Clickability tracking pixel

Editorial: New Mexico Localities Devise New Way to Skirt Transparency

The city of Clovis and Curry County, N.M., have recently employed new techniques intended to keep the sun from shining on the records of their activities.

by Clovis News Journal, McClatchy News Service / April 3, 2014

Technology is supposed to make things simpler, easier and more cost efficient.

If that’s what you choose to do with it.

In the hands of government, of course, it can have the opposite effect, especially when the topic is transparency and the mission is keeping taxpayers in the dark.

The city of Clovis and Curry County have recently employed new techniques intended to keep the sun from shining on the records of their activities.

If you want to know what these public servants are up to these days, you better bring your wallet.

Both are charging for reports you can’t even see prior to purchase.

Imagine running a grocery store or a used car lot and trying to get away with that?

The county never surprises us with its jukes and jives around the state’s public records laws like they’re obstacles to be overcome.

Remember, it went to court once to try and keep employee salaries a secret, and routinely employs an attorney to fight requests for information that should be posted on its website for all to see without asking.

This week, it revealed a new weapon in its arsenal of back-room governing — it’s asking taxpayers to pay county employees to look for documents the taxpayers have asked to see.

(Don’t we already pay county employees to work for us?)

The newspaper asked for copies of complaints against jail staff, jail incident reports, tort claims and medical bills related to the jail over the past eight months.

The county responded with a bill for $116.18 — before we can even see the documents to decide if we’d like to study them in detail.

County Attorney Steve Doerr said it took eight hours to locate all of these records.

Odd. Seems to us a public entity with a $23 million annual operating budget would keep these recent reports digitally: Two minutes to access all the records, hit print (or email) and go on to the next task.

City police actions are perhaps more disappointing because the nature of their work impacts our public safety daily.

Long gone are the days when a taxpayer could walk in the police department, read all the incident reports from the past 24 hours and request copies of the pages relevant to the search.

Here in the digital age, reports are generated by computer before the officer gets back to the station after a call. But good luck getting your hands on one in 24 hours.

Today’s reports need three or four days of review by senior officers before anyone else can access them. And no, you cannot see them before you buy them.

If you heard rumors of shots fired in your neighborhood last night, and you think it might be prudent to find out what happened, expect to pay $7 or more for the report. Don’t be surprised to read no shots were fired at all, but one of the neighbors had “Law and Order” turned up a little loud.

Our elected and appointed leaders need to be reminded taxpayers don’t work for them.

They work for the residents of Clovis and Curry County.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Publisher Mike Jensen and Editor David Stevens.

©2014 the Clovis News Journal (Clovis, N.M.)

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs