Despite Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s pledge – and last week’s claim – to be more transparent and accommodating in fulfilling public-records requests, The Lens has yet to get an appropriate response to a trio of week-old requests.

The law requires that requested records be provided “immediately” if not in active use; if in active use, public officials have to say so – and then provide the records within three business days. The law says the public can go to court if they don’t get the records in five days.

Appearing on WBOK-AM talk radio last week, Landrieu said his administration was responding to all requests and giving the media all they want.


On May 17, The Lens asked for records:

  • * regarding the suspension of the New Orleans Police Department officer who is the live-in boyfriend of newly appointed Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ 28-year-old daughter.
  • * showing who in city government has a taxpayer-financed take-home car and gas card, as well as the policy for deciding who gets this perk.
  • * showing who in city government has a taxpayer-paid credit card, purchasing card or other such privilege, as well as the policy for distributing such cards.

Two days after the request, Senior Chief Deputy City Attorney Nolan Lambert sent back a boilerplate letter, virtually unchanged from a form letter used by the Nagin administration. It neither offered to produce the records nor certified that they were in active use.

Instead, it said the city “strives to promptly release all records,” and goes on to say that the city “will exercise its right…to charge reasonable fees for the amount of time expended by the staff for preparation.”

The law cited by the city, though, says public officials cannot charge for the time it takes to compile records, unless allowed by a judge.

The Lens asked Lambert to clarify the intent of his letter – was he threatening to take us to court to make us pay? – but Lambert has not responded.

The only response from the city was rather loose as to when it will comply:

“As soon as our office has been notified that responsive records are available for your review, we will notify you,” Lambert wrote.

Two calls today to Lambert were routed by the Law Department receptionist to a generic voice mail.

The lack of an appropriate response is hardly new.

The Lens filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Ray Nagin’s city attorney, Penya Moses-Fields, for failing to comply with records requests promptly.

The Lens has nearly a dozen Nagin-era public records requests still pending with the city.

Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...