Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There's more than one queen of mean in this deck

Once again, Lolis Eric Elie:
Presumably, public officials realize that Louisiana law allows for few exceptions to the documents considered public records. But average citizens -- who might e-mail a public official about criminal activity or a personal issue -- might not realize their correspondence is subject to public records law.

If, for instance, a constituent wrote to his or her council member to complain about the crackhouse next door, the criminals would be able to learn who reported the nuisance.*

Washington brushes aside such concerns, preferring to view her creation as a teaching moment, a chance to inform the citizens of their rights and responsibilities.

"It's responsibility both on the government side and on the citizen side, " she said.

"I could not imagine that a citizen who has been energized and has been invited to engage would not know that, just as records you receive from the government are public records, so are all the records you send."

Perhaps because of my own personal concerns, my immediate reaction was: "Fuck bitch, have the guts to say 'The private life is dead,' if you just don't care who gets hurt in your personal pursuit of justice. Don't give us bullshit reasons that contradict each other."

Of course, it's possible that Washington's no Strelnikov, just a well-intentioned political activist who forgot about the real human impact of her actions. If that were the case, though, I would have expected an entirely different reaction. Seven words: "I'm sorry. I hadn't thought about that." Nobody would have expected her to drop the matter, just to proceed a little more cautiously.

When I consider Washington's Austin background, her connections to the Jefferson machine, her possible abuse of the attorney/client relationship and the unusual circumstances under which Washington came into possession of the council emails, I have trouble thinking of her as just an overzealous, but well-meaning, community activist. Then again, I'm biased. I've emailed Stacy Head, but the only personal information that I included in that email was my pay at a university library. The pay was embarrassingly low, especially before a step up in rank, but nothing to make me hate anybody. I also mentioned this blog, which is semi-anonymous, but that's also not reason for me to hate anybody.

However, not long after Katrina, I emailed other council members and mentioned a medical treatment that I would not want to have turn up anytime somebody Googles my name. It was a stupid move, but I was dealing with post-Katrina stress (like everybody else in the city) and perhaps looking for any outlet to vent, and the medicine had strong psychological as well as physical side effects. In other words, like probably hundreds of other New Orleanians, I had a lapse in judgment. I certainly wasn't engaged enough to think about public records laws and I seriously doubt that most people who write their city council representatives are either. Now, I'll worry about what people will find when they Google my name after other council emails are released. Thanks for the teaching moment Tracie.

Now, it's entirely possible that emails will be released with enough redaction that no private citizens will have personal information revealed. If so, it won't be because Washington insisted on it. Jarvis DeBerry continues to insist that there should be no redaction at all. How can the publishers of the Times Picayune expect any of the city's residents to read their paper, when even its own writers don't?

*George Ingmire made a the same point more strenuously at Humid City:
How many lives could be put in jeopardy if Ms. White were to post these emails? Who will be in charge of selecting the emails for posting on nolapublicrecords.org?

Everyday concerned citizens write their councilperson about everything from crime problems to zoning concerns. Releasing these emails would be the tantamount to exposing potential witnesses and would further damage the already crumbling trust we all have in our city government.

I can't find specific links but similar points were made about private health matters, can't remember if they were made in articles, op-ed columns or letters to the editor, but they did appear in the paper -- the paper that Jarvis DeBerry apparently doesn't read.

I keep hearing about all of the supposed reasons why some things shouldn't be released. I actually think Stacy head got it about right.

I don't think anyone who email a council person about a problem has any reason to believe that their email won't be shared, In fact that is the purpose of most of these emails, to get the council person to act in some manner which would require sharing the email or the information in it.

If someone emails about a crack house, Isn't that person expecting the council person to light a fire under the police? Don't they think one of the first things the police will do is talk to the complainant to see if they can provide useful information or actually witnessed a crime or just be sure it wasn't a prank? I don't think criminals are making public records requests to find people who know what they are up to.

If someone shares a medical condition with someone outside of the doctor patient relationship, I don't beleive that is privileged.

While some people may find some of that embarrassing in most cases I can think of it isn't a real problem.

I think most people also know they can get an email address that doesn't identify them by name and omit identifing details.

I have emailed my council person but under my blogonym and my real name.

I find it odd that some journalists think everyone else's personal business should be public record but contend they have a special privilege to hide their sources, even from criminal investigations and will talk to people off the record. That seems hypocritical to me
Stacy Head redacted names, so I assume you're saying that's about right. Jarvis DeBerry keeps up the issue without even acknowledging the objection that his own peers have mentioned. He also implies that Head's emails reveal a great deal of racial prejudice without actually saying that I do. From that, I conclude that he puts some thought into his writing and chooses to ignore an issue that would make it difficult for him to act self-righteous.

From what I've seen of the emails, they actually show Head to be more snobby or judgmental than bigoted. After all, the "code words" were used in emails that she believed to be private. Sure, widespread use of the n word is considered a sign of bad breeding in some circles, but I would expect something a little more revealing among friends.
And Washington still reveals herself to be a ruthless hypocrite who lacks the courage of her convictions.
Hey, I'm not going to tell anyone you had scabies... (or "ticks":)
I emailed Head too, but was under no notion that it was a Private correspondence. Had I wanted that I would have written a letter, which is protected by the full weight and might of the US Gubmint.
Fine post.
I'm the person who wrote the email to Stacy Head about the crackhouse next door (and later told Lolis about it). I called said crackhead out by name in that email and gave detailed descriptions of what happened at that house.

In retrospect, the thought of whether that email could be considered a public document didn't even occur to me at the time. But even if I had, I probably would have assumed that someone making a public records request to CM Head about *that* property or another related subject could have obtained the email....but it *NEVER* crossed my mind that her or anyone's entire set of emails could be released.

While I doubt that the crackhead will read these emails, I'm sure that someone who knows him will. And that puts me and my property in danger.

I think that there can and should be redactions to protect citizens (and the accused!).
I just want to say how much I appreciate this blog.

I share your opinions on this issue almost in entirety and I almost never agree with anyone on anything (I think that's supposed to be a compliment).

The ramifications of what has been going on and what will go on have been huge.

The public records law, by the way, provides for over 80 exceptions. And it als states at the very beginning that the documents subject to are those relating to business conducted according to the public official's position, i.e. within the scope of their job.

The Council has never refused this records request, in fact between December and March they NEVER received it. When they DID get it they started acting on it and sought to meet the requirements of the law; it is their duty to exempt and exclude what the law requires and to protect their consituents.

And between December and March, before the Council knew anything, Washington could have released salacious emails but apparently nothing must have met whatever preconceptions she had about racist cabals because she sure didn't publish anything in all that time.

One other thing from Head's emails: in one of them she appears to suddenly realize that the mayor had been reading her emails for a while. When does *that get reported?

Yes, this has had a freezing effect on constituent communications. And this council, and especially head, Fielkow and Midura, have been extremely responsive compared to other current and past councilmembers. That *was* progress. That point does not get mentioned enough.

DeBerry's insistence on arguing against privacy, privilege and redaction is truly hard-headed. But he's a reporter, he's with the press, to him all information is public and needs to be reported. Which is one way to look at it. But not when people get hurt and when the goals are truly as nefarious as these.

That Washington and LJI, which is codirected by Jacques Morial and Steve Jupiter, and then propelled forward via Vincent Sylvain and the Jefferson/Spears political crew, have been conducting a political hit-job on Head with the cooperation of Nagin, White and Nagin's IT (Jones, most likely) and vice versa has become clear. The TP refuses to come out and report on this.

The goal here is to end the investigation of contracts and to take back Head's seat and get yet another contractor-friendly mayor in office; maybe drive Head and Fielkow out of politics altogether. And kill reform.

Clarkson: man, she is old time politico, you are right. One thing you can see in Head's emails is how often she has sold Fielkow, Midura and Head out.

Worst case scenario: Head resigns or is defeated; and Fielkow decides not to run for mayor. And it's back to same-old, same-old. A Jefferson ally in District B; a Lombard, or Murray, or Sapir as mayor. You can nail the coffin on the city's post-Katrina hopes after that. It could happen.
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