Government & Politics
 

Want to know how city spent millions from HUD? Don't tell anyone you're a reporter

Update: Two-and-a-half hours after this story was published, and shortly after our reporting partners at FOX 8 requested the report, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s spokesman, Ryan Berni, provided a copy of the 100-plus-page report to The Lens.
By Tom Gogola, The Lens staff writer |

When is a public record not a public record?

Apparently when a reporter wants to view it.

A legal notice in Monday’s Times-Picayune announced that the public is welcome to peruse and offer comments on a draft year-end report that explains how the city spent tens of millions in federal money in 2011. At issue is a regular annual report from the city’s Office of Community Development, called a Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report, which goes by the unfortunate acronym of CAPER.

“The document is available for public review,” the notice reads.

But rather than being given access to the lengthy report, a Lens reporter who went to the office left empty handed and later was told to route the request through Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s communications office.

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni has not responded to a request to provide the report – or to explain why the public report wasn’t immediately available to a member of the public who asked to see it.

“The documents should have been provided to you,” mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni said.

It’s unclear whether people not identifying themselves as reporters would have gotten  the report or the runaround.

Citizen comments will be accepted through Friday; the final report is due to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency by Monday.

The report explains how the city used money from federal Community Development Block Grants, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, and the Emergency Shelter Grant.

It’s not much easier to see last year’s report, either. The city’s website for this report says that last year’s version is available, but clicking on the link to download the report only yields the required legal notice, not the report itself.

As directed by the public notice this week, a Lens reporter went to the Office of Community Development at 1340 Poydras St. Tuesday afternoon, and asked to review the document. A receptionist summoned a congenial assistant, who took down the reporter’s email address and phone number, told him that her boss was at lunch and promised that the draft report would be in his inbox later that afternoon.

It never arrived. A subsequent phone message from Barry Walton, who is listed in the legal ad as the city’s point of contact, said that requests from the media to view the report had to go through Landrieu’s office.

A recent, national study headed up by the Center for Public Integrity, with which The Lens is associated, gave Louisiana a grade of “F” in the category of “public access to information.”

 

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  • Beth Butler

    Thanks for this information. The public availability of this document is a basic HUD requirement for all entitlement areas. Transparency is part of the process so that citizens can see how the money was spent, who received the funds, and what is the progress on the funded projects. Many cities actually post their Consolidated Plans and reports on their websites. There may be no shenigans here, but why violate HUD regs and set up gatekeepers?

  • Care Forgot

    This information is far too important to be ignored. The federal funds dedicated/expended since Katrina warrant digital transparency and review. If not on the City’s website, somewhere else…