Disaster has struck in Louisiana, where officials in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes say they have been inundated with public records requests.
There’s a high profile legal case in New Orleans about whether e-mails from the New Orleans City Council should be made public. Numerous stories in the local press about that has apparently clued engaged citizens in on something they may not have fully realized before, which is that under the Louisiana Public Records Act, they can file requests for the e-mails of local administrators and elected officials.
However, all is not lost.
Just because regular people figure out they’re entitled to review the e-mail traffic of their local elected officials doesn’t mean the local elected officials have to hand over their e-mails. In response to this outbreak of engaged citizenry:
In response, some municipalities are revising their public records policies, raising the cost to provide records or ignoring the law completely.
St. Tammany Parish is upset because a local television station “came to us on a fishing expedition and requested every e-mail to and from the parish president for a year.”
According to a local official, “It took us over 100 hours just to figure out how many there were to tell them how much it would cost.”
Why? Why did it take them 100 hours to figure out how many emails the parish president had sent in a year? That’s absurd and it’s not the fault of the local television station.
Local governments: It’s your job to have a system in place that allows you to quickly and inexpensively retrieve electronically produced public records.
It is not your job to complain that you’re being burdened with excessive records requests. When the local TV station asked for the records, no doubt they believed that it would take you all of ten minutes to get those records. Why? Because they know that it would take them all of ten minutes to figure out how many emails they had sent and received in the previous year, so it would never have occurred to them that you are using some uber-baroque email retention system where it takes 100 HOURS to figure out this elementary information.