Government & Politics

Landrieu administration hasn’t provided budget documents

Although Mayor Mitch Landrieu pledged to make the city budget process more open and accountable, his administration has failed to comply with open-records laws and make public the budget requests submitted to him by department heads.

The Lens asked for the department-level requests on Sept. 30, hoping to get a look at what each city agency was asking for and why. We planned to compare those to the budget that Landrieu will publicly release to the City Council on Friday.

Apparently, we’ll have to make that comparison after Landrieu releases his budget – if the administration releases the requests.

State law says public records should be turned over immediately to anyone requesting them, unless the records are in use. If the records are in use, then a public official has to say so – and is required by law to set a time and date in three days for when they can be publicly reviewed.

City Attorney Nannette Jolivette Brown wrote on Oct. 4, but only provided half of the required information: She said they were in use but not when we could see them.

“Please note that departmental budget requests are actively being used in preparation of the City’s 2011 budget; accordingly, the budget requests are not available for immediate review.

“As soon as our office has been notified that the budget requests have been compiled and are available for review, you will be notified to schedule a time for your review of the records.”

Neither Landrieu, Brown nor a city spokesman responded to requests for comments.

Landrieu’s first executive order was designed to speed up the budget process, requiring the budget to be given to the council by Oct. 15, rather than Nov. 1. That will give the council two more weeks for its public hearings and deliberations.

He also said he is committed to making the budget more user friendly, and he held public meetings to gather citizen input on their budget priorities.

Residents attending those meetings made it clear they wanted more access to budget documents and a clear accounting of city spending.

“We believe that this budgeting process will create a much more transparent and accountable process,” Landrieu told The Times-Picayune at a news conference in June.

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About 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 at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and quickly rising through the ranks to be an editor of the newspaper’s watchdog investigative team. He returned to New Orleans in May of 2009. He can be reached at (504) 655-2375.

  • Call me crazy, but if the Mayor is delivering a budget to the City Council on Friday, October 15 the documents used to construct the budget (especially the kind of budget this one is likely to be) may be in use from September 30 until then.

    And that assuming that each city agency has actually submitted their budget requests to City Hall in a legible fashion.

    Though the red tape is frustrating, especially in light of state law, my gut feeling is this is something more mundane than just not wanting to display the documents. I guess we’ll see Friday.

  • The Editor

    Hey Cousin Pat: The departments turned in their requests on Aug. 1. The administration has had two months to look over these initial requests. And the state law is clear — even if the documents are in use, they have to be made available for review in three days. It’s not like we’re going to take them out of circulation for a long time. It would take me just a few minutes to photocopy or scan each department request. The provision is in the law so public agencies can’t claim records are “in use” indefinitely, thereby subverting the law. — Steve Beatty