In Support of Tracie Washington's Public Records Request and to Express Concern About the City's Lack of Compliance With the Law
Background The City of New Orleans which includes both the City Council and Mayor’s office is required under the Louisiana State Public Records Act to provide access to public records. Public records include official correspondence, calendars, contracts, draft documents, reports, maps, letters, memos, budget requests, tapes, electronic data, payrolls, and much more. Emails sent and received by City officials (including the City Council, Mayor and their staffs) in execution of their work are part of the public record and subject to the Act. Attorney Tracie Washington’s December 3, 2008 public records request – for “ e-mail dating to July 1, 2006, from council members Jackie Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head and Shelley Midura, plus all of their staff members [and] Jeff Thomas, a special assistant to Recovery Director Ed Blakely”in no way violates the spirit or letter of the Public Records Act. Contrary to the City Council’s statement that fulfillment of this request by the Mayor's staff "may constitute a serious breach of legal rights and protections afforded the City Council, its constituents and the city of New Orleans,” the request and subsequent release of email records is an example of compliance – albeit unorthodox – with the Public Records Act. Petition We fully support Ms. Washington’s request. We are deeply concerned about the legal action being initiated against Ms. Washington by the City Council. This will negatively affect the public’s willingness and ability to exercise their legal rights and participate in their government. We are also deeply concerned about wider obfuscation and lack of compliance regarding public records requests involving all offices of City Government. The Mayor’s office and City Council have shown little concern over the last several months for fulfilling their duties as required by the Public Records Act. For example, K. Brad Ott’s November 13, 2008 request of New Orleans City Council records pertaining to the proposed VAMC/LSU Academic Medical Center and the Rev. Avery C. Alexander Charity Hospital. Mr Ott's request remains unfulfilled. His, and Tracie Washington's examples are only two among many. Finally, we condemn the anonymous threats and intimidation tactics which have been directed at Ms. Washington for simply making a successful public records request. In the last several days Ms. Washington has received anonymous threats and had her home and property vandalized. This kind of behavior, possibly inflamed by the City Council’s legal action against Ms. Washington, has no place in a democracy.