Who Works for Whom?

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CENTRAL FIRST BLUEb larger    In researching an article, I emailed a state agency for a document, not knowing it was actually 1,500 pages long. They called that same day, apologizing that it would take a day for them to make a CD with the document on it. I went the next day to pick it up and asked what I owed, to which they responded “Oh nothing, it’s just a 25 cent CD. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
    By contrast, I attended a City of Central committee meeting, during which a document was filled out and voted on by the committee. After the vote, I asked to look at the document, and Mayor Shelton and the City Attorney refused to let me simply look at the page.  I was told I would have to make a public records request to get a copy. Why is Central so hesitant to give access to public records?
    I considered the possibility that perhaps Central Speaks gets, well, less-than-optimal cooperation because I’m a bit outspoken on matters of city government. But, I hear similar stories from other citizens, asking for simple answers or documents that could easily be shared in an email. They are also told that they can fill out a public records request form, turn it in at City Services, then come back three days later and pay for their copy.
    The problem seems to be that this administration does not understand who works for whom. Before the City website’s new “Rumor Control Page” (yes, believe it or not, it exists) runs a post on their right to make citizens go through formal procedures and pay for copies, I know that those charges and formalities are ALLOWED, but they are not REQUIRED.
    If the City truly wants to be transparent and work FOR its citizens, when a citizen emails the City requesting, for example, a copy of a developer’s permit application, the city could easily just email a copy of the application, without spending time and tax dollars to process an unnecessary formal public records request.
    Louisiana’s public records law certainly ALLOWS for the city to require citizens to go through specific steps in order to obtain a public document, and at times that may be legally necessary, but that law does not REQUIRE this behavior. In fact, I know that a developer can send an email to the City of Central and ask for a copy of an engineering study, and that study will be emailed back to the developer, immediately, with no requirement to fill out a public records request, and at no charge. So I ask again, who works for whom?
    While the City of Central has a well-documented problem of failing to comply with Louisiana’s public records laws, this issue is one of attitude rather than compliance. The concept of public service should never be sacrificed on the altar of governmental authority. It just looks to me like this administration has forgotten who works for whom.