Pointe Coupee police juror files public records suit

A Pointe Coupee police juror filed a public records lawsuit in 18th Judicial District Court on Tuesday against the parish administrator, public utilities director and the Police Jury’s president, asking officials to release documents regarding outstanding fees and billing protocol for residential utilities rates.

The lawsuit filed by Police Juror Justin Cox asserts that Parish Administrator Jim Bello, Police Jury President Melanie Bueche and John Gosserand, director of public utilities for the parish, violated the state’s public records laws because they refused to release accurate copies of documents Cox requested and did not properly state why the information was not provided as required under Louisiana’s Public Records laws.

“I’ve been requesting these records since January and I had to keep following up with emails to even get anything,” Cox said Tuesday. “My goal is for us to be able to look at our system and see where we need improvements and if people are not doing their job, we need to hold them accountable. It shouldn’t take a juror two and a half months to obtain public records.”

Bello and Gosserand could not be reached at their offices Tuesday for comment and Bueche did not return several calls to her cellphone.

According to the lawsuit, filed by Lake Charles attorney Donald Hodge on Cox’s behalf, Cox submitted a written request to Gosserand on Jan. 16 asking the public utilities director to release the following documents:

A list of residential accounts more than 90 days past due for garbage, water and gas service that also identified customers who were still receiving services from the parish despite their outstanding balances.

A list of outstanding accounts for garbage collection that were still receiving service from the parish past their cut-off dates.

Records of all account adjustments the department made within the past two years where customers received credits, write-offs or balance reductions for money owed to the parish for utility services.

Cox also asked the administration what policies, if any, the Police Jury had adopted to handle account adjustments and who is given authority to make the adjustments, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims Cox had to make a second request for the documents March 21 before finally receiving them March 26.

But the lawsuit says the defendants only provided Cox with a list of outstanding accounts for garbage and mosquito abatement and neglected to include water and gas accounts as well.

The lawsuit states parish administrators failed to provide a written response properly identifying why a portion of the requested records were not included in the report given to Cox.

“Defendants have willfully and knowingly failed or refused to comply with their constitutional and statutory duties to provide (Cox) full and complete copies of the public records sought,” the lawsuit states.

No hearing has been set for the lawsuit.