BRIEF: Councils to rework proposed public records policy

Councilwoman Nanette Cook speaks at a council meeting
Nanette Cook co-sponsored a new public records policy for Lafayette Photo by Travis Gauthier

The gist: The City and Parish councils deferred action on establishing a new public records policy to work out kinks. The administration has signaled willingness to go along with the changes. 

Get caught up, quickly. In August, the Guillory administration, which has been under intense press scrutiny for more than a year, began charging $1 per page to email digital copies of public records. The move drew a lawsuit from The Current and The Advocate. Council members have worked to adopt a local policy to settle the issue. 

A comprehensive local policy was on this week’s councils’ agendas. Co-sponsored by Parish Councilman Josh Carlson and City Councilwoman Nanette Cook, the joint item would have waived or capped most fees, established a public records bill of rights and staffed a records clerk position in the council office. 

But Carlson withdrew his support, citing some legal flaws that couldn’t be addressed in the normal course of council business. 

“If we’re going to do the law, let’s do it clean,” Carlson says. 

The records clerk is the main sticking point. LCG attorneys claim staffing the position in the council office instead of the administration creates an unworkable problem: The administration, as custodian, would not have authority over the office satisfying requests it’s responsible for. 

Guillory signaled willingness to back off the fees he established in August, though it’s unclear whether the reduction would apply to all records affected by his policy. He told Cook the administration would reduce fees while the councils chipped away at the new policy. 

“I’m confident, or I’m hopeful, that I can just get [Carlson] to put it back on the agenda, same ordinance, introduce it again,” Cook says. 

Guillory’s fees targeted the press. “I wish it was $100 a page,” he said on his weekly radio show earlier this year. Reporters were routed to the courthouse, where phones and cameras are prohibited, if they requested to view records in person. That practice has since stopped, which drew back the urgency, Carlson says. 

Records requests remain costly. The records LCG charges for are gathered for production regardless of whether reporters view them in-person or get them by email. LCG is essentially charging a convenience fee, and an expensive one at that. Invoices for records requests filed by The Current have topped $800 or more. 

Litigation is still pending. Another hearing in the news organizations’ suit of LCG is set for early 2023. 

What to watch for. A piecemeal approach. Cook and Carlson say they’d like to tackle the public records policy in separate ordinances: one setting a new fee schedule and another creating the records clerk position.