Curry County should produce jail documents

Freedom New Mexico

Look who’s conducting public business in the dark again: Curry County.

Long known for spending taxpayer dollars to keep citizens from finding out how their tax money is being spent, this time county officials are trying to hide a report that could tell us all how eight violent inmates — four of whom were still at large on Saturday afternoon — escaped from the Curry County jail on Aug. 24.

County Manager Lance Pyle declared late last week an independent assessment of the jail facilities is protected by “attorney-client privilege” because it was presented to County Attorney Steve Doerr.

This reasoning is a real head-scratcher, both for the swiss-cheese logic it exhibits and for what Pyle did not say:

• He did not say he won’t release the report because it contains information that might jeopardize the safety of detention-center officers.

• He did not claim the report might result in more escapes if its contents were revealed publicly.

• He did not say he needs time to review the report before its release.

No, Pyle claims the document is confidential because of attorney-client privilege since it went to the county’s attorney — the same man who works for the clients of the county, which means all the county residents, not just the elected and appointed officials who were embarrassed by the shoddy, ongoing public protection shortcomings of its jail administrators and officers.

Curry County’s failure to disclose the document is not surprising.

In 2004 this same public entity refused to release the public payroll records for county employees. The newspaper filed a lawsuit that forced that disclosure and the county had to pay the county attorney about $6,000 to argue its case for secrecy.

And in 2002, Curry County refused to release documents related to the death of a jail inmate and gave up that information only when the News Journal presented it with a copy of the lawsuit we planned to file.

We don’t know if the county lawyer got additional tax dollars to keep taxpayers from finding out what happened in that case, but we did find out the inmate’s family ultimately settled for $120,000.

So none of us should be completely surprised at this latest act of county arrogance over another obvious public records case.

What we can’t lose sight of is that jail assessment likely contains findings embarrassing to county officials. But it may also contain information to prevent future jail escapes.

We — the county officials’ bosses — need to know this so we can demand they make proper changes, quickly, to establish better public safety in Curry County.

Twisted logic uttered in the guise of attorney-client privilege is nothing more than disdainful nose-thumbing.

Curry County needs to release this document to the people who own it — the citizens of Curry County.