Written by Olivia Romo, NMAA Staff
Acequias and land grants are prominent public bodies that demonstrate a history of good record keeping practices. Today, secretaries and other officers possess maps, membership lists, bylaws, and financial records that go back hundreds of years. These repositories are a beautiful testimony of how local governments like acequias are serious about preserving the acequia system for future generations. Maintaining records is only part of the preservation efforts. Community access to records not only provides a healthy, transparent system of governance; it also provides a concrete link to prior generations of acequieros.
For those of you who are new to acequia governance, community ditches are political sub-divisions of the state and must comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), Sections 14-2-1 to 14-2-12, NMSA 1978. The IPRA ensures that citizens have access to public records, including acequia records and documents. For additional information, you can contact NMAA or access the New Mexico Attorney General’s Inspection of Public Records Act Compliance Guide at http://www.nmag.gov/consumer/publications/inspectionofpublicrecordsactcomplianceguide2009
Recording keeping is one of the essential aspects of operating an efficient acequia. While managing water distribution is often the primary role of acequias, maintaining records is necessary to keep the association afloat. Here are some tangible tips for good record keeping:
1.Choose a Good Record Keeping Tool: Acequias have kept a historic ledger that captures the activity within the acequia and tracks workers, assessments, and delinquencies over years of operation. Find a tool that is accessible and user friendly like a written ledger, Excel, or QuickBooks depending on the professional experience of your commissioners. All are sufficient if you can quickly generate a report for your upcoming meeting, complete your Tier certification with the Office of the State Auditor, or manage an infrastructure improvement plan.
2.Keeping the Right Records: There are a few different types of records for acequias that are important to the institutional memory of the association and documents required by state law. Here is a list of just a few of the records that should be preserved and organized so that when they are needed, they are easily accessible: minutes of meetings, bylaws, budgets, bank statements, contract agreements, Infrastructure Improvement Plans (ICIP), membership lists, water right declarations, and hydrographic surveys and maps
3. Give Your Records a Home: Many times new commissioners will inherit filing boxes filled with acequia records. It is always important to keep your records safe and protected from the elements. Consider purchasing a filing cabinet or other durable storage container that can be passed on from one commissioner to the next during periods of transition. Acequias may consider asking local organizations or partners – like irrigation districts – if they would be willing to provide a more permanent home to older acequia records.
Now that you have good record keeping skills here is what to expect if your acequia receives an Inspection of Public Records Request:
- The request should go to the commissioner, usually the Secretary, who has custody of the record requested.
- The IPRA only apply to written record requests. If the acequia receives a verbal request, the acequia should still provide inspection of the records but will not be held to the timelines and other provisions in the IPRA.
- The request must include the name, address, and telephone number of the requestor, and identify the records sought with enough specificity to allow the custodian to identify and find them. No reason for inspection is necessary.
- The custodian must respond to the request in the same medium it is made. If the request is mailed, respond by mail. If the request is e-mailed, respond by e-mail.
- Within 3 days of receiving the request, the custodian must permit inspection or explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection or when the acequia will respond.
- Within 15 days of receiving the request, the custodian must permit inspection or provide written notification that additional time is needed to respond. Additional time is only allowed if the request is “excessively burdensome or broad”. Otherwise, a request not granted within 15 days will be deemed denied. The requestor can then pursue remedies authorized by IPRA, including damages.
- To grant the request, redact protected information from the document(s). If you have a question about what information is “protected information” or exemptions from disclosure, please call NMAA. The exceptions are few. Some examples of protected information that the acequia may have in its custody include attorney-client communications and some “protected personal identifier information” which includes taxpayer identification numbers, driver license numbers and financial account numbers. For the latter, the last digits may not be redacted.
- Allow on-site inspection if requested. Provide electronic documents if requested and they already exist. Provide paper copies if requested. You can charge up to $1.00 per page of paper copying and the actual costs of downloading and/or transmitting electronic or paper copies by mail, e-mail, or fax. You can require advance payment before making copies and must provide a receipt upon request.
If your acequia has any questions about IPRA or needs a treasurer worksheet to more effectively manage your financial records, please call NMAA for further assistance (505) 995-9644 or lasacequias.org