Transparency In Local Government

Los Alamos


I don’t think anyone has ever accused Los Alamos County of particularly excelling in the realm of transparency. And yet, recent incidents lead me to worry that we’re moving ever-backward on this front.

I’m currently awaiting the results of an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request I submitted 30 days ago. And the county has missed the deadline. They think they might have things for me next week, well over the legal limit of 15 calendar days. This situation is especially concerning because of the pattern of similar and even more egregious actions surrounding IPRA requests I’ve witnessed in the past two years. 

And at a time when discussions of permits, including those highly relevant to ongoing council matters, consume local press and discussion pages, the Community Development Department’s public-facing self-service portal, where members of the community would normally be able to pull up all permits and associated documents is down. Their site was presenting an error code that implies a not-terribly-difficult fix, and now, just takes you to a blank page. It remains down in perpetuity with no disclosed information on it when it will be fixed. 

At this time, residents must file IPRA requests for CDD records and wait extended periods of time for what was and should be automatic. But I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that when I requested a CDD record through IPRA, last year, a CDD official altered the record after my request and only supplied the altered portion until I proved what he had done. The county concedes that he altered the record in the Human Resources report on the matter. 

And notably, the most recent communication I received from the county on IPRA requests indicates that they’ve adopted a new policy of deleting IPRA share folders —  at a time when online storage is virtually free — after 14 days. And while individuals can download files from the share folder, this makes it much more difficult to go back and see what records were provided by the county when. This is important in being able to identify IPRA violations. 

So, residents of this county are no longer able to easily view information on the status of buildings in town. And if they file IPRAs, they may or may not get them in a few weeks. And they may or may not get accurate files since the RIM Office doesn’t have direct access to many CDD files. And the records of what they are actually given and when will be deleted shortly after. I’m certain I’m not alone in finding this to be an unacceptable set of circumstances.

And none of this is helped by recent actions of the County Council, including 1) an item on the consent agenda* that purported to represent the wishes of the schools without any actual vote by the duly elected School Board members, and 2) heavy reliance on what a public comment deemed “phantom constituents.” In the latter, Councilors chose to ignore public comment universally against their position by claiming that they’ve heard from “many more people” in support of their position, but conveniently not on the record.

The County must do better, be better, and at least be transparent with the community. 

Transparency is an issue consistently raised by the community and claimed as a priority by this Council. Why, at this point, isn’t there a county transparency board to liaise with the RIM Office and with the Council on how to improve transparency in the county and how to restore the trust so many have lost in our local government’s ability to conduct itself above board?

This issue isn’t going away.