Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. Here’s what he says about government transparency:
“Transparency,” when it comes to government, it is certainly the ideal. Taxpayers — the ones who pay government’s bills — deserve nothing less. The good news is that New Mexico governments have made great strides in recent years.
To name just a few improvements, records of legislative floor sessions are now online, as are all floor votes. New Mexico’s new “Sunshine Portal” includes an expanding collection of payroll data, revenue lists and contract amounts. A growing number of cities, counties and school districts across New Mexico now post complete or at least partial payroll information online. Albuquerque Public Schools recently joined the fast-growing list.
Legislation passed last year by the Legislature mandates that public information a government agency has in an electronic format must be available to the public in an electronic format upon request. This law resulted in vast savings of time and costs for citizens and public agencies alike. Before the new law, agencies often would only release public records in paper formats — charging as much as $1 a page — even when the documents were maintained as digital files.
But we still have a ways to go. For starters, in many instances someone still has to request the information. This can be a complicated process. Finding the correct staff person in a given county or with a local city can be challenging, particularly when names of those records custodians aren’t posted online. Also, resistance from local officials ignorant of the law may be another roadblock.
How do we know this? Well, over the past several months, the Rio Grande Foundation has embarked upon the task of collecting and posting payroll information for New Mexico’s largest cities and all 33 counties. We are now working to collect this information for New Mexico’s school districts. With 89 school districts in the state, this will be a significant effort.
City and county information is now available to the public on our website www.riograndefoundation.org. School-district data will be added as we receive it.
The Rio Grande Foundation and its Watchdog will continue to promote government transparency in New Mexico. We’ve come a long way and can go a lot further in making government open and responsive to its citizens.