NEW ROADS — A New Roads woman filed suit Thursday against Mayor Robert Myer for refusing to turn over copies of his credit card statements and travel expenses after she made a public records request for the documents.
Myer fired back, calling the lawsuit a political stunt orchestrated by Pointe Coupee Parish Police Juror Cornell Dukes — one of his opponents in the city’s upcoming mayoral race.
The suit was filed by Ruby Christophe. When asked about her connection to Dukes, she said she’s working with his campaign.
Myer said late Thursday that Dukes has bombarded the city with document requests since May 2014, putting “an undue burden on a small town.” He said he hasn’t yet seen the lawsuit but is “sure it is more of the same wasting of taxpayers’ dollars from Cornell.”
Dukes said he has no control over what another adult does and said Christophe is just seeking information from the city she’s rightfully entitled to as a taxpayer.
He said he’s disappointed the mayor appears prepared to spend money on attorney fees rather than following the state’s public records law and releasing the records.
“This is not about the mayor; this is about transparency in the city of New Roads, and transparency isn’t waste,” Dukes said.
According to the lawsuit, Christophe submitted a public records request to the city on Oct. 9 asking for copies of the mayor’s 2012 credit card statements and the total cost of Myer’s travel expenses since 2011.
Her request followed a request for information Dukes made on Aug. 12 that turned up information that the mayor has charged more than $155,000 on his city-issued credit card since 2011.
According to a document from the city itemizing the months, years and amounts charged, Myer rang up big charges on the credit card for some months.
For example, the mayor charged $11,040 on the credit card in February 2012 and another $15,155 in May 2012. Christophe said she’s seeking details on the charges for those two months.
“I wanted to know why the bill was so high,” she said Wednesday. “Some of the receipts were not there. What did he do with that type of money? We’re waiting for an answer, and they’re not answering.”
In an interview on Wednesday, the day before the suit was filed in the 18th Judicial District Court, Christophe said she spoke with a receptionist for attorney John Wayne Jewell, the city’s attorney, on Oct. 10 and was told then that the city’s administration was working on her request.
“But I haven’t heard anything from her since,” she said.
Louisiana public records law states that public records should be promptly presented for inspection. Only if the records in question are “in active use” at the time of the request are public agencies given three days — excluding weekends and legal holidays — to produce the material to the public.
Even then, the custodian of the records must “promptly certify” in writing why the records are unavailable and give the person a date and time within the 72-hour grace period to review the records, the law states.
Christophe says she never received any formal response from the city — only the phone call from Jewell’s office.
The Advocate on Wednesday submitted a request to Myer for copies of the credit card statements from January 2011 to August 2014.
In a review Thursday of monthly statements boasting the highest amount of charges, the newspaper found that Myer, in February 2012, had charged more than $1,800 for airline tickets to Miami for himself and two employees and an additional $1,914 for reservations at the Courtyard by Marriott in Miami.
Myer said he traveled to Miami with the city’s finance director, Cherie Rockforte, and New Roads’ Main Street Manager Lauren Jones, to attend the Franchise Expo South on Jan. 20-22.
According to the conference’s website, Franchise Expo South is an annual trade show for entrepreneurs and business owners looking to establish franchising and market their services.
In a written statement explaining the trip, Myer said, “I am proud that in February we spent money promoting our city at the IFA Expo of the South. We were promoting potential franchise companies and individual franchises to come to our city and do business.”
He added that New Roads, in the fall, has had over 25 new or expanded businesses.
The trip to Miami cost taxpayers an additional $1,700 in charges at Miami restaurants and for marketing materials offered from a booth set up at the trade show.
The more than 20 charges included in the February 2012 statement include more than $1,000 in charges at various Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in southwest Louisiana and a Mardi Gras boutique store in Metairie.
Receipts detailing exactly what was purchased weren’t immediately available Thursday.
Myer said he often uses his credit card to purchase office supplies and equipment for city-related projects.
“We, like most American families and businesses, use our credit card for efficiency and cash management,” the mayor said in his written statement.
He said the credit card was “put in the mayor’s name because someone has to be in charge, but it is mainly used by department employees in order to get their jobs done.”
The February statement also included a $18 charge to Cinemark Theatres in Baton Rouge. The mayor said he sometimes awards incentives, such as movie tickets, to employees.
“We have been doing Mardi Gras in New Roads for 92 years,” Myer said. “It is well-known that the city incurs extra expenses during February putting on and supporting Mardi Gras.”
The May 2012 statement, which totals $15,155 in charges, shows Myer spent nearly $4,000 on promotional materials and TV advertisements for the city’s annual Market at the Mill, which is the city’s three-day spring shopping extravaganza each May at the historic cotton mill in New Roads.
More charges from Sam’s Club also are included in the May statement, as well as $1,339 in charges for railroad track repairs and landscape work at the cotton mill, and a $428 charge on April 29, 2012, to the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas.
The mayor said he went to Dallas to attend an educational conference sponsored by Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters. Myer said he was seeking information for his foundation “New Books for New Roads,” which gives books to preschoolers to encourage reading early.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.