Hall: State doesn’t take its advice to buy local

Loretta Hall
Loretta Hall

In a recent column, I encouraged New Mexicans to spend their summer vacations near home, enjoying the wonderful sites and events our own state has to offer. It’s an inexpensive way to travel, and it helps local economies by keeping New Mexico money in New Mexico.

With this idea in mind, I was both amused and distressed to read two recent news reports that appeared together. One headline read, “Tourism Dept. Creates NM True Fest for Labor Day.” The state Tourism Department is organizing an event at the state fairgrounds on Sept. 3 and 4 where local food and beverage producers, artists and artisans, entertainers, and other businesses can display their products and services.

Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham said the event “connects people to the products that are made, grown or born and raised in our own backyard.”

Right on!

An adjacent story, headlined “NM Tourism Website Undergoes Makeover,” tempered my enthusiasm. The same Tourism Department contracted with a Tucson-based company to overhaul the website. Is there no website developer in New Mexico capable of doing that?

This struck a nerve. Our state government consistently promotes “buy local” but often doesn’t practice it.

I started wondering how many other government contracts are awarded to out-of-state companies when in-state providers might be available. An internet search brought me to the New Mexico Sunshine Portal website. After a few false starts, I was able to find a list of purchases that identified the vendors. But without doing a separate internet search on each individual vendor, I could not tell which were in state, and which were out of state.

The New Mexico In Depth news website listed the provisions of a bill passed in the 2015 legislative session and signed by the governor. It requires that by Jan. 1, 2016, the state’s Sunshine Portal website contain specific information about state contracts, including access to a copy of the contract document, and access to a copy of “a resident business, resident veteran business, resident contractor and resident veteran contractor certification used in the award of a contract.”

I could not find that information on the website. If it really is there, it’s too difficult to find.

In early 2015, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, gave New Mexico a C+ grade for online access to government spending data. In this year’s PIRG study, New Mexico moved up from 35th place to 31st, but its score remained unchanged at 77 out of 100, still a C+.

This year, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, known as FOG, audited 122 state agencies' and boards’ compliance with requests under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA.

The results were mixed. Most state agencies responded to public records requests within the 15 days required by law, and some that took longer requested extensions allowed by law.

However, eight state agencies or boards did not respond at all to records requests, although three did respond after the FOG report was published. Some responses were more burdensome than necessary. For example, FOG reported that a few public bodies required the request to be resubmitted on “the state’s ‘official’ IPRA forms even though the statute does not prescribe a format for requests.”

Our state government should not tell New Mexicans to “do as I say, not as I do.” We should all try to buy local, and we should be able to see that our public employees follow that advice, too.