On Friday, it was reported that Debra and Cliff Gilmore, two former high-ranking officials in embattled Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Children, Youth, and Families Department would be suing the state under whistleblower protection laws after they were fired following concerns over open records.
Their concerns while at the Department stemmed from the use of the “Signal” app, which automatically can delete messages, in direct conflict with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) law.
However, Lujan Grisham’s CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock disagrees, claiming that the messages count as “transitory” and can be deleted. According to the Associated Press, “He has said that the move to the free, encrypted app was a cheap and safe way to switch sensitive communications online when the pandemic hit.”
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.”
Since the public’s outcry over the Department’s use of Signal, it dropped the use of the application.
“While CYFD appreciates the opportunity to clarify misinformation, CYFD cannot discuss personal personnel matters or threatened litigation,” said acting spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst.
The lawsuit will put immediate pressure on Lujan Grisham’s administration, which has instituted automatic 24-hour message deletion across all departments through the Microsoft Teams app, which has also sparked controversy.
According to documents obtained exclusively by the Piñon Post through an open records request, a state government employee asked the Department of Information Technology’s Renee Narvaiz “Have your oversight folks reviewed this for open government issues?” After asking the Department’s general counsel, Olga Serafimova, she replied to the government employee, writing, “Thank you for your question. The answer is yes, this was reviewed.”
The 24-hour deletion policy via Teams appears to also violate New Mexico’s IPRA laws, since the supposed “transitory” communications may regard information that should be available for the public to obtain.