The Rio Grande Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists applauds the decision by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office that the New Mexico Spaceport Authority violated the Inspection of Public Records Act. The decision came after a formal complaint from journalist Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net. New Mexico taxpayers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the spaceport and it’s absolutely necessary to have more transparency about this project, and yet this is the second time the Attorney General’s office has found the Spaceport Authority in violation of the state’s public record law.
The SPJ Rio Grande board of directors is disappointed that key questions about government transparency remain unanswered. One is whether the Spaceport Authority can withhold information about lease agreements at the facility. Also, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ administration did not find a violation of IPRA when spaceport officials claimed there were no records documenting positive economic impact on the state, even though the Spaceport Authority has made this claim publicly numerous times.
There also remains the open question of whether social media accounts such as Twitter are subject to IPRA. The Spaceport Authority has blocked certain Twitter users from following its Twitter account, including journalists. The AG determined the authority must make public a list of those blocked Twitter accounts, but it did not challenge the authority’s argument that Twitter is not subject to IPRA. Several federal rulings contradict this argument and we believe the AG should revisit this decision.
Equally troubling is the 10 months it took Balderas’ administration to issue an opinion on Haussamen’s complaint. This lengthy delay on clear-cut questions of transparency fits a troubling pattern under Balderas, whose job includes safeguarding and enforcing New Mexico’s most important sunshine law.
We have already seen moves by state officials to restrict transparency around Spaceport America. This is inappropriate for such a large project funded by public money and we seek more prompt, decisive action by the attorney general in ensuring public scrutiny of this project.
Note: Although Heath Haussamen is a board member of the SPJ Rio Grande Chapter, he did not participate in writing or approving this statement.