Illegal Action to Keep Media and Public Outby Elliott Stonecipher
It’s been three months since my Public Records Request to Bossier City Mayor “Lo” Walker for documents regarding the Walker Place project. Many are yet being withheld. Walker most recently mailed me a list of communications from and by City Attorney Jimmy Hall which the two are withholding under “attorney client privilege.” As we know, City Hall has much to hide.
In scheme after scheme after scheme over many years, Bossier officials – led mainly by the same top officials throughout – have violated laws dictating governmental openness and transparency. Whether the then-CenturyTel project, Louisiana Boardwalk, Walker Place, or the new casino project, taxpayer money by the truckload has been risked, and much of it lost, with astoundingly little media or public scrutiny to reduce such risks.
With City Hall’s $27,000,000 Walker Place loss now focusing public attention, it is easier to explain how the Boardwalk project – initially dubbed “Riverwalk” – set off early warnings of how such secrecy is assured. Boardwalk, the mixed-use development on Bossier’s downtown Red River bank, is another infamous drain on the city, and as with Walker Place, lawsuits threatened to unveil details which likely would have stopped the project. Unlike Walker Place, though, all litigation was stomped out by these officials at real, and hidden, cost to taxpayers.
For a city government to consistently operate in secrecy requires both a malevolent ignorance of law, and erasure of the evidence of malfeasance. For Boardwalk, city officials easily nailed the first requirement, but botched the second. In mind-bending measure of their hubris, they created a record of what they did: they audio-taped themselves as they planned. The tapes and/or their transcriptions seeped into the public domain in lawsuits arising from the wrongdoing.
As a small group of top city officials began planning, they formed the “Riverwalk Project Oversight Committee.” When their boss man, Jimmy Hall, realized they were unintentionally creating a public record of their scheming, he acted to specifically neuter legal protections guaranteed the media and public. Here is the complete, verbatim transcript of a chilling, two-minute assault on public oversight and law:
Jimmy Hall: Because this is a committee appointed by the mayor, it’s a uh, … it’s a uh, a public committee and you gotta not only keep minutes, you gotta post it … and I got three attorney general’s opinions … alls I’m just sayin’ is we need to, uh, just change the name of this to the Status Report … ya know, Riverwalk Status Report or somethin’ so it’s not a formal committee … mayor can do that with a memo and it’s a done deal. Just put on there Riverwalk Status Report Minutes. I, I, I mean it’s a, it’s a small thing but somebody somewhere somehow is gonna come outta the woodwork. So, um, I just, ya know, if we can say that the Committee dissolved, and the mayor has requested we maintain a (unintelligible) Status Report meeting on Riverwalk ya know that (unintelligible) …
Project Coordinator Pam Glorioso: Should I change the title on the Minutes I already done?
Hall: No … yeah … let’s go back and … nah, that’s fine for what we’ve done … yeah, go and …
Glorioso (interrupting): … there’s six meetings …
Hall: … go ahead and do it, change it to Status Report ‘cuse somebody’s gonna get ’em …
Unidentified Participant (interrupting): … somebody’s gonna get ’em …
Hall: … yeah, somebody … well, ultimately they might be able to get ’em, but the problem is we don’t want a bunch of other people (in) here and once you start postin’ the press comes and you caint have discussions so … strangely enough, ya know, once it’s a formalized committee appointed by the mayor, it’s considered a public deal. So as long as we call it somethin’ other than a Committee we’re in good shape.
Chief Administrative Officer (Now Mayor) “Lo” Walker: Nobody can take this April 26th letter which establishes (unintelligible) … Status letter …
Hall (interrupting): Right … everything’ll be the same.
Glorioso: Do we want to wait until after Wednesday so we’ll have the right name of the project?
Hall: Yeah let’s do that … we’ll do that (unintelligible) …
Glorioso (laughing): … so I’ll go change everything we can.
Subsequent Minutes of these meetings, officially signed and Sealed, confirm that this plan to extinguish legally guaranteed media and public oversight was executed. The group instantly became the “Riverwalk Project Status Review,” which netted a black-out of project disclosures to the media and public. It is also notable that the group’s official Minutes bear little resemblance to what the tapes show was actually said.
Louisiana criminal law strongly sanctions any intentional “injuring” of public records:
Revised Statutes 14§132. Injuring public records
A. First degree injuring public records is the intentional removal, mutilation, destruction, alteration, falsification, or concealment of any record, document, or other thing, filed or deposited, by authority of law, in any public office or with any public officer.
C. (1) Whoever commits the crime of first degree injuring public records shall be imprisoned for not more than five years with or without hard labor or shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars or both.
It is a fact already in evidence that Bossier taxpayers have suffered a huge financial loss from the Walker Place blow-up. With additional evidence from these City Hall tapes, taxpayers must also weigh the matter of malicious intent among responsible officials. The city’s top lawyer, with its current mayor and other city officials participating, conspired their way around media and public oversight of public business. Why? What (all) were they hiding?
Speaking of hiding, now that I have found my way out of “the woodwork,” as City Attorney Hall calls it, he and Mayor Walker should produce the yet-withheld Walker Place documents. The law requires it, in case that matters.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the unedited sharing of his work is requested and appreciated.