NM Attorney General: Spaceport America Officials Violated State Records Law

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

There has finally been some vindication of NMPolitics.net’s efforts to investigate what’s been going on at Spaceport America.

The N.M. Spaceport Authority violated an open government law several times in its responses to NMPolitics.net’s efforts to investigate Spaceport America in 2017, the state attorney general’s office has determined.

But on perhaps the central transparency question in NMPolitics.net’s complaints to the AG’s office — whether the Spaceport Authority broke the law by refusing to reveal how much money some customers are paying to use the spaceport — the AG’s office punted on taking a definitive stand, even as it expressed skepticism that the agency had acted appropriately.

Assistant Attorney General Dylan K. Lange identified four violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) in the determination letter released Thursday:

  • Failing to respond to a records request in the time the law requires.
  • Citing the wrong exemption to redact information from public records.
  • Charging unauthorized fees for copies of public records.
  • Refusing to release a list of Twitter accounts the agency had blocked from seeing or responding to its tweets.

The AG’s office sent Lange’s letter to the Spaceport Authority’s attorney, Melissa K. Force, and to NMPolitics.net editor and publisher Heath Haussamen, who filed the complaints against the spaceport in September 2017.

The sad part is that it took almost a year to get a resolution of this dispute. Government agencies have an obligation to the people they serve, especially when it involves a spaceport built with about $225 million in public funding. The people who run them shouldn’t be allowed to evade their responsibilities.

The people Sierra and Dona Ana counties, which are relatively poor, voted to tax themselves to pay for a spaceport that promised great economic benefits. Spaceport America has fallen way short of those promises.

The spaceport has been run by officials who don’t seem to understand their obligations to the people or their responsibilities under the law. Yes, the situation at the spaceport is embarrassing. Releasing documents does give ammunition to people who think the project is a giant boondoggle.

But, it ultimately doesn’t matter. This is your job. The people paid for the spaceport. You work for them. Hiding the truth from them is wrong.