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New Orleans recall drive demands newspaper pay for petitions

Eileen Carter, an organizer of a recall petition drive against New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, holds a box of petitions as others are put through security equipment at New Orleans City Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Organizers say they have enough signatures to force a recall referendum on Cantrell. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Organizers of an effort to recall New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell have demanded $15,000 from the The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate to comply with a court agreement to give the city's daily newspaper copies of the signed petitions, the paper reported.

An attorney for Nolatoya.org told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate on Wednesday that it must pay $1 per page — about $15,000 — for the signatures, which are public record under state law, the news organization reported.

Nolatoya.org began a petition drive in August seeking to recall Cantrell, New Orleans' first female mayor. Cantrell's second term has been plagued by myriad problems, including stubborn violent crime, fitful progress on major street projects that have left some city streets a mess, and unreliable garbage collection. Questions also have been raised about her travel expenses and her personal use of a city-owned apartment.

The newspaper sued organizer Eileen Carter after Nolatoya.org declined to release signatures to the newspaper during the petition drive. Her lawyers argued that voters who signed the petition had a “reasonable expectation of privacy" and that revealing their names could expose them to retaliation.

Under a court agreement signed Feb. 8, recall leaders said they would provide the newspaper with a copy of their petitions by 5 p.m. Wednesday — the deadline for submitting them to the Orleans Parish registrar of voters for verification. The agreement on file at New Orleans' Civil District Court doesn't mention a fee.

But after organizers turned in their petitions to the registrar, they sent the newspaper a letter from attorney Laura Rodrigue stating that it must pay for the signatures, the newspaper reported. Rodrigue told the newspaper that Louisiana law allows for the collection of reasonable fees for the production of public records.

Carter, who signed the court agreement, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.