A vote of the Town of Jonesboro’s Board of Aldermen at last night’s meeting that “officially” fired all the members of the Jonesboro Police Department save the chief is invalid. That according to a Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion issued last year in a similar case, and backed up by a Louisiana Supreme Court decision.
Voting for Resolution 1221 were District C’s Charla Mason-Thompson and District D’s Devin Flowers. Voting no were District A’s Sam Lamkin and District B’s Renee Stringer. Alderman-at-large LaStevic Cottonham first voted yes, then switched to abstain.
Thompson voted yes to break the tie.
The resolution stated:
BE IT RESOLVED that the employment of all of the officers of the Police Department of the Town of Jonesboro employed on June 30, 2012, other than the elected Chief of Police, be and the same is hereby terminated effective July 1, 2012.
However, LA AG opinion 11-0220 says:
If there is a tie vote concerning the adoption of a resolution, and such tie is a result of a member’s abstention, the mayor cannot cast the tie-breaking vote, as this is not an equal division of the members present, but rather an equal division of the members voting.
The opinion cites further:
It should also be noted that the fact of whether or not any members abstained from voting is relevant in the analysis of the application of La. R.S. 33:405(A)(1). In City of Pineville v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, 2000-C-1983 (La. 6/29/01); 791 So.2d 609, the Louisiana Supreme Court considered whether it was proper for the Mayor of Pineville to cast the tie-breaking vote on a resolution where two members voted in favor of the resolution, two members voted against, and one member abstained. The Court held that the Mayor lacked the authority to vote in this instance, as the proper interpretation of La. R.S. 33:405(A)(1) is that “the mayor can only vote on resolutions if there is an equal division of board members present, i.e., four members are present and the vote is two-to-two.” Id. at 613. [Emphasis in original].
Despite the fact that there was a tie vote, due to the fact that there were five members present and the tie was a result of an abstention, the Court concluded that it was improper for the Mayor to cast a deciding vote as there was not an equal division of the members. Equal division must be determined by considering the number of board members present, rather than the number of board members voting.
The vote followed an extended “explanation” by the town’s controversial mayor Leslie Thompson and the town’s attorney Doug Stokes on the reasoning behind the resolution.
Said Thompson, “I tell you council members your job is still what your job is. Nobody or nothing circumvents that.” He added, “Now, if the fiscal administrator comes and says well, I have somehow figured that I have the power to reinstate – I have the power to override what you guys have said you wanted to have done – well, that will be for a court to decide upon.”
Stokes said, “I think this (resolution) is better than doing nothing.” He added, “We trying to basically say we’re terminating you only for budgetary reasons, which addresses any concern they might have about I was fired for cause. We’re trying to say that the reason that they are terminated was not because of anything they did, but because of budgetary reasons, and that we want to be fair and keep them on our medical insurance until they’ve got their COBRA.”
The resolution provided that even though the officers were terminated, their medical insurance would remain in effect for a period of time.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Jonesboro continue to maintain each officer of the Police Department of the Town of Jonesboro employed on June 30, 2012 as an insured under its policy of medical insurance, at the expense of the Town, until each such individual has been provided with notice of their right to continue their medical insurance, at their own expense, under all relevant provisions of federal law, including COBRA.
Stokes also noted that according to the Lawrason Act, the town cannot terminate any police officers without a recommendation by Police Chief Wesley Horton, which he has not done. Stokes also said that the statutes do not contemplate eliminating the police department.
We will have additional reporting on the meeting later this week.