State Auditor Tim Keller has been using a Gmail account to conduct at least some public business, two newspapers are reporting.
The account was set up after Keller was elected in November but before he took office, a Keller spokeswoman was quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying. Keller has continued to use it for government business since he officially took office on Jan. 1.
State law allows government officials to use private email accounts for public business. But they must maintain and release those emails in response to public records requests as they would emails hosted on government servers.
That doesn’t mean using private email is a good idea. The N.M. Foundation for Open Government has concerns about Keller’s gmail account.
“For purposes of transparency, all government agencies should only use public email accounts to conduct public business,” FOG President Greg Williams, an Albuquerque attorney, was quoted by the Journal as saying. Not doing so “increases the likelihood that public records requests won’t be complied with and contributes to confusion,” he said.
The state Republican Party is also criticizing use of the private account by Keller, a Democrat. The GOP learned about the situation when the Auditor’s Office handed over some of Keller’s Gmail messages in response to its records request.
“Tim Keller’s obvious disregard for the law and transparent government is the epitome of hypocrisy,” The Santa Fe New Mexican quoted GOP spokesman Patrick Garrett as saying. “He preaches government ethics but ignores the actions of his own office.”
Keller’s spokeswoman, Justine Freeman, defended the use of the Gmail account —[email protected] — in a statement to The Santa Fe New Mexican. “It is not a ‘private’ email account in the sense of being a personal account or exempt from public disclosure,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
Freeman took a shot at Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in statements to both newspapers. Martinez and staffers were using private email to conduct government business early in her administration, before, under immense public pressure, she ordered a stop to the practice.
“The Governor’s Office used private email accounts because they were attempting to conduct official business ‘off the radar,’” Freeman said. “With the Auditor Gmail account, we always considered it official and public.”
Democrats and Republicans have been engaging in a war of words ever since Keller announced in July that his office may have found wrongdoing by Demesia Padilla, Martinez’s Taxation and Revenue Department secretary. The situation relates to Padilla’s handling of a government audit of a business that was her personal client before she became secretary.
Keller has asked the attorney general to investigate. Padilla has denied wrongdoing.