New policies at U. of New Mexico improve compliance with open-records law

NEW MEXICO — The University of New Mexico Board of Regents approveda policy on Wednesday that will open more university records and information tothe public.

The board approved four measures that will open information aboutcandidates seeking employment, employment applications and UNM internal auditingpractices.

Jamie Koch, president of the Board of Regents, said the measures weretaken, in part, to protect the university financially.

“The University has been noncompliant with open-record laws foryears. We’ve been sued many times and lost every time. We have to payattorney fees for each suit,” Koch said.

Most recently, the Albuquerque Journal sued UNM earlier this yearfor records regarding Director of Government Relations Marc Saavedra. KarenMoses, managing editor of the Journal, said she is pleased with theboard’s decision.

“When you sue over something, you get awarded what you were lookingfor in that particular case. But every time we would request another record, wewould come up against a wall all over again,” Moses said.

New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, passed in 1978,defines a public record as any document or material that is “used created,received, maintained or held in any public body and related to publicbusiness.”

“New Mexico has a very broad open records stature and the people ofNew Mexico deserve it,” Koch said.

In addition to the four approved measures, the Board of Regents postponeddecisions on four other open-records policies. The measures, three of which arescheduled be discussed and voted upon Aug. 12, concern how much personal information about facultyand staff will be available to the public.

Faculty Senate President Jacqueline Hood said she wants the university tocomply with state law but also is wary of the possible ramifications of the newpolicy.

“They didn’t really think through the implications before theboard went ahead and passed it,” Hood said. “We want to protect ouremployees from identity theft but there aren’t procedures in place toprotect them.”

Although the board has yet to approve the measures, Koch said the fourremaining policies are sure to pass.

“It’s really done. We’ve already changed the manuals. They don’t have a choice, we just wanted to give faculty members time tothink about the manual changes and give the board time to answer any questionsthey may have,” Koch said.

According to UNM Board of Regents’ Policy Manual, the board is theultimate authority on university policy and can implement policies, such as thefour passed on May 28, whenever it sees fit.

The faculty, “can complain all they want but they’re notexcluded. They have to operate under open records polices. They have toconform,” Koch said.

Hood said the university should have consulted the Faculty Senate before itchanged the policy manual.

“People need to be informed, on board and committed for changes tooccur. It would be good if we enhanced our dialogue with the board,” Hoodsaid.