The city of Santa Fe was implored to comply with a public records request seeking documentation surrounding the removal of the Don Diego De Vargas statue in a recent letter sent by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The letter references a February Inspection of Public Records Request made by former Santa Fe Fiesta President Melissa Mascareñas, seeking “any and all documents showing payment to the contractor for services rendered involving the removal and storage of the DeVargas statue.”
In the letter, sent by Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp, the Attorney General’s Office states it does not agree with the city’s “hyper-technical interpretation” of the request and recommended the city provide Mascareñas the documentation it had on hand when the request was made.
The Don Diego De Vargas statue was removed from its pedestal on the Santa Fe Plaza in June 2020 for “safekeeping” by Mayor Alan Webber, but, in February, the statue was found in the backyard of the contractor who removed it.
Webber stated publicly he believed the statue was being stored at a city facility and was misled by city staff, but former parks director John Muñoz said Webber knew of the statue’s destination and was “scapegoating” city employees.
Mascareñas said she was interested in when purchase documents were submitted and whether it was before Webber signed an emergency proclamation calling for the statue’s removal.
“I want to know how much they paid for the vendor to be there in the dead of night to yank de Vargas off that pedestal,” Mascareñas said.
According to the letter, the city responded to Mascareñas’ request on March 8, starting it failed to identify any applicable records and considered the matter closed.
The Attorney General’s Office got involved, but the city again stated it did not have any applicable records.
The city later clarified that while it did have an invoice for payment in its possession when Mascarena’s submitted her request, it didn’t pay the contractor until March 23.
The city argued because it had no records “showing payment,” per Mascareñas’ request, it did not have to provide the invoice, which the Attorney General’s Office considered “narrowly defined.”
“If it has not done so already, we recommend that the City provide Ms. Mascareñas the payment invoice that it held on the day it received her records request,” the letter reads. “Even if the City’s quite narrow interpretation of her request was plausible from a strictly grammatical perspective, we think that it was not the most reasonable interpretation and, in any case, clearly not a best practice.”
The Attorney General’s Office suggested the city take a “more inclusive approach” to interpreting public records requests in the future.
City spokesman Dave Herndon wrote in an email the city has fulfilled the records request as recommended by the Attorney General’s Office, including proof of payment for the removal of the statue in June 2020.
He also wrote the statue is being stored “in a safe city facility.”
But Mascareñas said she has since received documents showing the city relocated the De Vargas statue to a city facility but nothing for the statue’s June 2020 removal.
A review of the invoice does show a request to relocate the statue to a city facility on Feb. 24.
She said she has also submitted a complaint to the state’s Auditor’s Office.
Mascareñas’ determination is the second IPRA dust-up between the Attorney General’s Office and the city in recent days. The Attorney General’s Office also found in June the city potentially improperly responded to a pay stub request by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Elections.