Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, which overstepped its authority in replacing Lafayette attorney Elaine Abell as chairman of the governing board for the planned teaching hospital in New Orleans, appears to be behind an unannounced social event for the board yesterday. It was the first time the group had gathered, and it's unclear whether the function violates the state's open meetings law.

The event, which hosted nine of the 11 members and two of Jindal’s top aides and was held at the posh Windsor Court, came two days after the LSU System released a statement saying Bobby Yarborough of Baton Rouge — who is Jindal's campaign treasurer — would replace Abell as chairman of the board of the University Medical Center Management Corp. LSU System President John Lombardi, whom the UMC constitutional documents confirm has the unequivocal authority to name the chairman, had appointed Abell last Thursday. The governor’s interference in the process has been harshly criticized — with LSU Board of Supervisors member Tony Falterman among the most vocal. “If Gov. Jindal undoes everything the President does, shouldn’t the LSU Board just ask Gov. Jindal what he wants done on every issue and put Dr. Lombardi back in the classroom?” Falterman said in a statement reported by The Advocate Wednesday. The Independent Weekly was unable to reach Falterman for comment today, and Abell has declined to discuss the matter, saying only that she hopes the board can get its work done without this kind of political influence.

Yarborough, who is a recent appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors, and Jindal’s legal adviser, Stephen Waguespack, billed the gathering as a social event that was not convened to discuss the business of what is projected to be a $1.2 billion medical complex, according to Thursday’s Times-Picayune. The paper appropriately raised the issue of whether the function, which was not attended by Abell and another member of the governing board of the planned medical complex, constitutes a violation of the state’s open meetings law:

On the one hand, neither Yarborough nor Waguespack could say whether they believe the law requires the University Medical Center corporation to meet openly.

The corporation was created as an affiliate of Louisiana State University, suggesting that it is a political subdivision of the state whose meetings should be open. But there has been some question in the past whether such entities, like the Tiger Athletic Foundation at LSU, are public or private, and state leaders have said throughout the planning that the hospital is meant to be an “independent entity” whose debts do not obligate taxpayers.

Yet the emphasis on the meeting as a “social gathering” appears to reflect an awareness that Louisiana court precedent gives some wiggle room for public bodies to hold “chance meetings and social gatherings” without public notice or access. If UMC is not subject to the sunshine law at all, exceptions would be irrelevant.

The social gathering exception dictates that no business is discussed.

Participants in the meeting could be heard from the hallway mentioning the formulation of bylaws, hospital bed counts and ground-breakings, though it was not clear whether those points pertained specifically to UMC.

Read the rest of the T-P story here.

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