Public Records Challenge Set for Trial

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Beginning in late 2015, the City of Central withheld hundreds of documents from Public Records Requests for over six months before finally releasing them. The city has also withheld other requested records for over two years and still will not release them. A status conference was held this week for a Public Records lawsuit filed in 2015, and the District Court has set the matter for a May 11th trial.
During 2015 the city withheld multiple documents from public records requests claiming that they are “not public records” and simply withheld them without telling anyone. The city continues to refuse to release the records, even in redacted form, and refuses to reveal what the documents are and who authored them.
The two-year struggle to get the city to release records stands in stark contrast to Mayor Shelton’s public statements on public records. In a January 30, 2015 Advocate article titled “Public Records? Come get ‘em, Central mayor says”, Mayor Shelton stated: “We have nothing to hide” and “If you’re operating your government the way you’re supposed to, I welcome anybody to come and ask for public records.”
In another newspaper article on February 5, 2015 Mayor Shelton stated: “On public records, at our first staff meeting I told them: ‘If someone calls and asks for a public record and it’s in the building, give it to them!’ And that’s what we do!”
Louisiana’s Public Records law 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 . . . of the receipt of the request, in writing for such record, notify in writing the person making such request of his determination and the reasons therefor.”
The city maintains that they “concluded, without ‘question’ that the documents were not public records” and that they could simply not produce the records and say nothing to the citizens requesting them. Yet, in a direct contradiction to this stance, the city’s training documents for handling public records state “If you determine that a record is NOT a public record, then you must state so within the same 3-day period and provide the statutory basis for believing that the record is exempt from disclosure.”