OUR OPINION: Case brings awareness to records laws

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

A district judge ruled Friday that while the Ascension Parish Tourist Commission did make a good faith effort, it did not properly follow state public records laws when a citizen requested to see meetings minutes and financial records.

A day-long hearing held in 23rd Judicial District Court led to Judge Ralph Tureau awarding Theresa Robert of Gonzales $500 to cover attorney fees in the case, but did not award damages because the documents she requested were provided after the suit was filed.

This suit is one of many nationwide that sought to bring about awareness of public records laws to government entities, both large and small.

During testimony Friday, commission projects and events manager Ramon Gomez said that the commission rarely received public records requests, so he and other employees had little experience in handling such situations. He also said that with only two full-time staffers and no current executive director for the commission, duties have been doubled to current staffers which makes taking time out for public records requests more difficult.

The commission has since turned its public record custodial duties to parish government, which has more resources to better handle such requests.

Some may say that this case and others are just brought about by rabblerousers looking to stick it to government officials whenever they can. While some people may be more active in following government activities than others, that makes them no less privy to records that fall under the category of public documents.

Like Tureau, we believe that commission employees tried to make the documents available as best they could with a small staff and limited resources. We understand that it can be difficult to research and disseminate information, especially when some of it spans years, as in this case.

The commission does an excellent job in providing information on Ascension’s cultural gumbo.

However, we also believe that all government-related entities should be apprised on public records laws and should not have to question whether or not a document is public record.

We hope that this case does open the eyes of all agencies who fall under the public records law’s vast umbrella. While it may take effort on the part of government to do so, the public has a right to view most government-related records. A transparent government is the best form of government.