Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who Gets to Decide Whom the Media Is? Part 11 September 23, 2010, APS IPRA

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
 On Thursday, September 23, 2010, Ched MacQuigg and I went to the APS Twin Towers, now known officially as the Alice and Bruce King Educational Complex, 6400 Uptown NE to inspect the public records we had individually requested.

Within moments of arriving at the communications office, MacQuigg was accosted by three APS police officers; Acting Deputy Chief Steve Gallegos, Lt. Allen Rider and Officer Paul Cadena who came into the office and confronted him.

When they opened the door, it blocked their view of me.

They asked, if he was banned from APS property?
MacQuigg responded, no, that he was only banned from the school board meetings.

They continued to challenge him until I stepped in and said I had read the letter and the ban only applied to the board’s meetings.
They seemed surprised at seeing me, and then agitated as they left the room without saying anything to me.
So what’s wrong with this picture?

When MacQuigg was given the Esquivel letter by Acting Director Tellez, Tellez told me, I was allowed to enter. However, I met adamant resistance from Acting APS Deputy Chief Gallegos, below right, and when confronted by Lt. Rider, both indicated I could not enter the boardroom. Albeit mistaken, they believed I had also received a letter similar to the Esquivel/Tellez letter that MacQuigg received, also banning me.
I received no such letter, but Tellez, above, was of no mood to correct the misperceptions of his subordinates. He also closed the door on me.

A couple weeks later, Sep. 23, 2010, Gallegos, Rider and Officer P. Cadena confronted MacQuigg when we went to the APS Communications office to review documents requested under the inspections of public records act, it was clear that they believed that MacQuigg was on the premises in violation of the contents of the Esquivel/Tellez letter. It was just as clear that none of them had read the letter or understood what it actually contained.

The biggest problem is that the APS Police Department, as a system, has exercised what looks like law enforcement, on its face, but in reality it is denying citizens their fundamental civil rights. MacQuigg has characterized them as a Praetorian Guard, designed to protect those who govern rather than those they are sworn to protect and serve, the citizens or those who are clients of the school system.

In addition to the right to act as the press, to observe, and report to our fellow citizens, on how government operates; our rights to speak, gather, associate, and petition government have been quashed. Instead of accommodating us, there is a systematic effort to deprive us of access to what are required by law to be open meetings and quick access to public records.
APS Communications Executive Director Monica Armenta, above, has on more than one occasion stated or written that the New Mexico State Police issue media credentials, implying that such credentials would be acceptable to her, but it's not true.

There is no government issued credential.

From the August 28th, 2009, updated New Mexico State Police News Media Guide:
Media Credentials
News outlets are encouraged to provide media credentials for their staff members covering incidents or events involving the State Police. Media credentials may be requested for access to an incident scene. During your on-scene investigation your cooperation is appreciated, in consideration of the many tasks and responsibilities placed on our personnel at the scene of an incident.

When I worked in the Albuquerque Police Department’s Public Information office of Police Chief Bob Stover, left, in 1979, I helped then PIO Robert Fenton, right, with whom I had worked in the early ‘70s at the Albuquerque News, in rewriting the media credentials section on press relations for the Department’s Standard Operating Procedures.

I convinced Fenton that government should not attempt to determine, define or classify who the press is.

The SOP has been updated and revised making police-press-citizen communication and observation more allowable.

The department now also allows personnel to disseminate factual information they have to the press within their direct knowledge. There are some legal and practical exceptions: when a senior officer or PIO is on scene to deal with the media, or the release of the names of victims may be withheld pending notification of next of kin.
The department’s rights of onlookers policy section prohibits officers from banning the press or any citizen from events of public interest and to allow recordings by photo, video or audio devices, except for a very few specific incidents. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

Officers sometimes choose to stretch the limits of the onlookers’ policy expanding their scene to exclude citizens from being able to watch them. Such officers are derelict in their duty.

Many officers have learned “Magic Words” that they use thinking they grant them power to disregard the citizens’ right to observe how their taxes are being expended. The first magic words, “Officer Safety,” officers will throw that phrase around as an excuse to exclude the watchful gaze of the public; the second magic words, "Public Safety." 

Armenta has used APS Police to escort her to her car and to shield her from television news crews when she decides not to answer their questions about breaking news or controversial issues.

When MacQuigg requests inspection of public records from APS, his inquiry seems to be run through a bureaucratic gauntlet based upon a tortured reading of the law.
We are usually met by APS Patrol/Transport Service Aides, Security Aide Merlinda Chavez, who signs us in, directs us to the Communications office, then calls APS Police headquarters, alerting  them of our presence. Usually ranking officers, who are in the building are dispatched to check on us.
During our most recent visit, Dec. 2, 2011, Lt. Karl Overmyer after MacQuigg had called Public Records Custodian Rigo Chavez that we were coming to collect copies. Overmyer, above right reflected in an elevator mirror, was at the front desk, escorted us to the office.
MacQuigg offered to open a prepaid account, like is done at many governmental records offices, such as the Albuquerque Police and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Departments centralized records center, for the convenience of lawyers, insurance adjusters and the likes.

The inspection of Public Records Act was updated to provide for a written response in the same technology as requested. by letter if requested by letter, Fax, if requested by fax, and electronically, if requested electronically.

The statutory cost of making a copy machine copies only applies to those physical copies. If the records requested are, or ever were in, an electronic form, then providing them via the internet or by fax has no statutory cost associated with it. The law prohibits research and administrative cost to be assessed to providing the records.

Rigo Chavez goes out of his way to avoid using available technology to attempt to force those seeking records the greatest inconvenience in an effort to dissuade them from making requests.

He rarely, if ever has delivered a record that is even immediately available to him even within the three-day response time. Chavez will acknowledge receipt of the request on the third working day and say he will deliver the document(s) within the 15 calendar days allowed by law.

MacQuigg filed a complaint through the SilentWhistle program, citing in part, reasons for not requiring physical presence to inspect the records requested:

... This insistence flies in the face of at least three legitimate contra-indicators, anyone of which compels his surrender of the documents under different conditions;
  1. If I show up at Chavez' office, it will count as showing up to APS Executive Director of Communications Monica Armenta's office. She has accused me of "showing up in her office everyday" and "stalking" her. I have no assurance from anyone that if I go to Chavez' office, Armenta will not continue to misconstrue the facts to try substantiate her slander and libel. In truth, I have never gone to Rigo Chavez' office except at his insistence.
  2. If I show up at Chavez' office, there is every likelihood that I will be harassed by the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department who are enforcing an illegal restraining order at the behest of Board Member Marty Esquivel. I have no assurance from anyone, that if I go to Chavez' office, APS' publicly funded, private police force (their Praetorian Guard) will not try to provoke a confrontation.
  3. If I show up at Chavez' office, it will aggravate disability that is recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Chavez is aware of the claim and insists that he has the authority to evaluate the extent of, and then deny, my disability....
The SilentWhistle program administrator responded:
Mr. Chavez has been directed to provide your public records request electronically. Thank you for using Ethical Advocate and for your patience in the receiving the delayed response. This issue is now closed.
However, Rigo Chavez has not complied with the directions of the SilentWhistle program administrator.

The history of APS public records custodian turning over all the documents requested is hardly stellar.

I am in possession of partial thread of communications that Armenta had with then Democratic Party of New Mexico’s Communications Director James Hallinan about the Aug. 19, 2010, APS Gubernatorial Education Debate, which were not surrendered.

There are several other requests for documents, which might prove embarrassing or problematic to the higher levels of the APS leadership that have not been released.

No comments: