The Lincoln Parish School Board (LPSB) closed its meeting to the public this morning – an action that is within its purview to do when the subject matter allows – but they failed to follow proper procedure when they did it. Furthermore, they had one of the chief law enforcement officers in the parish giving them bum advice that it was all okay.
Not only was there no public comment section provided for in the meeting agenda, but Assistant District Attorney for the Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union parishes) District – Andy Shealy – advised that since two agenda items were to receive reports and no votes would be taken, then the requirement for public comment would not be necessary.
“It’s going to be my recommendation that with respect to items 4.1 and 4.2, there is no need for public comment period on those particular items – they are reports only,” Shealy said. “The statute requires only that there be comment period prior to taking a vote,” he added.
However, when the one item where a vote was required – the vote to go into executive session – Shealy reversed himself and opined that no public comment period was necessary, despite the plain language in the law.
“I don’t intend to argue with you, that’s my recommendation and I would suggest they (the board) follow it,” Shealy said.
Here’s the law.
LA RS 42:15 – School board meetings; public comment
A. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, each school board subject to the provisions of this Chapter, except as provided in Subsection B of this Section, shall allow public comment at any meeting of the school board prior to taking any vote. The comment period shall be for each agenda item and shall precede each agenda item.
We objected vociferously, but to no avail.
Wanting to comment was Ruston activist Bill Smith. He wanted to question the 7/5/11 decision to close the parish’s two alternative schools – Lincoln Center School and Lincoln Parish Career Academy – an action that was taken without a vote of the board.
Smith also wanted to address a status report from the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning the 45 year old desegregation lawsuit under which Lincoln Parish schools operate. It was revealed after the 8/2/11 board meeting that some board members had not been given a copy of the report, even though it had been filed back in May.
Board President and District 10 member Otha Anders refused to recognize Smith.
“I’m not accepting your comment, yes,” Anders told Smith.
See here the DOJ status report.
Another improper action in closing the meeting was the failure to secure a roll-call vote.
LA RS 42:16 – Executive Sessions
A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by R.S. 42:17; however, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting. Nothing in this Section or R.S. 42:17 shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of this Chapter.
So what are the possible consequences of this morning’s action by the board?
LA RS 42:25 – Enforcement
A. The attorney general shall enforce the provisions of this Chapter throughout the state. He may institute enforcement proceedings on his own initiative and shall institute such proceedings upon a complaint filed with him by any person, unless written reasons are given as to why the suit should not be filed.
B. Each district attorney shall enforce the provisions of this Chapter throughout the judicial district within which he serves. He may institute enforcement proceedings on his own initiative and shall institute such proceedings upon a complaint filed with him by any person, unless written reasons are given as to why the suit should not be filed.
C. Any person who has been denied any right conferred by the provisions of this Chapter or who has reason to believe that the provisions of this Chapter have been violated may institute enforcement proceedings.
Also, any action taken by the board today could be voided.
LA RS 42-24 – Voidability
Any action taken in violation of this Chapter shall be voidable by a court of competent jurisdiction. A suit to void any action must be commenced within sixty days of the action.
Two reports were delivered to the board before the fireworks – one from School Improvement and Accountability Coordinator Donna Doss – the other from Baton Rouge attorney Pamela Dill, of Hammond & Sills. Dill is the board’s attorney handling the desegregation suit.
See here the Doss report.
Dill said the May DOJ report was not a court order, but that it was a report to which the school district would have an opportunity to respond.
“Our office has been continuously working with the U. S. Department of Justice, on the district’s behalf, and the subject of this report has been the subject of an intense investigation ever since it was file and received,” Dill said. “On or before September 15, the district and the lab schools will have the opportunity to file individual responses to the U. S. DOJ’s report,” she added.
Sometime in the future, the court will rule, according to Dill.
The LPSB will meet in regular session next Tuesday, September 6.