solid record of transparency. Spokesman Scott Darnell said that of 117 IPRA requests last year, only nine were “so broad” as to require additional time. Forty-five, he said, were fulfilled in five days or less. And on only 10 occasions were documents withheld due to executive privilege.
As for schedules, he said, “We not only broadcast advisories for the governor’s public events to all media but the governor puts information about her public meetings, events, speeches, etc. on the front page of her website, where it’s now also being archived.”
During a speech to the New Mexico Press Association in October, Martinez — noting the history of corruption in New Mexico — vowed to respond as quickly as possible to IPRA requests. She also said there is no excuse to take the full 15 days allowed under IPRA “just because we’re government.”
“I have promised since day one that state government will be more transparent, more accessible, and more accountable,” she told the meeting.
But it did take her office 15 days to respond to a formal IPRA request from The Associated Press for copies of her schedules showing “all appointments, meetings, public appearances scheduled as part of her official duties as well as calendars showing all travel conducted for state or political business,” during November, December and the first half of January.
And then it only sent a copy of her calendar “of public appearance, including speaking engagements, press conference and other public meetings” — information that it noted is also available on her website.
In many states, governors in years past traditionally shared with the press some type of daily or weekly schedules, showing what type of meetings they were holding, where they were speaking or if they were traveling. But that practice appears to have waned over the last decade. Some governor’s offices cite security, others harassment by bloggers. Other issues seem to stem from simple disorganization.
Kenneth Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri journalism institute, called such reasons for withholding information “lame rationalizations,” and said a governor’s schedule should always be public.
“It is hard to imagine that someone would think that a governor’s comings and goings are not the citizenry’s business, or that some state’s record disclosure laws would allow executives to shield that information from the public,” he said. “Unfortunately, some statutes are so weak that they allow it.
“... Any governor who so values his or her privacy that their schedules need to be treated as a state secret probably should have chosen another vocation outside of public life.”
There is no law in New Mexico requiring the governor to put out work or travel schedules to the public.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson occasionally released a schedule of some public events early in his administration but didn’t disclose much about his out-of-state travel.
Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said she believes the state’s open records act requires the governor to release information about work schedules on request.
And the law very clearly requires that the governor at a minimum, say why requested information is not being released within a 15-day period, she said.
“It is of course disappointing when someone talks the talk but then doesn’t walk the walk,” she said.
Martinez is far from alone in keeping her schedules close to the vest, with many releasing only information about their public appearances.
Some do, however, give more details. In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, for instance, puts out a daily schedule detailing things like when he is meeting with legislative leaders, the state treasurer and others, even when the meetings are closed. In Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, sends a schedule of his public appearances every week. Separate schedules are sent by his PAC detailing political activities and travel. In some other states, governors release more details about their schedules -- but only after the fact and only when formal public records requests are filed.