When Gov. Bobby Jindal promised to bring innovation to state government, we had no idea that his professed enthusiasm for ingenuity would extend to finding ever more clever ways to evade government transparency.
Although the governor entered office pledging to expand transparency in state government, Jindal’s administration has consistently championed efforts to do just the opposite, shielding the work of government from public view. Jindal successfully supported changes to the state’s Public Records Law that expand the number of records that can be off-limits to public inspection.
Jindal’s administration has also embraced an expansive interpretation of the “deliberative process” exemption — a dubious concept in which information used in his decision-making can be hidden from public view. His administration has used deliberative process concerns as an excuse to hide public documents generated in agencies and institutions far beyond the governor’s office, including LSU.
Additionally, in those numerous instances of the Public Records Law that give the officials a choice about whether to invoke an exemption to public disclosure of a document, Jindal’s administration has repeatedly chosen to shield a document from public view. That pattern invites an obvious question. Given this habit of secrecy, what does Jindal’s administration have to hide? Meanwhile, The Associated Press has learned that Jindal’s aides used private email accounts in crafting a media strategy to deal with $523 million in budget cuts last summer. A number of the private email messages were shared with The Associated Press by a Jindal administration official who asked not to be identified.
Those private email account messages weren’t provided in response to an Associated Press public records request, although administration officials acknowledged that discussions on private email accounts about public business should be subjected to the Public Records Law.
The law defines a public record by its use, and not its format. In general terms, if a document is used in performance of a public duty, it’s considered a public document.
But for various reasons, messages generated on private email accounts are harder to track — and easier to dispose of — than messages generated on government email accounts. That’s why government officials should use government email accounts, rather than private ones, to conduct official business.
The Jindal administration’s consistent dodging of government transparency is a disappointment — and particularly damning for a governor who promised to usher in an era of reform.