On Friday, it was reported that two high-level employees at New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Division (CYFD) were fired for raising concerns over the Department encrypting and destroying public records.
According to Searchlight New Mexico, “over the past year, the CYFD used the secure text messaging app Signal to discuss a wide range of official business, including the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the care of children in state custody and concerns about private contractors. Department leadership then set many of those communications to automatically delete, rendering them forever inaccessible to attorneys, members of the public and journalists.”
“Searchlight also found that the Office of the Governor and the state’s Department of Information Technology supported the systematic deletion of messages, according to emails and policy guidance obtained through an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request.”
The Attorney General’s office is currently investigating CYFD’s use of Signal. New Mexico House Republicans asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to provide a report detailing “whether her office staff and/or cabinet level staff have been using data encryption and data dumping.”
Gov. Lujan Grisham’s press secretary Nora Sackett said the office recently conducted a refresher for staff on what counts as transitory, and that the governor takes transparency and open government “very seriously.”
After CYFD’s chief public information officer Cliff W. Gilmore raised concerns on April 22 over the use of the Signal app stating it was“detrimental to the credibility of and the public’s trust in government institutions and their leaders,” he was fired on May 6.
According to Gilmore, “At one point Secretary Blalock (pictured) told a group of roughly 30 of us staff members at a ‘leadership’ meeting that people who regularly submit IPRA requests would eventually find out we were using Signal and that, because when an IPRA request came in we would have to retain everything from that moment, we should set our Signal apps to 24-hour auto-delete.”
Gilmore’s wife, Debra Gilmore, who led CYFD’s Office of Children’s Rights, confirmed that she had also raised internal concerns about Signal. She was also fired May 6.
The Searchlight New Mexico report further notes, “Although the department ceased using the app on April 29, according to an agency press release, many CYFD employees continue to have active Signal accounts on their phones. Meanwhile, the department has switched to Microsoft Teams, a platform that offers the agency the same ability to encrypt and automatically delete messages.”
In response to the report, Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce decried the Department’s firings as “retaliation.”
“These employees knew that CYFD was breaking the law by destroying important documents that may have impacted the lives of foster kids and parents. This Department knows no bounds and continues its corrupt behavior and ignores the notion of government transparency. There are countless instances of child abuse and injury that center around the poor decisions at CYFD. This agency has no watchdog, and there’s no true oversight as far as what goes on behind the CYFD doors,” he added.