After Española Mayor Javier Sanchez announced the resignation of the city government’s chief records custodian over transparency issues, she said the problem is not with her old office, but with the Española Police Department.
“The problems I’ve experienced unfortunately have stemmed from the Police Department,” former city clerk Anna Squires said. “With everything that comes up, it challenges mechanisms to create effective change. Employees overall in the past, providing public documents, employees that work with public funds, those are public monies that pay for public records. It’s a very simple formula to understand, but it’s not always understood.”
Sanchez said in a Monday interview he has been meeting weekly with Police Chief Louis Carlos and “others who handle records” about transferring records between different departments of the city government.
“So we can figure out to get that information to the right people, so we have one unified voice when it comes to whenever we provide the information, or if we feel at some point in the future, we can provide it, so that comes from the Clerk’s Office,” he said.
Sanchez announced Squires’ resignation, May 26, in a letter to city councilors, along with the termination of City Attorney Frank Coppler, as part of an effort to provide greater transparency and accountability from city officials.
Sanchez emphasized the need for “swift action” to ensure “fast accountability, better answers, and quicker response times to the information requested from its citizens and the media.”
The letter was released two days after the Rio Grande SUN published a story about two Española Police Department sergeants being the targets of two separate internal affairs investigations.
In the story, Carlos declined to discuss the allegations that made the investigations necessary, even though the documents that would disclose the allegations are public record.
Squires was quoted in the story as saying there is some conflict about providing records related to the investigations to the SUN because City Manager Kelly Duran said they do not have to be disclosed.
The requests for the target letters, which would list the allegations against the officers, have been pending since May 18.
In an email that accompanied the letter, Sanchez wrote that Squires’ successor and a new city attorney would be in charge with fulfilling all requests for data from the city government.
“Our goal is to accurately retrieve ALL public information, provide it to those who request it, and catalog it without undue time constraints,” he wrote.
‘A cultural shift’
Sanchez previously said one of the things he wants to concentrate on is “the transfer of data from one department to another, from those departments to the records keeper, and to the people who are requesting it.”
However, he would not name which departments that were causing problems with transferring records.
“I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus for past practices, but trying to find a better solution for key issues I found, perhaps we were behind on,” he said. “We need to become dispassionate with data and information. As human beings, we tend to covet information and data and think of it as highly protected, when in the end, most of it belongs to the public. It’s a cultural shift and change we need to overcome.”
Later, in a May 31 interview, Squires said the lack of access to public records stems from former Española Police Department leaders.
“There’s a different weight on the city clerk’s shoulders, among other duties to follow through with, when you have such a quick changing of the guard when it comes to chief administrators, like chief of police,” she said. “It’s been problems I’ve had, have not been from other departments. Unfortunately, it’s come from the Police Department, not Francisco Galvan, either.”
Galvan is the records supervisor for the Department.
Previously, he wrote an email to interim city clerk Melissa Velasquez about police records that was cited in an ongoing lawsuit against the city for allegedly withholding records of police misconduct.
“Per Chief Raymond Romero, there will be no documents regarding personnel matters to include but not limited to background investigations or internal affairs provided in response to this IPRA request,” he wrote in the Oct. 20 email.
Romero led the Police Department until Sanchez removed him on March 15. At the time, Sanchez said he decided to fire Romero because he wants to provide “citizens with utmost clarity and openness.”
Violations predate Sanchez
Squires said the problems date back to more than two years ago, during the Alice Lucero administration. Since then, there have been six police chiefs picked to lead the Department, either in interim or permanent positions, including Carlos.
On June 11, when asked how Coppler and Squires no longer being city employees solves the transparency issues, Sanchez said any time an employee leaves an organization, it provides the opportunity for those who remain to rethink how they do things.
“Perhaps we are looking for a fresh start to be able to implement this change that will require a change of culture, as well,” he said. “I don’t know whether things were hidden purposely in the past. I don’t know if one department was better than one or the other.”
Squires said she is currently on administrative leave while she helps Velasquez, who was ratified as interim city clerk by the city council on May 29.
Coppler has offered Squires a job at his law firm, Squires said.
“Until there is reorganization that’s developed, until a mechanism in place, whether deeming Francisco Galvan as chief custodian of records, or not, everybody working to provide what they can provide, and allowing the custodian of records to disburse those, it’s gonna be problematic for the person who has that role,” she said.
She also pointed out that with more than 170 city employees receiving and creating records every day, there is only one full-time information technology employee.
“We need to our include our IT department as well,” Sanchez said. “We have been responding to IPRA requests via email, and emails get lost, or show up at the bottom of your list of things to do. ... I think there are perhaps some missing links, the arms that bring information from one department to the other.”