SUNSHINE WEEK – PARISH AND MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENTS
The Parishes that were in existence at the time of the adoption of the Louisiana Constitution in 1974 were recognized and ratified with the Legislature retaining the power to alter or abolish those subdivisions. Most parishes in the state operate under the police jury system. While others operate under a home rule charter with varying forms of government ranging from consolidated structures, city-parish governments, commissions or council-president bodies. The Legislature also possesses the authority to regulate through legislation the incorporation, consolidation, merger, and government of municipalities.
One area of interest we inquired into during this series of pubic records request pertained to how parish governing authorities were compensating attorneys who represented the public body. Most compensated the parish attorney on a fixed fee. For instance, one local body paid the parish attorney a flat fee of $250.00 per council meeting, regardless of the length of the meeting. Some pay the parish attorney a set salary, not based on hours of work performed. While others have hired in-house legal advisors to keep cost under control. These practices are greatly contrasted by areas like Lafayette where there are a slew of lawyers representing themselves as “Assistant City-Parish Attorneys” billing on an hourly basis at a cost of millions of dollars annually.
Another area of interest was payment by the parish governing body to provide executive or dignitary protection to the Parish President. All public bodies have responded denying the payment of such expenses, but public records don’t (well, rarely) lie and the practice appears to continue despite responses otherwise.
The most shocking reaction to our public records to parish governing authorities did not come in a response from the Parish President, his Secretary or his staff… rather from a regular citizen. Hours after our requests were received by the public entity we received a call from an average citizen residing in the parish. The citizen excitedly announced – ‘I don’t know what you sent to the Police Jury, but you lit’ a fire under their *sses! They are scrambling like cockroaches when you turn the lights on.’ As it turns out this citizen had been doing his due diligence and keeping a watchful eye on questionable practices within government body. His ear was to the ground when the foot stomping started.
Did you know?
If a requested record is not in “active use” at the time of the request, the record must be “immediately presented.”
PARISH GOVERNMENTS: (LA Constitution Article 6, Section 1)
The following five request were sent to each of the Parish governing bodies in the state:
- Individual appointment calendar of the Mayor/President for the period of time of December 1, 2021 through January 31, 2022, including but not limited to: traditional hard copy calendars and electronically stored information on cell phone(s), computer(s) and/or other electronic devices.
- Expenses reports or listing of expense reimbursements for Mayor/President for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE; any and all documents of expense reimbursements for Mayor/President for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022
- Compensation received by the Mayor/President for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, including but not limited to salary, salary augmentation, stipends, vehicle subsidies, cell phone subsidies, insurance benefits, etc.
- Listing of expenditures for executive/dignitary protection for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, if a listing doesn’t exist, any and all documents costs of executive/dignitary protection for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021.
- Compensation received by the City/Parish Attorney for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, including but not limited to salary, salary augmentation, stipends, vehicle subsidies, cell phone subsidies, insurance benefits, etc.
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENTS: (LARS 33:341)
The same five requests and one addiitonal request (where applicable) were sent to several municipal governing bodies in the state, including City governments (population of 5,000+), Town governments (population greater than 1,000, but less than 5,000) and Village governments (population of less than 1,000):
- All Mayor’s Court Docket sheets for the month of January 2022. (where applicable)
The governing bodies were then graded based on ten objective factors with each being worth one point, for a maximum score of ten points. Below is how the governing bodies ranked after the passage of at least thirty days from the date of the request.
Have the public bodies made information regarding how to request public records readily available and easy to find (i.e. website, etc.)?
- 26% 26%
Did the public bodies acknowledge the receipt of the public records request or provide any exemptions within three days?
- 85% 85%
Did the public bodies produce the records for inspection or provide an estimate of time reasonably necessary for production within five days of the request?
- 44% 44%
Did the public bodies accept the e-mailed requests without a demand that it be presented on a particular form, in a particular format or submitted in an alternative fashion?
- 91% 91%
Did the public bodies accept the request without demanding that a state issued identification card be provided?
- 95% 95%
Did the public bodies refrain from inquiring about the purpose of the requests?
- 100% 100%
Did the public bodies respond without employing an attorney to respond?
- 67% 67%
Were the records or information made available free of charge and/or without a request for a deposit?
- 90% 90%
Were the records or information made available by electronic means or did the custodian indicate the records could be copied using a portable scanning device?
- 76% 76%
Were the records provided by the public bodies responsive to the requests and of good quality?
- 71% 71%