SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Susana Martinez directed state workers on Monday to only use the government’s email system for conducting public business, a move that ends her administration’s practice of sending email through private accounts in some instances.
The Republican governor’s directive came a week after it was disclosed that she and high ranking administration officials had discussed state issues using email accounts connected to her political action committee. Critics said the practice was unacceptable, particularly for a governor who had touted the need for more governmental transparency.
State workers under the governor’s control are to use state email even for “discussions preliminary in nature to final decisions or actions that have occasionally been sent via personal email because they are not required to be maintained under state law,” the governor said in a statement.
“There is no state law that requires this to be done, but utilizing only state email to conduct state business in connection with public employees’ duties is another important step to ensure continued confidence in government,” said Martinez, a former prosecutor before taking office as governor last year.
The state Democratic Party said in a statement that the governor’s directive “never addresses the business that has already been done outside of the reach of the public eye.”
The administration contends that its use of private email hasn’t violated state law and that it has followed rules developed under the state’s Public Records Act, a law aimed at the historical preservation of government documents, for determining what email is a public record and must be saved.
Under rules issued several years ago by the state Commission on Public Records, non-records include “preliminary drafts of letters, reports and memoranda” and “messages considered brainstorming or preliminary thought processes in nature, reflecting the exchange of ideas preliminary to the development of a final decision or position of the agency.”
However, the question of what is a public record under the preservation law is separate from the Inspection of Public Records Act, the state’s sunshine law that deals with disclosure of information about government actions and policies.
There’s a broader definition of a public record under the Inspection of Public Records Act and it covers “all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.”
Some state legislators use private email accounts rather than the state email system. Martinez suggested that all state and local government agencies adopt a policy of only using government email systems and said her administration “would be pleased to work with interested parties to ensure that our records statutes and regulations are coherent, strong, practical, and consistent across government.”
Scott Forrester, the Democratic Party’s executive director, said Martinez should provide a “detailed accounting of exactly how many times political appointees on the public payroll used private email addresses to conduct business for the benefit of Susana’s personal political action committee.”
Without that disclosure, he said, the public won’t know “the extent to which Susana Martinez has focused her time in office on politics over government” or know the influence of the governor’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey.
A union-funded political committee released an email last week that indicated the Public Education Department had created a list of non-union school teachers for McCleskey in response to a verbal request for public records. A department spokesman used personal email to send the list to McCleskey and administration officials, but has said that was an oversight. Two Democratic legislators have asked the attorney general’s office to investigate whether the law was broken by using state resources for political purposes in preparing the list.