Filing dozens of public records requests and following up on them is one of the more time-consuming, detailed and sometimes tedious tasks of a journalist.
Such requests turn up plenty of information that never makes it into a story.
Today, on what journalists often call #FOIAFriday, we share with you some of the extra info and, yes, oddities, of our lobbyist public information requests.
The Gov. Bill Richardson letterhead. Yes, you read that correctly. The New Mexico State Investment Council replied – via email – with a formal letter from Deputy General Counsel Bruce Brown. The letterhead listed Bill Richardson as governor and Gary Bland as state investment officer.
Bland resigned in 2009 amid pay-to-play scandals. While no one was charged in the controversy, several investment houses settled with the state and litigation continues. Richardson lost out on an Obama Administration cabinet appointment due to the perception of scandal.
We emailed Charles Wollmann, the council’s spokesman about the letterhead. Here’s his response:
“I had a boilerplate word document I was using as a jumping off point for IPRA responses. While the information on that boilerplate was updated when the new Investment Officer and Governor arrived, I subsequently noticed at some point, that sometimes when an answer ran into a second page, or if a backspace stroke cleared an excess space key at the bottom of the page, the header for both pages could revert to the old version – showing Bland and Richardson.
“Obviously I didn’t notice this time, and am more than a little embarrassed at such a stupid oversight. We treat public records requests with significant care, but this time technology and inattentiveness got the better of me.
“We have since updated the e-letterhead and this will never occur again.”
Here’s the letter:
Internet Explorer is still a thing. Bernalillo County is one of several counties that puts contracts and other public information on their website, which is great. But in May, when we tried to search for the contracts we were looking for, we couldn’t download them.
After a bit of email back and forth, I realized that using Chrome or Firefox or Safari on a MacBook was my problem. I asked what browser the administrator was using. “Internet Explorer,” she replied. So I called a friend with a PC and Explorer and asked him to download the contracts and share them with me.
I checked again this week, and the site now does work with Chrome on my MacBook. So, thanks, Bernalillo County!
Snail mail is still a thing. A few government agencies replied to my email requests via actual paper letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service (including one letter dated February, when my request was made in late April).
Not a big deal, but email really is faster and less expensive (no offense to the U.S.P.S. intended here).
Speaking of expenses. New Mexico In Depth spent $380.78 to obtain some of the documents for our stories.
Only 10 of the more than 60 agencies we received records from charged for the records. The costs ranged from 25 cents per page to $1 per page. And although charging for copies, five of the agencies charged to provide digital documents.
The largest cost was $120 to Albuquerque Public Schools. While our request specified contracts and payments related to lobbying, about half the documents the school district included were meeting agendas and other documents unnecessary to document the expenses.
Here’s a look at what we paid for documents. And if you’d like to help out in this and future endeavors by New Mexico In Depth, click here to donate!