By Tracy Dingmann
An editorial in the Sunday Journal made it official: the Journal has finally discovered the limits of our new Governor’s pledge to bring unprecedented transparency to the state’s top office: (Read “Keep Data Flowing on Water Contamination”).
Here’s the background: For months, Journal reporters have been trying to nail down the details on a massive jet fuel leak at Kirtland Air Force Base that has been creeping ever closer to City of Albuquerque water wells.
It’s a critical story that could have health implications for thousands of New Mexicans.
Last week the Air Force and a consultant in charge of monitoring possible contamination of the wells made some misstatements about the extent of the problem.
In trying to straighten out the details, the Journal apparently hit a wall in the Governor’s office when it found out the Martinez administration has muzzled the most knowledgeable expert on the case.
From the editorial:
Under the Richardson administration, top regulator James Bearzi frequently commented on behalf of the state Environment Department and at times was critical of Air Force cleanup efforts.
That changed Thursday when results of a re-test of the sentry well sample requested by the Air Force were made public.
The results were ambiguous, but Bearzi’s new bosses in the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez decided the person with the most expertise was no longer authorized to speak to the press. Instead, all questions have to go through the new deputy environment secretary.
Who doesn’t answer questions.
As the Journal noted, this choice by the Martinez administration to bar the most capable person in state government from talking to the media is a disservice to the public, which deserves prompt, informed answers about this threat to public health.
Again, from the editorial:
That doesn’t do much to assuage worries in the residential neighborhoods adjacent to KAFB and the fuel plume. And it doesn’t do much to instill confidence in the agency responsible for protecting New Mexico’s environment.
The Air Force says it wants transparency and accountability. Doesn’t the new administration in Santa Fe want the same thing?
If so, why the muzzle?
I’ve hit that wall in the Governor’s office, and so have lots and lots and LOTS of other reporters and bloggers I’ve talked to since Martinez took office in January. I guess the Journal is getting that treatment now too – and on Sunday it rightfully called the Martinez administration out.
So what about it, Governor? Why should reporters from the Journal – or questioners from anywhere – get stonewalled or ignored (or handed a useless, politically-charged answer from a detail-free spokesperson) when they ask perfectly reasonable questions or request information that is undeniably public?
Reporters shouldn’t have to file formal Inspection of Public Records Act requests to get public information or public documents from your office. But that’s what a lot of them are having to do these days (full disclosure: me, included).
Speaking on behalf of reporters – we are asking these questions because we are trying to inform the public, who has a right to know state business.
Remember – vows of increased transparency aside – it’s YOUR JOB to be accountable to New Mexico and New Mexicans.
And I’m sorry, but this form on your website doesn’t fulfill your obligations.
That said, I join the Journal in asking Gov. Martinez to honor her pledge for increased transparency in her office.