Louisiana’s Public Records Act sets forth simple guidelines that allow for transparency by governmental bodies. A written request (letter, fax, or email) to a public body requesting public records is to be complied within three business days. The public agency can make available the requested records for review, or as is more often the case, provide copies of the documents at a reasonable charge. Some public bodies readily comply with public records requests (PRRs) and some unfortunately do not, – as experienced from sending over one hundred (100) PRRs in the last two (2) years.
The City of Shreveport is always very slow in responding to PRRs. (One notable exception was a recent request regarding pension plans that was promptly answered by CAO Dale Sibley). Seemingly the standard operating procedure of Mayor Glover’s office (and City Attorney Terri Scott) is to wait until one or two follow-up requests have been sent before document production.
Initially the City would provide the documents at no charge by email or fax; now it is often necessary to go to the City Attorney’s office to pick up the requested documents and pay a copy fee. Additionally, the City adopted a policy of redacting substantial portions of invoices for legal services on the dog park litigation, claiming attorney client
The Shreveport City Marshal has been very reluctant to honor PRRs. Lengthy litigation over the release of expenses for staff trips to Florida has changed, somewhat, the tenor of that office when it comes to PRRs. Presently, these requests are timely honored, with the minimum of detail in the response; copies of documents from this office must be paid for.
The Caddo Parish Commission is generally compliant with PRRs, although frequently it is necessary to send a reminder request to Parish Administration Dr. Woody Wilson. Whether its institutional indifference or poor staff follow-up after delegation by Wilson, it is unfortunate that the Commission staff does not promptly comply with all PRRs.
While under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Dawkins, the Caddo Parish School Board had a policy of immediately requesting an additional 14 days to respond to a PRR. Generally, the requests would be satisfied in 10 days or less, – but it was necessary to go to the Central Office to obtain documents and pay a copy fee. It is not yet known how this office will handle PRRs under new Superintendent Goree.
Perhaps surprising to some, the attitude of public agencies in the “free state of Bossier” to PRRs is much better than on the west side of the Red River. The Bossier Marshal’s office is a virtual open book, and PRRs to that office as well as the City of Bossier and the Bossier Parish Police Jury are promptly complied with, – with no copy charge or required document pick-up. The Bossier Parish School Board is also cooperative in answering PRRs, even for politically sensitive materials concerning the lawsuits against Parkway Principal Bourgeois.
The Public Records Act is an important tool available to all Louisiana citizens who may, with a simple written request, obtain information about public agencies and public officials. This Act is an important tool readily available for citizen participation in government, as well as a vehicle to hold public officials accountable to taxpayers. Government only works well with active citizen involvement and the Public Records Act as well as the Sunshine Law are invaluable resources.