Making requests for public records and keeping up with public meetings can be a lonely pursuit.
The process to retrieve public records can be frustrating as requested information is denied or only trickles out one document at the time. It’s a lost art and at times can exasperate the most seasoned requester.
It is also extremely interesting to see how our government operates from behind the scenes. It is the best way to keep an eye on what our public servants are doing and how they are spending our hard earned money. It is a passion that more people should participate in and a skill that is easily learned by reading the “Sunshine Laws” in your state.
Albuquerque resident Charles Arasim doesn’t think of himself as an activist but he does like to keep an eye on what the government is doing. Arasim has been involved in making public records requests and attending public meetings since 2010 after receiving a fraudulent ticket from Albuquerque police.
Arasim says that he has always felt it proper to question authority but after receiving that ticket and enduring a disappointing experience with the previous Police Oversight Committee, he made “keeping an eye” on the Albuquerque political machine a priority. He says it’s a duty he feels as an American because, “Freedom isn’t free.”
His pursuit for transparency in government focuses mostly on police accountability, which includes following Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission and City Employee Disciplinary hearings as well as the Albuquerque City Council meetings. He has made an impact to the transparency in Albuquerque government using the New Mexico Public Records laws to force the release of public records that would, without him, may have never have seen the light of day.
His attention to the details of the New Mexico Inspections of Public Records Act (IPRA) and the New Mexico Open Meetings act (OMA) have been frustrating for the public servants he keeps an eye on, as they try every strategy in their playbook to block his efforts and hide their actions. Arasim is undeterred.
Attending the former Police Oversight Commission meetings allowed Arasim to meet the family members of victims of the systematic police violence in Albuquerque, whose police department is currently under a consent decree reached in a settlement with the US Justice Department in June.
He began to network with people like Ken Ellis, whose son was killed by APD in 2010 and Mike Gomez, whose son Allen, was killed by APD in 2011. He says he would watch, in meeting after meeting, the family members of those victims of police misconduct and violence, continue to be ignored each time they tried to address either public body.
Arasim’s drive to fight for transparency within the Albuquerque government has led to involvement in a successful lawsuit for violations of his First Amendment right to free speech, to testimony before the United States Justice Department, who refers to him as a “Community Advocate.”
Most recently he filed complaints with the New Mexico Attorney General for the continued violations of New Mexico OMA and the IPRA by the Employee Disciplinary Board whose hearings he regularly attends and records.
Arasim’s complaint to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office addresses the Albuquerque Independent Hearing Officer’s refusal to allow the public disciplinary hearings to be video recorded.
As you can see in the video below, Arasim was ordered to leave these hearings when he refused to stop video recording, even though the New Mexico OMA is clear that video recording a public meeting is within the rights of those in attendance. Hearing officer Willard Davis wanted recording banned from the hearing, claiming it was ultimately his decision whether to allow recording.
Arasim is waiting for a final decision from the AG’s office. For now, Hearing officer Pat Bingham has postponed all disciplinary hearings including that of Jeremy Dear. Dear, who shot and killed Mary Hawkes in April 2014, was fired in December 2014 for “insubordination and untruthfulness” and has appealed his termination.
Arasim says he will continue to keep a watchful eye over the City of Albuquerque and it’s embattled police department. He says he has learned many things from making these public record request and attending public meetings. He wants more people to join him in holding our government accountable. He says there are three easy steps you should if you would like to get started:
- Learn about New Mexico IPRA and OMA law here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUxgBR2FSSo.
- Don’t take no for an answer. Most New Mexico Government record keepers have no idea what they are doing. http://www.freeabq.com/?p=2027
- If they don’t give you what you know is a public record, file a tort claim within 90 days and hand over a complaint to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office. You then have two years to bring a lawsuit and the reward to you tics off on the clock at $100.00/day.
Arasim is looking for real change and his goal is to see this embattled department dismantled and reconstructed from the ground up. He’s getting closer everyday.