By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
Why Winston Brooks stepped down as superintendent of New Mexico’s largest school district remains a mystery.
The custodian of records at Albuquerque Public Schools turned back Tuesday the initial part of a request filed separately from New Mexico Watchdog and the New Mexico Foundation of Open Government to obtain details about the $350,000 taxpayer-funded buyout the school district worked out for Brooks.
APS hired a law firm to conduct an investigation into what the school board described only as a “serious personnel issue” concerning Brooks that led to the settlement.
Responding to Inspection of Public Records Act requests from New Mexico Watchdog and NMFOG, APS records custodian Rigo Chavez said APS Board of Education President Analee Maestas was approached about disclosing more details and “responded that the only investigation conducted by the Butt Thornton and Baehr law firm involves a personnel matter. Therefore, your request is denied.”
Lawyer-client privilege was also cited.
Chavez said APS is still looking into New Mexico Watchdog and NMFOG requests to see emails and documents regarding Brooks, his wife Ann Brooks and any communications with school board members regarding the investigation and subsequent agreement.
“I have asked the APS Board of Education Office and the APS Information Technology Department for any communications and will let you know within the 15 days allowed by the Act of any documents located,” Chavez said in the email to New Mexico Watchdog.
After Brooks turned in his resignation Aug. 15, the only comment from the school board came from Maestas, who restricted her comments to saying that “both (Brooks and the board) agree that this decision is the best option for APS at this time.”
Furthermore, the agreement said the investigation into the “serious personnel issue” will be kept “in a file separate from Brooks’ personnel file, and it shall not be released to anyone.”
Susan Boe, executive director at NMFOG, reiterated Wednesday her organization’s opinion that information about Brooks settlement should be made public.
“FOG believes there is information in that report that is factual in nature and is not exempt” under the personnel exemption in the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, Boe said.
In addition, Ann Brooks is mentioned a number of times in the settlement agreement. But Ann Brooks is not an employee of APS.
“Clearly she does not fall under the personnel exemption,” Boe said.
Click here to read the Brooks’ resignation and settlement agreement with the school board.