Our View: Openness should not be deleted

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By The Staff

A recent ruling by the Attorney General’s Office should be of concern to everyone.

See, the office ruled that state law contains no recourse for people who ask to inspect state officials’ public e-mails and find they’ve been deleted.

So if an official wants to hide something, just do it via the Internet than delete it.

It is scary. Any document produced by a public figure doing the public’s business belongs to the public. To just hit the delete key to avoid disclosure is not acceptable.

Last year, the state Commission of Public Records published rules directing agencies that they must retain e-mail correspondence that contains public records.

“Agencies need to be made aware that messages within the e-mail system could be a permanent record,” said Sandra Jaramillo, state records administrator.

But not all agree. PRC general counsel C. Vince Lithgow III wrote the request for e-mails belonging to Commissioner Ben Ray Lujan – the Democratic candidate for Congress – and said that few of the agency’s e-mails are public record.

Messages that are transitory, personal, duplicates, drafts or otherwise outside the scope of public records need not be retained, he wrote. In addition, state employees may use their e-mail accounts for personal business if it doesn’t interfere with state business, he said.

The opinion earlier this month responded to a Feb. 1 complaint by a reporter who said the state Public Regulation Commission denied him the chance to inspect Lujan’s e-mails because e-mails before last September had been destroyed. The opinion said the PRC did not deny the reporter’s request to inspect Lujan’s e-mails since it gave him all e-mails it had from Lujan.

The New Mexican, which asked for the e-mails as part of routine election reporting, said the six months of e-mails it reviewed found many nonpublic records as invitations to events or notes of congratulation, which Lujan sometimes replied to by asking senders to use his personal e-mail account instead. Other e-mails dealt with public business, such as an inquiry into a corporation’s status.

Not much that fits their own definition.

We certainly hope that Lujan plans on a more open role and relationship with the public if he is elected our representative to Congress.