Transparency still lacking

-A A +A
By Jay Miller

So how are we doing on government transparency? It was a major issue during the last gubernatorial campaign. Former Gov. Bill Richardson was raked over the coals for alleged corruption in the investment of billions of state dollars in worthless securities.
Gov. Susana Martinez promised to do much better. A year and a half into her administration the results are mixed. The governor has been criticized for slow responses to records requests and heavily redacted records. The attorney general and state auditor are looking into whether there was some type of collusion in the award of the state fair racino bid.
But there also is good news. A big flap over an exchange of private emails seeking information on the membership status of teachers in a union led to a decision by Gov. Martinez to declare that she wants every email regarding state business to be conducted through state email accounts even though the law allows discussions of a preliminary nature to be conducted privately.
Incidentally, the information requested by Jay McCleskey, the governor’s chief adviser, was for a list of teachers who don’t belong to a union. Presumably, McCleskey figured those teachers would be more likely to side with the governor on education issues. The list the Public education Department prepared identified teachers in school districts without bargaining contracts.
Generally that would be a good list but in education, teachers choose whether to join a union or not regardless of whether the district has a bargaining contract.
The best news from this administration is an announcement from Gregg Marcantel, the recently appointed secretary of the Corrections Department. He announced that his department uncovered information that it has held a prisoner six months too long.
This is a story that the department could have buried for years or forever, according to Milan Simonich, who covers the Capitol for the Texas-New Mexico Newspaper Partnership. But as an administrator in New Mexico state government, Marcantel is peerless. He works hard, constantly assesses his department to fix weaknesses and hides nothing, says Simonich.
News from the Legislature isn’t quite as good. Gov. Martinez, in defending her administration’s use of private email accounts to discuss government business, noted that lawmakers frequently do the same. They do and they won’t be as quick to correct the practice.
Legislators are faced with a different situation. They are not government employees. As members of a citizen legislature, they constantly juggle their public business with private businesses.
Now that the use of public and private emails has become an issue, lawmakers seem willing to discuss the situation and establish some policies. Meanwhile they seem resolute about not getting into a partisan battle over who has done what.
Lawmakers also tussle over how open their meetings should be. Especially with conference committees to iron out disagreements between the House and Senate, legislative leaders maintain that conferees behave themselves much better when they don’t have an audience.
Televising of regular committee meetings also has become an issue. Republican congressional nominee Janice Arnold-Jones became the Sunshine Queen when she took televising equipment into committee meetings of which she was a member. She won the battle to keep her equipment rolling but drew the wrath of some committee heads.
She also may have incurred the animosity of many fellow Republicans. Although she won her 1st Congressional District primary, she did it on a shoestring and is getting little help in her battle against Democratic nominee Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Finally, transparency problems also exist in election campaigns. Senate Corporations Committee Chairman Phil Griego was charged with misspending campaign funds by one of his Democratic primary election opponents.
Republican Secretary of State Diana Duran held off looking into the situation until after the primary election in which Democrat Griego was given campaign assistance by our Republican governor. Griego would not talk with any media during the primary but now is seeking out the media.
Duran was scheduled to release her findings Friday.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.