Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. (American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, July 23, 2012 11:21 AM
Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said there is nothing questionable in his emails regarding an attempt to obtain $1 million for state-funded capital improvements at Barbe High School.
On Friday, Kleckley told the American Press he would release the emails even though they were initially deemed private by a state official.
Earlier this month, the American Press reported that Kleckley added the appropriation request to House Bill 2. The capital outlay bill — which lists $2.7 billion in construction projects across the state — was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The newspaper reported the story, which led to a negative public reaction against the appropriation request for the Calcasieu Parish school. Kleckley decided to sack the issue, ahead of the Louisiana Bond Commission’s decision on the budget request. Funds were going to be used for the purchase an all-purpose turf field for the football stadium and other enhancements to Barbe’s athletic facilities.
On July 5, the newspaper sent a public records request to Alfred Speer, clerk of the house for the Louisiana House of Representatives, requesting all of Kleckley’s written and digital communication about the appropriation request.
Speer reviewed the records and found 11 emails — five sent to Kleckley and his six responses — that were related to the budget request.
One response was dated on July 3, the date of the first newspaper story, and the others were written July 4-6. Kleckley responded to all six emails on July 6. In an email response to the information request, Speer concluded that Kleckley’s emails “are not subject to disclosure under our public records law.”
He explained the decision: “Louisiana’s appellate courts have recognized that Article 1 section 5 of our constitution creates a limited exemption from the public records laws. This constitutional provision establishes the right of each citizen to maintain the privacy of their communications. For this privacy right to append, the communicator must have a reasonable expectation that the communication will remain private and be protected.
“This expectation exists even in the face of the public records law. I have determined that each of these eleven emails is protected as private communication.”
Jindal’s administration has benefited from court interpretation of the public records laws after similar requests.
Kleckley said he would release the emails. Those attempts were delayed this weekend because he was not able to contact House officials who oversee the release of that information.
The newspaper was interested in the correspondence, especially since government officials have said they want to be fiscally responsible. At issue was the process Kleckely used in deciding Barbe should be awarded funds to improve its athletic facilities.
Louisiana public records laws are supposed to protect the public’s rights to documents produced by local and state government agencies.
A Louisiana attorney general’s interpretation of the law says, “No person shall be denied the right to ... examine public documents, except in cases established by law. It should be noted that this provision does not constitute an absolute guarantee, in is not totally self-executing.”
In addressing concerns over privacy, the attorney general notes that citizens are protected from “unreasonable invasions of privacy.”
The attorney general notes that there are no standards set to define the extent of privacy rights in regard to the review of public records.
“The courts have been faced with the determination of the extent of the right to privacy in a paucity of cases,” reads the attorney general’s website. “In those cases the courts have used the right of privacy guaranteed by Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution to limit this right to inspect public records.”
Paula Mitchell, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association, said access to legislative email is an issue that must be addressed.
“We think it should be open and subject to public disclosure. Typically, it has been, until recently though we have been running into these situations where access is declining,” she said.
Mitchell said privacy issues have become difficult to navigate since laws were established to protect medical records and national security.
She said lawmakers — who set the public records standards — inadvertently learn of the difficulty in accessing information.
“They don’t get it until it is something they want to get from the governor or some public agency and are denied. Then it becomes a problem,” she said.
In her opinion, Kleckley’s emails are not private.
Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said there is a constant debate over what records are privileged. From his experience, there is always a public official willing to make it hard to access certain information.
Technological advances, like the creation of email, have caused difficulties for policymakers in deciding what information should and should not be within the public domain.
“It requires constant effort to look at the public records law and understand how it is being interpreted and to make sure the public has good access to what should be considered public documents,” Scott said.
Posted By: Bre Noland On: 7/24/2012
Title: New Breed of Government
There is no integrity in the administration any more. It starts at the top. Everyone gets their marching orders. The price of good government evidently is out of our reach. Don't listen to the campagne retoric any more.
Posted By: tax paying peon On: 7/23/2012
Title: what a crock!
so emails from a legislator, while on the public dime, are considered private??!! COVER UP!!! THERE IS A COVER UP GOING ON HERE!!! if there is no cover up, nothing illegal, what is the problem with releasing emails from one of our employees to one of our taxpayers??!!!! THESE PEOPLE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WORKING FOR THE PUBLIC, SO HOW CAN THEY CLAIM PRIVACY??!!!
Posted By: MikieBoy On: 7/23/2012
Title: As I RECALL
I find it interesting that the speaker doesn't want to turn over a few e-mails concerning a pork project in his district. As I RECALL the legislature was trying to get their hands on the e-mails of parish school superintendents in an effort to quell their resistance to the education reform package earlier this year?!!? What is most amusing is the speaker's excuse for not turning over what he originally said he would turn over to the press. As I RECALL, just because somebody gives you advice, you still have the choice of whether or not to take it. If what you are doing is on the up & up why would you care?
The coaches did not ask him for the turf, they were informed of the project after the fact, but when the project came to light the speaker was quick to throw them under the bus. Just like throwing the advisor under the bus for his flip flop on the e-mail release, As I RECALL there is room for at least 1more under the bus!!??
Posted By: Wilfred On: 7/22/2012
Title: Bravo American Press
I commend the AP for investigating this story. I know the Barbe coaches well enough to know this ideal did not come from them. If I was a betting person, I would bet Kleckley originated this scheme to stop his recall. How awful is it to use tex payers monies to protect his political hide. DISGUSTING, AMATEUR ISH, AND TOTALLY LAME BRAIN. RECALL HIS USELESS SELF
Posted By: the voice On: 7/22/2012
Title: recall him vote him out stand up for the other high schools who really need the money
Time for the people in Louisiana to vote someone in who cares about its citizens.
Posted By: me again On: 7/22/2012
Why don't the senders release their own emails and kleckley's reply...unless the e-signed some sort of privacy statement ...Jeez,everything is so complicated in government!..