In case anyone hasnt noticed or posted about it yet, this week has been Sunshine Week, a week during which those of us who profess to care about open government celebrate and agitate for more transparency in officialdom. Considering recent events in New Orleans, our city could be a case study in what goes right and wrong in the arena of official transparency.
We all know what has gone wrong locally: Mayor Ray Nagin has allowed (or caused) the deletion of many thousands of public records in the form of his 2008 emails and daily calendar entries; city Sanitation Director Veronica White has ignored important city protocols (put in place by Nagin) for the handling of public records requests; and Nagin has turned a tug-o-war with the City Council over the state Open Meetings Law and professional services contracts into a race war.
Some things also have gone right. In the area of public records, two judges at Civil District Court have reminded everyone that the rule of law still means something. Judge Rose Ledet slapped Nagin and City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields with individual fines for failing to respond to bona fide public records requests from WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurik. In another public records case, Judge Lloyd Medley upheld two important tenets of the state Public Records Law attorney Tracie Washingtons right to view City Council (and other official) emails that are not privileged, and the Councils right (as specifically set forth in the law) to withhold privileged communications from public view.
On other fronts, the city Office of Inspector General released a scathing report exposing insider deals in the citys crime camera contracting process, and the Nagin Administration released a study of its own (done by an outside firm) exposing some of the same irregularities although the OIG study is more comprehensive. Some suspect the administration report is an attempt to make former city technology officer Anthony Jones the fall guy in the crime camera fiasco (while shielding his predecessor and mayoral pal Greg Meffert). Even if thats the case, the administration report plays a role in that it adds fuel to what I hope is a fire under the backsides of the feds and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
In the midst the local firestorm, Gov. Bobby Jindal (or someone working on his behalf) has taken steps to remove from public view an important online document that is not a public record, but which the public nonetheless ought to be able to continue to see: his detailed platform from the 2007 campaign. Veteran watchdog and critic C.B. Forgotston posts about it HERE. Go read it. Get mad about it. Make noise about it.
Bobby Jindal, who promised us transparency, ethics reform and more as a candidate for governor in 2007, doesnt want us to be able to refer back to all those promises now that hes a year-plus into the belly of the beast. Forgotston has repeatedly reminded us of Jindals alleged broken promises by linking to various planks of Jindals campaign platform on the campaign Web site. Now someone has taken down that site and replaced it with (in Forgotstons words) a single propaganda site for Bobby.
Forgotston is asking anyone who may have downloaded and saved Jindals online campaign platform to get in touch with him so that it can be re-posted for public reference forever.
Its Sunshine Week, folks. And the sad truth is, unless we help it, the sun wont shine on its own. To paraphrase Barack Obama, we have to be the sunshine weve been waiting for.