Nonprofit indie news site The Lens, led by a LION member, has won a lawsuit against New Orleans, with a judge ruling Thursday that the city must turn over purchasing records. "This is a solid start to opening up to public view the city’s contracting and purchasing records," said editor Steve Beatty.
Beatty, who serves on the Board of Directors of LION Publishers, said "We look forward to working further with the city to see precisely how taxpayer money is being spent."
A judge cleared the way Thursday for The Lens to begin getting public records from the city’s purchasing database, seven months after the nonprofit news outlet first requested it.
In a closed-door conference with attorneys, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese told the city to provide The Lens with a list of vendors from the BuySpeed database. This will allow reporters to make specific requests for receipts, invoices and other documentation in their attempt to track the city’s spending, even as they wait for the city to produce the entire database.
The Lens sued the city earlier this year for habitually failing to provide records in a timely manner. State law says records must be produced immediately. If they’re in use, the city must set a time within three business days to comply. The city’s practice is to send a letter within three business days stating that it is working on the request. These so-called “initial response letters” typically do not indicate when the records will be made available.
When it filed, The Lens cited five unfulfilled requests in the lawsuit. Days later the city produced four of the five requests.
But the city has failed to produce the BuySpeed database, which tracks payments to city vendors.
Reese initially issued a ruling that dismissed the matter and said the city had provided all the records, but The Lens was granted today’s rehearing after it brought the unfulfilled request to the judge’s attention.
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