In August 2013, the Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico In Depth newspapers filed a lawsuit demanding the public release of an audit by The New Mexico Human Services Department. That department shut down 15 separate health providers in New Mexico saying they found “credible allegations of fraud."
Heath Haussamen of New Mexico In Depth led an effort to get the audit released to find out exactly what they did wrong.
"A couple of attorney generals' office staffers came and testified about how they thought releasing the audit would hamper their criminal investigation and we don't agree," said Haussamen.
He says after repeated attempts to get the results released, he decided to team up with the Las Cruces Sun-News on a lawsuit.
"There was not a process for seeking recourse other than suing when your request for a public record - or record you assert is public - is denied," said Haussamen.
Walt Rubel is the regional page editor for the Las Cruces Sun-News. Rubel has been in Las Cruces more than a decade working as a journalist.
"I know through long history that…the only way meetings acts is you have to be willing to go to court and stand up for those rights," said Rubel.
The services like drug treatment and suicide counseling that the organizations were providing for about 30,000 New Mexicans is what Haussamen says he's really never seen before -- such a direct impact on citizens. "Some of the most fragile people in our state dealing with mental illness or, you know, suicide or all sorts of things where…a lot of these people need a really high level of care," said Haussamen.
Haussamen and Rubel joined New Mexico Sen. Mary Kay Papen at the Zuhl Library at NMSU to discuss their thoughts on open government with the community.
Sen. Papen knows someone in her own family who suffers from mental illness.
Her oldest grandson has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"So we sent through all of the systems that we could think of," said Sen. Papen.
She says they tried New Mexico's mental health services, but eventually treated him in San Diego.
"We don't have the kinds of facilities in New Mexico that they have in California. They make sure that they're going to their programs…and so I think that for about 8 months, he's just been tracking just beautifully," said Sen. Papen.
She says she plans to try to introduce legislation in the next session including apportioning funds, but she says that money has to be spent correctly and that will depend on the state departments in charge.
"Well i think for one thing, we need to clean this mess up…get to the bottom of the mess and where this is because I think that way then it will bring more people to the table," said Sen. Papen.
An Arizona company eventually took control of the 15 organizations. The judge ruled in favor of the state, saying the law allowed them to keep the records sealed. After that, Attorney Gen. Gary King released a partial section of the findings for The Counseling Center in Alamogordo.
Haussamen found, among other things, two charts that contradicted each other. One shows the center as compliant. Another has it grouped in a non-compliant section.
Sen. Papen says if anything is going to change and if people like her grandson are going to be helped in New Mexico, people will have to start cleaning up their act.
"Start behind like professional adults and doing it right and not hurting the people," said Sen. Papen.
Haussamen and Rubel think one way to do that is to make sure everyone knows exactly what their government is doing.
"So the people can understand exactly what the people and the actions that their government took in this case and decide whether they think it's justified and then act accordingly as citizens," said Haussamen.
"We just want to see what's in that audit," said Rubel.