Six East Baton Rouge Council Members have put in a formal records request regarding the proposed stormwater utility fee.
Plus, Councilman Dwight Hudson went one step further and put an item on the Oct. 26th agenda. He’s asking to “waive attorney-client privilege with respect to those text messages and emails.” That means certain public records cannot be withheld under the pretense of attorney-client privilege.
The request was addressed to the city-parish asking for “all texts, phone calls, call logs and emails” from Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, her staff members including Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelvin Hill and Chief Communications Officer Mark Armstrong as well as attorneys with the parish attorney’s office.
The public records request comes after at least six council members were furious to learn they were potentially misled.
They were repeatedly told by Mayor Broome and her staff the council members nor the public could get many details into the proposed stormwater utility fee due to a gag order or non-disclosure agreement. Plus, the mayor and her staff said the rush to get the proposed fee to a vote on Oct. 26th was necessary to avoid possible looming fees that could be assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a consent decree.
Late last week, Congressman Garret Graves sent a letter to the EPA and the United States Dept. of Justice requesting details of the alleged non-disclosure agreement. Early this week, Congressman Graves learned through both federal agencies that neither were aware of any non-disclosure agreements with East Baton Rouge Parish over a stormwater utility fee. The EPA went further saying they did not have any deadline in place that would force the fee to be imposed by the end of the month.
The Parish-Attorney’s office immediately issued a statement with part of it reading:
No state or federal governmental agency has required the City-Parish to execute a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement as it pertains to stormwater compliance.
However, as is standard practice, settlement discussions that may lead to court action should remain confidential for the benefit of all parties.
There is no NDA regarding the stormwater proposal.
Since then, the mayor requested the item be pulled from the Oct. 26th agenda of the EBR council meeting, but legally, once an item has been introduced for public hearing, it cannot be removed without a public hearing.
It’s why all public meetings regarding the utility fee that were scheduled for this week and next week have now been cancelled. The council will have to proceed with a public hearing, but then can delete the item after that.
The public records request is asking for specific words and phrases in those texts, phone calls and emails. Black & Veatch was the consultant hired by city-parish to assist in the creation of the stormwater utility fee. Beverage & Diamond is an environmental law firm based in D.C.
The records request reads:
Dear Ms. Guidroz,
Please accept this letter as our formal public records request for any and all texts, phone calls, call logs, and emails to or from Anderson (Andy) Dotson, Courtney Humphrey, Lisa Smith, Bob Abbott, Rick Speer, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Darryl Gissel, Kelvin Hill, and Mark Armstrong including any of the following words or phrases: Black & Veatch, Beverage & Diamond, gag order, NDA, non disclosure agreement, non-disclosure agreement, stormwater, stormwater utility, fee, EPA, Graves, enforcement action, DOJ, consent decree from May 1, 2022 through October 18, 2022.
We also request copies of the U.S. and La. v. City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge (M.D. La.) non-disclosure agreements signed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Kelvin Hill, Rick Speer, Anderson (Andy) Dotson, Courtney Humphrey, Bob Abbot, Lisa Smith, Darryl Gissel, and Mark Armstrong.
We request these documents be delivered to the below Councilmembers no later than close of business Tuesday, October 25, 2022.
Unfiltered with Kiran has yet to hear back from the mayor’s office in regards to any comment or statements on the stormwater utility fee reports.