LVCS, former volleyball coach battle over public records law

LVCS, former volleyball coach battle over public records law

From the Las Vegas Optic

Las Vegas City Schools has again violated the state’s public records law, according to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a nonprofit dedicated to government transparency.

The district was chided by the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General in late January for charging illegal fees for access to public records. Last week, district officials attempted to charge for photographs of documents taken during an in-person inspection of records, which according to Melanie Majors, the executive director of FOG, is a violation of state law.

“The Inspection of Public Records Act allows anyone to inspect a record without payment,” she said. “If an individual wants to take a picture on their phone of the record — or if it’s on a computer screen and they want to take a picture of that — there’s nothing in the Inspection of Public Records Act that prohibits that action.”

FOG last week notified the district and the AG’s office about the recent violation of IPRA. The violation happened Aug. 5 when former Robertson High School volleyball coach and physical education teacher Stacy Fulgenzi was told by district officials she wasn’t allowed to photograph documents she’d requested unless she paid $1 per photo.

LVCS officials told Fulgenzi the district’s lawyers had advised them they could charge for each photo taken, but according to Majors, state law has no such provision and an agency can only seek a fee when the requester of records wishes to take a physical copy with them. In such cases, the fee allowed — up to $1 per printed page — is meant to cover the actual cost of the document, such as the paper and toner used to print it.

Fulgenzi told the Optic that when she refused to pay the district’s fees, district officials called the police.

Las Vegas police responded to the district’s administrative building just before 3:30 p.m. Aug. 5 for reports of an “unwanted subject,” according to an LVPD call sheet report obtained by the Optic.

The caller told police dispatchers that Fulgenzi was refusing to leave the building; however, Fulgenzi was there because she had an appointment to inspect the records.

Police were there for a little over six minutes, no police report was filed, and no action was taken by the officers who noted in dispatch logs that no disturbance had taken place.

Fulgenzi also alleges that during a previous visit weeks earlier, a district employee prevented her from photographing documents by standing over her — without wearing a face mask required by current public health orders — and that the employee grabbed documents out of her hands.

LVCS Superintendent Larryssa Archuleta did not respond Monday to the Optic’s email or phone messages.

For months, Fulgenzi has been attempting to obtain public records from the district related to her abrupt dismissal, and she said each time she’s made a request, the district has responded by issuing dozens of pages of documents that don’t relate to her specific request.

“I didn’t even receive most of what I asked for,” she said. “Maybe 10 out of the 85 pages (in a recent request) are what I had asked for.”

The district has been seeking payment from Fulgenzi for each document provided, even if it didn’t relate to what she had requested.

In one IPRA request fulfillment, the district released 1,987 pages. In another, it provided 1,092 pages.

And until recently, the district had charged just 10 cents per printed page, but this summer, it raised the fee to $1.

In total, for requests dating back to February, the district is seeking more than $700 in fees from Fulgenzi, even though she said many of the documents are not relevant to the information she requested.

According to Majors, the district is violating state law by seeking these fees because Fulgenzi has requested that the documents be emailed to her, and under IPRA, if a document exists in an electronic format, it must be provided electronically at no fee. Majors said when an agency places these kinds of barriers between records and the public, it raises a lot of concerns.

“Why do they find it so difficult to comply with state law? And if they can’t comply with this state law, what other state laws are they ignoring?” Majors said. “Democracy can’t operate unless you have access to information, and what’s more basic than public records?”