Members of the Mandeville City Council have frequently demanded information from Mayor Donald Villere about various proposals and plans. At Thursday night’s council meeting, however, it was information requested from the council that caused the biggest stir.
A brief item on the council’s agenda — “Discussion on public records requests” — turned into a nearly hourlong debate on one public records request from Mandeville resident Guy Stacy.
In a request first submitted in February and later revised in a series of emails with City Attorney Edward Deano, Stacy requested emails, faxes and text messages among council members and between council members and members of the city’s Financial Oversight Committee, a volunteer board created by the council. Stacy also requested emails, faxes and text messages between council members during council meetings from July 2012 until the time of the request.
In one of his emails to Deano, Stacy insisted he is not interested in personal information but rather in those communications that deal with Mandeville financial matters.
The sheer scope of the request upset some members of the council and two members of the Financial Oversight Committee who spoke at Thursday’s meeting.
“I almost don’t know where to start,” said Glenn Runyon, a member of the financial committee. He called the request overly broad and burdensome on the committee members, who are uncompensated volunteers.
“This thing ought to go to the attorney general,” he added, urging the council to seek an attorney general’s opinion on what parts of the request are valid.
Marilyn Osborne, another member of the committee, said the request was an invasion of privacy.
“I consider it harassment,” she said. She agreed with Runyon that the council should seek an attorney general’s opinion on the validity of the request.
But Deano said public advisory boards, such as the Financial Oversight Committee, are subject to the public-records law.
Because Stacy also requested emails on personal accounts and text messages sent from council members’ personal phones, some council members asked if they were expected to use their own resources to answer the request and if they could recoup some of the cost of retrieving the documents.
“Do I have to use my own paper, ink and so on?” Councilman Rick Danielson asked.
Ernest Burguières said it would take him “50 hours” to get all the emails and texts printed.
But attorney Karlin Riles, who works for the city, said council members are responsible for keeping any emails or texts that deal with public business, even if they are sent on personal accounts or equipment.
“You are the custodian of public records,” she said. “You are responsible for segregating these public records.”
She indicated they would have to bear the cost of retrieval as well.
“The fact that you haven’t been segregating this information for easy retrieval does not mean the requester has to bear the cost,” she said.
Stacy, who didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting, said his request is legitimate.
“I am not harassing anybody. I am just asking for information,” he said. “I just requested public records from a public body.”
Stacy refused to comment on the reason for his request, saying that once he has the records, he will share his findings with the public.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.