LETTER: Reader praises stand on public records issue

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

I looked with great interest at the recent resolution of a suit brought by Theresa Robert, a friend and community activist, against the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission.

Reinforcing the awareness of citizens as to their rights concerning public records has been one of my passions. As a result of the arbitrary increase in the copy fee from 25 cents to $1 per page during my term on the Parish Council, I researched and helped pass an ordinance setting the fee in Ascension Parish at 25 cents per page, which is in line with eight surrounding parishes.

Mrs. Robert’s experience was not unlike a gentleman who requested the expense reports of the parish president and council while I served. Mrs. Robert was asked to pay $62 to review expense records after hours. This gentleman was told the cost for requested copies would be $200 and walked away empty handed. He was not informed by the administrative branch of our government that by law he could review all the expenses without even requesting a copy or paying a penny. Access to public records was denied to both of these citizens, according to the Sunshine Law. Many have told me they have had trouble getting documents and facts from our School Board as well.

As a result of Mrs. Robert's suit and ruling by a local judge, it should be clear to local officials and their legal counsel that a public record must be immediately produced for review. If the public record is not immediately available, there is a requirement to certify this in writing promptly and fix a day and hour within three working days for the exercise of the right granted in the Public Records Act.

 It took courage and time for Mrs. Robert to stand up for her rights, which belong to every citizen of Louisiana 18 years and older. Mrs. Robert made seven requests over a three-month period for records that are easily accessible. Employees complained that they were too busy to tend to these requests. The Ascension Parish Tourist Commission has passed their responsibility to the parish president’s office, adding another layer of bureaucracy. Busyness is no excuse for denying the public. After all, it is our business and we pay their salaries with our tax dollars. Serving the people seems to be a real problem for some, but this subject is a letter for another day.

If we do not stand up for our freedoms, we will lose them. Theresa, “We the People” thank you.

Cheryl Fontenot