NON-RESPONSE TO WITHHOLDING PUBLIC DOCUMENTS
by Elliott Stonecipher
For those who missed my report last week on this subject, here is a link to that article.
The short version of the background is that the Coalition issued a Public Records Request (PRR), several times, to NLCOG chief Kent Rogers last December and January, seeking public documents about how Shreveport and Caddo taxpayers and residents “lost” the Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Port. The Louisiana Public Records Act requires public agencies to maintain all e-mails and other records for a minimum of three years. NLCOG asserts that it has no e-mails further back than “about one year.” In fairness to NLCOG, it is not the only agency that stiffed “we the people” in this attempt to get answers: so did Shreveport City Engineering, Mayor Glover and, thus far, the office of the Governor. LA DOTD, however, has responded as the law directs, to two PRRs.
Last week, the Coalition presented documents to the NLCOG Executive Committee which included e-mails dated 2009, well beyond the “about one year” dodge Rogers continues to invoke. That document was presented to us by another agency to which we issued a PRR, not by Rogers. We requested a response to that documentary evidence, and it came last night, in the form of an e-mail from Rogers’ (NLCOG’s) attorney, Jerry Jones, to Coalition attorney John Settle.
Here is last night’s e-mail. You will note in the second-to-last paragraph a direct challenge from Mr. Jones that I write this report. Not only am I doing precisely that, but I will also (a) call into question Mr. Rogers’ tortured non-logic, (b) present new evidence which contradicts what it seems Rogers told Mr. Jones, and (c) comment on Mr. Jones’ effort for NLCOG chief Kent Rogers.
We Will Let the Readers Judge
We have spent a good deal of time discussing what the e-mail means, but admit we are defeated in the attempt. As I said, we decided it is tortured non-logic, along these lines:
“The Coalition is wrong! We DID produce that e-mail in one of our document dumps consisting of a thousand-plus cherry-picked pages and a couple of CDs. Besides, the computer expert we hired at taxpayer expense agrees that we did so, and again tries to tell you dummies that no e-mails from longer ago than ‘about a year’ are available! Oh, and BTW, if we need to hide an e-mail from the public, we may again do it in “paper files,” based solely on whether or not we choose to do so!”
May the record show that our interpretation in the paragraph above is just that, ours. Everyone else who cares to trundle down this path into NLCOG’s bushes and weeds is entitled to their own.
In the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the fact and law: NLCOG, through their Public Records Act-designated “custodian of public records,” Kent Rogers, should have turned everything over for public review months ago.
Okey Dokey. What About This One, Or the “Missing” E-Mail That Was Never Really Missing?
What if we take the e-mail’s case at face value (even given that we don’t really know what that is)? Also here is another document which calls this latest tap dance into question.
The reader will see that this is a routine NLCOG staff exchange which mentions the “inner loop extension to 69,” and thus was grabbed by the computer in the document search. You will see in the bottom right-hand corner that Mr. Jones’ employees Bates-stamped the document, meaning that it was given to the Coalition in paper form. The Coalition still does not know what was, or was not, thus printed from various CDs it also provided, or why.
This is a August 2009 document. Again, here’s the question: does this not prove that documents “older than about a year” are, in fact, in the NLCOG system? Or, are we again going to be told that this was for some reason kept some place else, in some other form?
We also note, for this record, the infamous “missing e-mail” withheld for many months by Mr. Rogers. Readers may remember the early contention by Rogers and Twelve Oaks developer Tony Janca that a key 2004 e-mail between the two had disappeared from the electronic and paper files of both. Months after repeated requests, that e-mail suddenly appeared, and is here for public viewing.
Mr. Jones’ Challenge
Humor does not fit here. I have respect for Jerry Jones, and I won’t joke about it.
I vetted and strongly recommended Jerry to become City Attorney under former Mayor Hazel Beard, over 20 years ago. He’s a popular man, I respect his legal skill, and consider him a friend.
I acknowledge Jerry’s belief that, as I directly quote him, “everyone has a right to an attorney.” That makes good sense for people, but certainly not for a group like NLCOG. NLCOG is not a council of people, it is, as Mr. Jones specifically stresses, a “council of governments.” Every one of those governments – City of Shreveport, Bossier City, Caddo Commission, Bossier Police Jury and the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor – has beaucoup, meaning way, way too many – lawyers already. We taxpayers already pay all of those attorneys millions every year.
Given what has happened in this hornswoggle we might call The Mysterious Disappearance of the Hwy. 3132 Extension, the Coalition respectfully suggests to Mr. Jones that it is the people – the taxpayers who write checks for and to the very government which systemically failed us – who need support, acknowledgement, and every imaginable sort of “representation.”
On behalf of the Coalition, I also specifically note that, to our knowledge, NLCOG has a staff of good and decent people who may feel very differently about how their chief responds to the law and the will of the people. Neither I nor the Coalition ever means to hit those women and men with any broad brush of criticism.
for the Finish 3132 Coalition
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.