The director of a state public-records watchdog group as well as a teachers' union head are upset about the recent revelation that state employees and computers at the Public Education Department were used to compile lists of teachers and their email addresses for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's political director.
"This just goes to show that there are special rules for special people," Gwyneth Doland, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said Wednesday.
A May 2 letter, unearthed recently by a left-leaning political action committee, showed that Larry Behrens, spokesman for the state Public Education Department, emailed Martinez's political director, Jay McCleskey, with lists of teacher emails -- one that included all teacher emails listed on individual school sites and one with only the emails of teachers working at school districts without union contracts.
Behrens has said the email was in response to a request from McCleskey. That request was made verbally, Behrens said Tuesday. A McCleskey aide later formally requested mailing addresses for all teachers, but that request was denied by the department's records custodian.
On Wednesday, Behrens said, "I don't believe responding to requests is treating anyone special. It is part of my job."
Doland said it's frustrating for her group's members "to learn that a public employee went to such lengths to manipulate data and create new documents for political purposes when our members so regularly get their IPRA requests denied because [officials say] no such documents currently exist."
Behrens' email describes how the department's information technology staff was used to compile the emails from various school websites and that budget staff was used to cull out the teachers who work for districts with union contracts.
The fact that Behrens used his personal email to respond to McCleskey's request and used nongovernment emails to send it to top administration officials is "extremely disturbing because it violates the public's right to know," Doland said.
Those who received the email were Martinez's chief of staff, Keith Gardner, her spokesman, Scott Darnell, and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. Skandera used a personal email account to forward Behrens' email to the governor's campaign email address.
Behrens said Monday that using personal emails was "an oversight" and said he should have used his official state account. Asked why he included Gardner and the others in the email, he said, "I was simply informing them that the request was fulfilled. The same reason I CC'ed Scott [Darnell] on my response to your request [Monday].
Leaders of the American Federation of Teachers also were angered by the letter, which was obtained by Independent Source PAC, a group, led by Democratic opposition research specialist Mike Corwin that has been highly critical of Martinez and Skandera.
"It is evident that government resources including computers and staff were utilized to pull lists of educational employees for SusanaPAC," said the union's state President Stephanie Ly in a news release. "Using government resources to develop a targeted list for political purposes is a potential ethical violation."
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstien said in the same news release, "This was a questionable request with questionable intent and conducted in a questionable manner."
McCleskey responded Wednesday, "List development is a routine and ongoing practice done by political organizations on both sides of the aisle, including unions. To this day, we have never received a list that we could use and I fail to see how [the Public Education Department] denying our public records request for the list that we wanted amounts to special treatment. Union leaders do not want their members to hear the other side of the debate on education reform, so it is no surprise they are reacting this way."
Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.
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