It’s no secret the Lafayette Parish School Board has had its issues with Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law, but recently, when presented with an opportunity to avoid an obvious violation, the board scoffed in the face of the law. The result — a pair of formal complaints filed at the district attorney's office.
|Photos by Robin May|
|LPSB's Mark Allen Babineaux|
The violation came during a special meeting held April 23, which according to the public notice issued prior to the meeting, was called specifically to oppose four pieces of legislation authored by Rep. Nancy Landry, which were all aimed at the school board.
At the beginning of the April 23 meeting, board member Mark Allen Babineaux called for an unexpected edition to the agenda to oppose an additional piece of legislation from Rep. Vincent Pierre, which would have required the Lafayette Parish School System to fund transportation for charter school students.
|LPSB President Hunter Beasley|
Regardless of the merit of Pierre’s bill, Babineaux’s attempt to add to the existing agenda didn’t jibe with the Open Meeting’s Law, which states that an “agenda shall not be changed less than 24 hours prior to the meeting.”
Despite a protest by local attorney Gary McGoffin, board president Hunter Beasley didn’t see anything wrong with Babineaux’s amendment, saying “this meeting did not specify any specific bills.”
Wrong. According to the public notice issued by the board prior to the meeting, the agenda stipulated exactly what bills would be up for a vote during the meeting, and Pierre’s bill was not on that list.
“I don’t think there’s any problem adding that to the resolution,” Babineaux told his fellow board members.
Now, state law does allow for an item to be added to an agenda after-the-fact, but only with a unanimous vote of the board, a requirement that must have escaped Beasley and Babineaux, because despite receiving a 6-2 vote — clearly not unanimous — Beasley allowed Babineaux’s item to be added on to the agenda, saying he conferred with the board's attorneys, Hammonds & Sills, who advised that such a move would be OK. Seriously? The only board members voting against Babineaux's addition to the agenda were Kermit Bouillion and Mark Cockerham.
This clear lack of respect for the law isn’t a first for the board, which received a good scolding from District Attorney Mike Harson back in October for another violation of the Open Meetings Law, after the board attempted to award a contract for the school system’s group insurance plan without properly notifying the public on its meeting agenda.
The school board’s refusal to follow the law on April 23 has since resulted in two complaints being filed with the district attorney’s office and the state attorney general’s office by attorney McGoffin and former school board member/former state Rep. Rickey Hardy.
“This is not the first ... time an issue has arisen involving the open meetings law and this Board,” writes McGoffin. “District Attorney Harson advised them of a potential violation last year with regard to the award of a contract for the school system’s health insurance. Regrettably, it appears that formal action is now necessary to assure future compliance.”
Hardy, who spoke with The IND on Thursday, says it’s a shame that Beasley, a UL Lafayette professor, and Babineaux, an attorney who plans on running for a district judgeship this fall, can’t even properly interpret one of the easiest state laws on the books.
“It’s a sad commentary when you have a potential candidate for judge who can’t even interpret law. How is he expected to enforce the law as a judge?” questions Hardy. “And the board president is this professor who professes to know everything, but seems more ill advised than anything.”