The Rio Grande SUN’s sweeping win in its writ of mandamus against Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative could have far-reaching effects on co-ops statewide.
Ignoring several requests for two months and threatening prohibitive copy costs forced us to take legal action against the Co-op. It’s always baffling what the Co-op fears in releasing documents that District Court Judge Jason Lidyard said many times should be freely available to Co-op members to inspect, without charge.
The Board majority insists it runs a tight ship. Everything is on the up and up and they have nothing to hide. Then why is it impossible for a member to look at the Co-op’s books without hiring a lawyer or bringing a fat checkbook?
Our fight over board books, financial statements, lobbying contracts and invoices was a totally unnecessary waste of the court’s time. After all the documents are filed, we’ll find out how much it cost Co-op members to fight a battle they knew they’d lost as soon as the writ was filed.
We have played the request and deny game with the Co-op for years. Unfortunately, as the SUN goes through document and meeting request battles with public entities, we have to carefully select which ones merit legal action. Jemez’s abhorrent behavior came bubbling to the top of the slimy bad actors pool after we finished educating New Mexico State Police, who by the way, are currently model citizens in the open records realm.
Lidyard made it abundantly clear that members may inspect documents that are pertinent to the Co-op’s operations. That is a wide array of documents, beginning with financial information, complete budgets, performance against those budgets and the board books.
On the other end of knowing how the Co-op operates are the invoices, or how it pays its bills, our bills. Our regular readers are quite accustomed to seeing voucher reports for Rio Arriba County, Española School District and the city of Española. None of the entities have a problem producing these documents on a routine basis. The County posts them online.
A request for a year’s worth of invoices from the Co-op was narrowed to one month. Even that was too much for the Co-op. The song and dance they tried to sell to Lidyard did not get past him.
According to Co-op staff it’s a long, laborious task that takes two people two days to complete. Lidyard in short order said the Co-op’s archaic process of storing documents is not the members’ problem, it’s the Co-op’s.
Lidyard also didn’t buy the choreographed acts about redaction and protecting people’s personal information. Talk about archaic, the Co-op will redact any information that would name someone as a member of the Co-op. It’s pretty clear everyone in Española, the southern part of Rio Arriba County and the north part of Santa Fe County are members. If your lights are on, you’re a member. You have to wonder about the logic on that issue.
We’re not sure who will end up being the records custodian for the Co-op. That hat changed many times during the brief period we sought to settle the writ. Whomever ends up under that hat, give them a call or send them an email. You can’t go see them because of the pandemic.
But ask to inspect the records you’re entitled to. Tell them you don’t want a copy and aren’t paying for a copy. Tell them Judge Lidyard said so.