DDA “Weaponizes” Public Records

   

Pin the Tail on the Donkey is a children’s game most of us are familiar with. The purpose of the game, of course, is to disorient the player and (to some degree) watch them fail miserably as they stumble forward attempting to register their successful pin. That is what peeling back the layers on tax measures and other government matters sometimes feel like.

The upcoming tax increase on the ballot for the DDA has very similar characteristics. Voters are being flooded with confusing arguments, misinformation and mind-boggling endorsements which make it difficult to understand whether this tax is good or bad for them.

Understanding the rules of the game

Determining whether the tax proposition on the April ballot is or is not an increase may be difficult for some. An increase generally denotes a rise in number. So, if something presently has a value of 10.91 and the proposed change would bring it to 15.00 – Is that an increase? YES! However, certain DDA board members keep trumpeting that this increase isn’t really an increase.

Some rules often provide clarification to minimize and eliminate confusion. In this instance, the ballot language itself contains the phrase “which represents a four and nine hundredths mill (4.09) INCREASE”. Language like this takes all the guess work out of the equation.

Avoiding Confusion

Anyone who has ever played pin the tail on the donkey knows staying steady on your feet, taking your time before rushing forward and gathering as much information as possible about your surroundings before pinning often leads to the best outcome. While that is great advice, every once in a while, there is someone in the room with nefarious intentions willing to pull the rug right out. So, it is always helpful to ask questions and clarify matters before taking your shot.

As it pertains to the recent DDA tax, which is set to go before the voters on April 30 (early voting between April 16 and 23), Citizens for a New Louisiana has attempted to gather relevant information as it pertains to the tax and the players. After all, what better way to make an informed decision about the ballot measure than to gather and review information and have an educated discussion.

Weaponizing Public Records Request?

Some people who support the tax have claimed that we have “weaponized” public records requests against the DDA. That’s what happens when the right to examine public documents enshrined in the Louisiana Constitution is ‘inconvenient’ to their position and motives. However, unlike the beneficiaries of this tax, we are not one sided. We are willing to post and share what records have been requested. That’s because we know you are smart enough to make your own determination based on the facts instead of blindly following the blather flowing from some loudmouth.

So, what about the reverse side of that argument? Is deliberately withholding public information until after the election “weaponizing” public records responses? After all doesn’t the law say if a public record is “immediately available” it shall be immediately presented to the person seeking it?

What Public Records Requests are being delayed?

In the spirit of transparency, here are the public records we submitted to the DDA on February 28th, March 14th, 15th and 17.th After all, as a disinterested third party (that doesn’t benefit if the tax passes or fails) we have nothing to hide. We simply sought to review records of “expenses,” “contracts and agreements,” “payroll,” “timesheets,” “job descriptions,” etc. That way we can provide everyone with a better understanding of the DDA, and without having to rely on their pinkey-promises (like “not to exceed 10 mills.“)

There were a few more directed requests of interest that are being delayed, such as:

  • E-mail communication sent from or received by any the e-mail account of “[email protected]” between September 17, 2019 and December 17, 2019 containing any of the following keywords: “700,000”, “$700,000”, “700K”, “$700K”, “tax district” and/or “support. This is specifically looking for communication from DDA’s CEO, Anita Begnaud, lobbying for the 1¢ additional sales tax downtown. It’s a single email.
  • Communication regarding the Metropolitan Apartments since August 1, 2020. It’s believed that one or more DDA board members entered into a financial agreement with the Metropolitan Apartments, which is located in the Downtown taxing district.
  • Any and all records of investigations, inquiries and/or allegations concerning misappropriation of funds, misuse of funds and/or malfeasance during the period of 2018 through present. 

Nothing to see there folks… you will just have to wait until after the election to look at that information.

We were removed from Meeting Notice List

The actual motives of the parties becomes even more obvious when you examine events more closely. In March of this year it was learned that Citizens for a New Louisiana was likely removed from the meeting notice e-mail list, as we were no longer receiving notifications and meeting agendas. We asked that we be added back to the e-mail list by DDA. Additionally, we requested that we be provided with a handful of meeting agendas we did not receive. The expectation was a quick e-mail back containing the requested meeting agendas. What we actually received was a letter from DDA’s attorney several weeks later.

At the same time they removed us from receiving meeting agendas by email, they also stopped posting the meeting notices on their website. What goes on at these meetings? No one is allowed to find out unless they submit a public records request and then wait three weeks. After DDA decided to stop sending out public notices, they reported to LCG that they met on February 3rd. At that meeting they supposedly voted to increase their tax. However, when we did a records request for all meetings that took place between September and February 10th, their attorneys’ response did not include the February 3rd meeting. Does this mean that no such meeting ever took place?

To make this look even worse, they hired an attorney to respond to a simple request for six meeting agendas and to be added back to meeting notice e-mails. And how much did that cost the taxpayers? We’ll have to wait until after the election to find out.

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If we’re not watching them, who will?

Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?

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