“Access to public records is one of the fundamental rights afforded to people in a democracy.”
This is the first sentence found within the introductory paragraph of the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) compliance guide published by the office of the Attorney General for the State of New Mexico.
In an attempt to exercise this right, the Daily Lobo has actively requested many of these public documents as a recurring and crucial part of our reporting process.
We published a story on Monday, June 24, where transparency advocates told the Daily Lobo that blanket redactions of letters between the Custodian’s Office and unknown requestors may have violated the law.
We are filing a complaint with the State of New Mexico Office of the Attorney General (NMAG) regarding the withholding of requestor’s names and information requests to UNM to determine if the University followed the law in answering our request.
We don’t know what is under these redactions, but the blanket denial of information causes us concern. As an institution, we are entitled to the right to determine if the public needs to know within certain constraints. Even if the information is unimportant, we are asking the University to justify the reasons for withholding information — clearly and carefully — like they are mandated under the law. These are public documents, they belong to the public.
This is just one part of a much larger project.
Earlier this year, we asked for all of the correspondences between the UNM IPRA office and the public who have requested documents in the name of IPRA for all of 2018.The Daily Lobo is in the process of assembling a database with all of these requests — many of our reporters are dedicated to the project.
The intent of the database is simple: we believe transparency is important, and we want to educate the public of the University’s responses to IPRA requests and give our readers as much good information as possible.
PREVIOUS PROBLEMS WITH THE UNIVERSITY AND TRANSPARENCY
The NMAG 2018 Transparency Report alleged that UNM may have violated two state transparency laws — the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
Additionally, NMAG pegged the University for not abiding by IPRA earlier this month. They failed to provide the Albuquerque Journal with documents pertaining to their upcoming High Learning Commission accreditation that should be public information.
In regards to OMA, both student government and University management were criticized for not following proper agenda procedures or disclosing when bodies were making decisions on public business.
Last March, an undergraduate student government committee may have violated the New Mexico Open meetings act (OMA), by not providing measures to ensure transparency after the adjournment of a meeting. During the meeting, decisions were made that would drastically change the structure of the student government.
The continued issues with transparency is significant to the University and the public, because it sets an example for our students. Why should students obey the law if their university does not?
Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the University, said in an email to the Journal, “UNM is building on our strong record for complying with IPRA, and we want to continue to partner with the Journal and others in the community to make information readily available.”
The Daily Lobo wishes to hold UNM accountable to this statement, and agrees with Blair’s message on the need to make information readily available to the public.
Justin Garcia is the editor in chief of the Daily Lobo. he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @Just516garc.
Makayla Grijalva is the managing editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @MakaylaEliboria.