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Child welfare workers file whistleblower suit in New Mexico

June 25, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two former officials with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department are suing the state under whistleblower protection laws.

Debra and Cliff Gilmore announced the lawsuit Thursday after filing it with a state district court earlier this week. It’s the latest fallout from the use of the Signal messaging app by the Children, Youth, and Family Department.

The couple moved to New Mexico last year to take high-ranking posts; she led the Office of Children’s Rights and he was the top spokesman.

The couple have said before that they were fired only months later after raising issues, including concerns that a Signal feature that automatically deleted messages ran afoul of state record retention laws. Debra Gilmore said she also raised concerns over a massive software upgrade she consulted on.

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The lawsuit for the first time claims that their firings are covered by whistleblower protection laws set to prevent employees from being sacked for raising legal or ethical concerns. They believe that the use of self-deleting messages violated open records laws.

CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock has disagreed, arguing that the messages count as “transitory” and can be deleted. He has said that the move to the free, encrypted app was a cheap and safe way to switch sensitive communications online when the pandemic hit.

The agency eventually dropped the use of the Signal app altogether citing concerns from the public.

The lawsuit also accuses the highest ranks of Children, Youth and Families Department leadership including Blalock of pressuring Cliff Gilmore to advance a specific job candidate at an intermediary stage of the hiring process.

“While CYFD appreciates the opportunity to clarify misinformation, CYFD cannot discuss personal personnel matters or threatened litigation,” said acting spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst.

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This story has been corrected to accurately spell Debra.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.