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.

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...