The Attorney General’s office has discovered a potential violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law by several members of the Lafayette Consolidated Government.
In a memorandum obtained by KATC Investigates from Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wale and dated on July 8, 2019, Wale states that the response from LCG to a public records request made by the Attorney General’s office on May 9 contained “numerous problems.”
The internal memo was part of a legal analysis of those documents that arose from the Attorney General’s involvement in the Lafayette Home Rule Charter lawsuit that was decided earlier this month.
Attached to the memo are several text messages dated from July 2019 among council members and officers of the Fix the Charter campaign concerning the vote on the precinct maps, which were at the heart of the lawsuit.
“It is clear that members of the City-Parish Council skirted, if not outright disregarded, Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law,” Wale states in the memo. “The text messages contain numerous instances of Council members discussing and deliberating Council business outside of public meetings. It is clear that members of the City-Parish Council disregarded the spirit, if not letter, of the law.”
One of the examples that Wale then highlights is a text thread among City-Parish Councilmen Jay Castille, Kenneth Boudreaux and Bruce Conque where they discuss topics including plans for new council districts, creating majority-minority districts and convincing other council members to vote a particular way with Carlee Alm-LaBar and Kevin Blanchard of Fix the Charter.
Wale also accuses Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux of improper polling of other councilmembers when Boudreaux states his intention to take another councilman to lunch in order to “plan to specifically ask for his support about the proposed city council districts in one of the text exchanges."
Wale states that this informal polling of council members about government business outside the public's eye could be considered a walking quorum. A "walking quorum" is defined as a "device used to circumvent the Open Meetings Law so as to allow a quorum of a public body to discuss an issue through the use of multiple discussions of less than a quorum" according to an attorney general’s opinion and does not comply with the Open Meetings Law.
Wale also alleges that these public records responses are “woefully deficient.” He references the June 27, 2019 response letter to their public records request where LCG states that hundreds of emails have been exempted from the response because they fall into one of six categories exempted from disclosure by law. However, he states, LCG fails to cite any exemption for the numerous redactions made to the text messages provided.
The memo concludes that the potential violation of the Open Records Law by LCG fell outside the 60-day window of enforcement, so the office is prevented by law to pursue action.
KATC spoke with Attorney General Jeff Landry who says that his office is currently not investigating the matter and that the release of the memo is being taken out of context.
“The memo speaks for itself; it’s based upon facts; it’s based upon the law,” said Landry. “But, it evidently is being twisted around into something that it’s not. It’s being taken out of context.”
Landry says that the memo was intended for internal purposes but that his office gave it to attorney Lane Roy as part of its cooperation with the other plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit.
“We are not investigating,” said Landry. “We never received a complaint that they were violating the Open Meetings Law. We recognized that the potential violations that may or may not have occurred are outside of the enforcement window. And so for us, the matter is really closed.”
On Tuesday, Fix the Charter responded to the controversy by releasing a statement that included a link to the text messages in full on its website that were obtained by its own public records request.
“To be clear, we do not believe that any of the text messages constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Law,” read the statement. “However, we are mindful that what ultimately matters is not whether a violation occurred, but whether the public trust has been eroded.”