More shenanigans in White Castle as WBRZ tries to obtain public records
UPDATE: Following days of silence and no answers, Mayor Jermarr Williams provided an invoice that showed he paid $1,800 cash to have his tree cut down. That comes after we were railroaded for information seeking information about tree cutting following the May storms. Williams also did not return our calls. Despite the invoices that we obtained today, there are no clear answers as to where the trees were cut down because the tree cutters did not write down addresses, just street names.
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW:
WHITE CASTLE- Drama continues to unfold involving public records in the Town of White Castle. As the WBRZ Investigative Unit went to check on a request that has been outstanding for about a month, we learned the Town was conducting business on private email servers like Yahoo!
Our request involved invoices for tree cutting services back in May after the tornado. Early last month, WBRZ sent a public records request for any invoices and addresses where the trees were cut. We followed up about 13 days later, asking about the records. Today, we showed up in person to have Custodian of Records Monica Hamilton tell us she did not receive the requests.
That came despite the Town's protocol online saying all requests needed to go to the email WBRZ sent them to. Today, she gave us a YAHOO! email address to send our requests to.
Our request involved a giant tree that was cut down in front of Mayor Jermarr Williams' home. Today, a large stump remains. The owner of American Tree Service tells WBRZ, his company performed work for the Town of White Castle after the tornado in May. He recalled getting approximately $35,000 from the Town for tree cutting services. However, he said he never personally received a check from the Mayor for services at his house. A picture WBRZ sent to the owner shows what he said looks like his truck backed on the Mayor's property doing work.
Today, we asked Custodian of Records Monica Hamilton would not answer our questions, and when we asked why the Town switched her off of their server to a Yahoo! server, she said, "that's my email address."
The last time WBRZ went to check on records at White Castle Town Hall, Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto left in handcuffs. Today, there were no signs of the White Castle Police, but the same level of resistant customer service existed.
Council Members Shalanda Allen and Elliot Martin were also in Town Hall today. Allen said she was unaware the Town was using Yahoo! to do business.
Councilman Elliot Martin and other Town leaders said new policies were in place and instructed Nakamoto to leave a driver's license to get records. Those in the legal community say any sheet of paper in Town Hall is a public record, and the law does not require turning over a picture id for copying to get records. We asked Martin where in the law did it say that.
"State law says we can create and add it to our policy that we see fit," Martin said.
As we were leaving, Town employees got on the phone with a lawyer who advised them to take our public records request after they verified Nakamoto was over the age of 18. Calls to Mayor Jermarr Williams and Town Attorney Valencia Landry were not returned.
The owner of American Tree Service says he is examining his records to look for payment for the work at the mayor's home. He expects to have more information after the holiday weekend.
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