State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell Monday issued a definitive opinion that Cypress Trails Limited Partnership, created specifically to develop the publicly funded $10 million Cypress Trails apartment complex in north Lafayette, is subject to the state’s public records law.

Attorney Richard Becker, who represents the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, requested the opinion after denying this paper access to the partnership’s records. LPTFA created a non-profit affiliate that is the general partner in CTLP, and a private entity representing a tax credit investor is the limited partner holding a majority interest. The project was awarded low-income housing tax credits from the state.

This paper has been seeking to review CTLP's records after learning that an LPTFA board member, Greg Gachassin, orchestrated the entire deal and then stepped down from his position as board chairman to become the development consultant, likely earning more than $500,000 (we’ll know the exact amount from the public record soon.)

The state’s Ethics Code requires that appointees to public boards and commissions wait two years before going to work on any project involving the board. State Rep. Rickey Hardy has asked the state’s Board of Ethics to investigate the potential violation.

In the opening line of the opinion, Caldwell notes that his office received from Becker a request for an opinion concerning the application of La. RS. 44:1, the state's public records law, to the LPTFA, a public trust organized under the laws of the state and established for the benefit of the city of Lafayette.

Caldwell then pointed out that the legislation authorizing public trusts specifically subjects them to the public records law. “Permitting a partnership formed by an affiliate of an entity expressly required to comply with the Public Records Law to escape compliance with the [law] could be viewed as a means to circumvent the law,” he wrote.

Thus, in conclusion, although we acknowledge there is a degree of private funding at stake in the Limited Partnership, it is the opinion of this office that such a distinction cannot be made in application to a Limited Partnership created by an affiliate of a public trust to own and develop an affordable housing tax credit project. As such, it is the opinion of this office that, in general, the records of such Limited Partnership are subject to inspection unless the information requested concerns documents otherwise specifically exempt from inspection under Title 44.

“The Public Records Law is interpreted liberally,” Caldwell said, “with any doubt resolved in favor of access.”

Caldwell also notes the difference between an LPTFA affiliate and an affiliate of a housing authority, the latter having previously enjoyed an exemption to the state’s public records law. This year the state Legislature removed that exemption, and the governor signed it into law; the records will be public next month.

On Monday Becker notified this newspaper that he was reviewing the opinion.

Read the AG opinion letter here.

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