Why Are Public Records Being Withheld?

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CENTRAL FIRST BLUE bUntil recently, I was under the impression that the current City of Central government had promised transparency, and that obtaining Public Records from the City would be easy.  Now, I must seriously question that.
    The belief that Central has violated its own laws in approving the 250 apartments in the Settlement at Shoe Creek TND led to an ongoing lawsuit, and a number of Public Records Requests were made to support that position.  When the City released documents, the fair assumption was made that that the city had provided all of the records requested, and preparation for trial was made on that basis.
    Two weeks ago, on October 30th, a thought occurred to me.  I wondered if any Public Records had been withheld because there was litigation involved.  So, an inquiry was sent to the city asking whether public records had been withheld under the excuse that they are related to "pending litigation?”
    Apparently they had, because the city responded that it “operated under the assumption that you knew or should have known that some of the records you requested were not public because of pending litigation or otherwise privileged since many of your requests related to just that.”  It is troubling that no one knew that the city had withheld records from these requests, so I read Louisiana’s Public Records law.
    Louisiana Law, R.S. 44:32(D), states: “In any case in which a record is requested and a question is raised by the custodian of the record as to whether it is a public record, such custodian shall within three days . . .  notify in writing the person making such request of his determination and the reasons therefor.  Such written notification shall contain a reference to the basis under law which the custodian has determined exempts a record . . .”
    The city never provided any notice that any public records were withheld for any reason.  The law does allow certain documents that were prepared in preparation for litigation to be withheld from a requestor, but that exception is very narrow, and the law puts the burden on the city to provide specific legal reasons for doing so.
    After two more requests, the city has yet to produce any of the records they now admit they withheld, and has not given a reason for withholding them.  It is understandable that the city may not want to release documents that could damage their legal case, but that is not a good enough reason to withhold public records from a citizen.  The city also must act in accordance with Louisiana’s Public Records law.  That, would be Good News for a Great City.

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