A judge cleared the way Thursday for The Lens to begin getting public records from the city’s purchasing database, seven months after the nonprofit news outlet first requested it.

In a closed-door conference with attorneys, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese told the city to provide The Lens with a list of vendors from the BuySpeed database. This will allow reporters to make specific requests for receipts, invoices and other documentation in their attempt to track the city’s spending, even as they wait for the city to produce the entire database.

Lens editor Steve Beatty said today’s decision was a step in the right direction.

“This is a solid start to opening up to public view the city’s contracting and purchasing records,” Beatty said. “We look forward to working further with the city to see precisely how taxpayer money is being spent.”

The Lens sued the city earlier this year for habitually failing to provide records in a timely manner. State law says records must be produced immediately. If they’re in use, the city must set a time within three business days to comply. The city’s practice is to send a letter within three business days stating that it is working on the request. These so-called “initial response letters” typically do not indicate when the records will be made available.

When it filed, The Lens cited five unfulfilled requests in the lawsuit. Days later the city produced four of the five requests.

But the city has failed to produce the BuySpeed database, which tracks payments to city vendors.

Reese initially issued a ruling that dismissed the matter and said the city had provided all the records, but The Lens was granted today’s rehearing after it brought the unfulfilled request to the judge’s attention.

Reese met with three lawyers from the city attorney’s office along with Lens attorney Scott Sternberg, of Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer, for about 30 minutes.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision today,” Sternberg said. “We think this clears the way for The Lens to review the expenditure of public funds.”

Sternberg said the judge set a status conference for Oct. 14 to determine the city’s progress with complying.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...