Despite all of New Mexico’s “Sunshine Laws,” which guarantee access to public information, the University of New Mexico is still keeping people in the dark.
At least, that’s what the New Mexico Attorney General’s office (OAG) is saying in their 2018 Transparency Report regarding UNM’s alleged violations of two state transparency laws. The laws in question are the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
“Since 2015, UNM has established a pattern and practice of neglecting their responsibility to allow access to public information and access to meaningful discourse and deliberation on public business,” the report said.
Assistant Attorney General Dylan Large is credited for preparing the report. The 32-page document outlines 11 of the most recent allegations against UNM for violated either OMA or IPRA.
According to the report, documents uncovered “reveal a disturbing pattern of concealment and deliberate misrepresentation” on the part of the University.
Also released were emails from former Athletic Director Paul Krebs regarding the infamous Scotland trip, during which UNM paid $39,000 of public funds for boosters, Krebs, family and a few others to golf in luxury. The story broke in 2017 and prompted an OAG criminal investigation that is ongoing.
The report comes just a month after the OAG excoriated the UNM Board of Regents for violating the OMA back in July for agenda items that “lacked specificity.”
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Cinnamon Blair said UNM President Garnett Stokes was out town the day the report was released, but was able to provide comment in a written statement.
“We seek to immediately correct errors and omissions, and improve on current processes and policies. We are also absolutely committed to adhering to state law,” Stokes said. “I have emphatically expressed my willingness to work with the AG’s office to ensure that UNM is transparent, cooperative and in compliance with the law.”
Melanie Majors is the executive director for Foundation for Open Government, a non-partisan, non-profit that according to its website aims to educate and advocate for transparency.
Majors said the state of New Mexico has over 800 categories for the disposal, regulation, storage, etc. of public records, depending on the agency’s policies. She said transparency rules are a complicated issue, but that one thing is simple:
“Destroying public records isn’t just possibly against the law, it’s a violation of the public’s trust,” Majors said.
Keeping the Record(s) straight
The Board of Regents and Associated Students of UNM were included in the report for previous violations of OMA, all of which have since been corrected.
The OAG also highlighted concerns about lack of oversight and future non-compliance.
“UNM needs to do some soul searching,” said David Carl, spokesperson for the OAG in a written statement. “The lack of transparency has negatively impacted its financial operations and continues to be a black eye for students and our community.”
A UNM spokesperson said the new administrative policy 6020 adopted this July aims to clarify records retention.
According to a written statement by University Media Relations Officer Daniel Jiron, as of Sept. 1, UNM said it has suspended it’s fee on larger IPRA requests pending a review of the process
Jiron goes on to say UNM received a 37 percent increase in IPRA requests in 2018, and the University has added a support position for the custodian of public records.
However, the position of Custodian was vacated quietly this summer by John Rodriguez, who held the post since 2015.
The report leveled that UNM’s IPRA office “failed to uphold responsibility” to provide records in a statutorily-mandated time, and “effectively set up barriers to receive copies” in direct violation of IPRA.
Rodriguez, who now works in Human Resources, was not in his office when the report was released. When the Daily Lobo emailed for comment, we received this automatic reply:
“Thank you for contacting the University of New Mexico. I will be out of the office on Thursday, September 6, 2018 and scheduled to return on Friday, September 7, 2018.”
“No trace to us.”
The very last pages of the report show an email between Krebs and his wife Marjori Maddox Krebs, an associate professor at UNM, with a strange request to print out an anonymous letter, and give it to Larry Ryan, a member of the UNM Foundation.
Krebs writes: “No trace to us. Larry expecting. Delete everything I sent when done so nothing discoverable in IPRA request. Including from your delete file. Thanks.”
Marjori Krebs responded: “Yes, I can do this today. Love you. Marjori.”
The not-for-profit UNM Foundation is a private entity that raises money and manages donations in the name of the University.
Neither Paul or Marjori Krebs responded to requests for comment. As of publication time, UNM Foundation did not respond for comment.
“Delete this email.”
One of the other emails Krebs sent was to Assistant Athletic Directors of Communications Kaley Espindola and Frank Mercogliano. Espindola has since left the position.
The email mentioned the author of the blog “New Mexico Fishbowl” by name, and advocated for deleting emails related to the controversial cutting and hasty reinstatement of the UNM Ski team last year.
It read: “Ok. We just need to be prepared to have libit (sic) will have this within 30 minutes. Suggest you delete all texts and any emalls related to reinstatement skiing. Delete this email.”
When asked for comment, Daniel Libit referred the Daily Lobo to a November 2017 blog post where he wrote that “Krebs’ acute concern was unfounded.”
“I never was pursuing this story, not did I ever seek ski-related emails,” Libit wrote.
In a phone interview, Libit said the new allegations against the UNM Foundation’s involvement in the Scotland trip are just the tip of the iceberg.
“I don’t think this was a fluke,” he said. “That was one in a series of similar things, whether it’s self-dealing or grift or just misuse of funds.”
The Daily Lobo asked Mercogliano if he deleted any emails at Kreb’s direction.
“I deleted drafts,” Mercogliano said. “Like I’m working on a press release, and I send it to someone, and they say ‘here’s a typo, this is incorrect.’ Like the first draft of a story.”
Mercogliano said that deleting drafts of press releases keeps the public better informed.
“What you want everyone to see is the finished product,” Mercogliano said. “The finished product is the one that matters. You get rid of all the other things, because if there’s a mistake, I have something wrong that I didn’t realize. Now all of a sudden somebody picks it up and now that becomes the fact, and that gets screwed up that way”
The OAG spokesperson Carl said that drafts of final products may be deleted in the case of a final project.
"New Mexico courts have held that drafts are public records and should be made available for inspection,” he said. “However, it is accurate that drafts may be deleted when there a final product."
"It would be improper to comment on whether or not we have identified violations of criminal law prior to the conclusion of the OAG's on-going (sic) criminal investigation," Carl said when asked about the deletion of emails.
Editor-in-Chief Kyle Land contributed to this report.
Danielle Prokop is the multimedia editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.