Multiple complaints have been filed with Attorney General Jeff Landry, each seeking to void all or parts of the most recent meeting of East Ascension Drainage District on August 9. Conducted virtually, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:17.1 establishes rigid procedures for “electronic” meetings held without the public being able to attend. Among the complaints is Chris Hebert’s, which is reprinted in its entirety below.
“I have every confidence that General Landry will fulfill his obligation to the people of Ascension Parish who have been treated so disrespectfully by a majority of the Parish Council,” Hebert explained. “I am not alone in the belief that EA Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert, along with the Council Chairwoman Teri Casso, have instituted these virtual meetings in order to avod public criticism. We are tired of being ignored and beseech Attorney General Landry to restore our voice.”
Re: East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District Open Meetings Violation
Dear Mr. Jeff Landry,
Please accept this correspondence as an official complaint and request that your office pursue the statutory remedies found in LA Revised Statute 42:24 against the East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District (“the District”). According to R.S. 42:25(A) your office “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.”
On August 9 the District conducted its regularly scheduled monthly meeting electronically, subjecting the District to the requirements outlined in R.S. 42:17.1 Multiple of the strictures found therein were violated, including Paragraph (A)(2) which requires, “The presiding officer of the public body certifies on the notice of the meeting that the agenda of the meeting is limited to one or more of the following:
(a) Matters that are directly related to the public body’s response to the disaster or emergency and are critical to the health, safety, or welfare of the public.
(b) Matters that if they are delayed will cause curtailment of vital public services or severe economic dislocation and hardship.
(c) Matters that are critical to continuation of the business of the public body and that are not able to be postponed to a meeting held in accordance with the other provisions of this Chapter due to a legal requirement or other deadline that cannot be postponed or delayed by the public body.
(d) Other matters that are critical or time-sensitive and that in the determination of the presiding officer should not be delayed; however, such matters shall not be considered at the meeting unless the members of the body present at the meeting approve the consideration of the matters by a two-thirds vote.
The District’s “presiding officer” is Chairman Dempsey Lambert who did not certify “on the notice of the (August 9, 2021) meeting that the agenda of the meeting is limited to” the items described in paragraphs a-d above, a crystal clear violation.
During the August 9 meeting the video-conference connection for Chairman Lambert and Commissioner Joel Robert was lost for over ten minutes. During that time the other District Commissioners adopted the District’s June 28 meeting minutes by acclimation. Prior to being omitted from the meeting, Commissioner Robert objected to approval of said minutes. R.S. 42:17.1(C)(4) reads: For each meeting conducted pursuant to this Section…The presiding officer shall ensure that all parts of the meeting, excluding any matter discussed in executive session, are clear and audible to all participants in the meeting including the public.”
Commissioner Robert’s exclusion, the inability to even observe deliberations much less cast his vote, is another clear violation of the statutory requirements.
R.S. 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.
Please allow this complaint to serve as my “complaint” triggering your obligation to proceed as envisioned in R.S. 42:25(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.”
At least two more complaints have been forwarded to the Attorney General, both seeking to void the August 9 EA Drainage meeting and asserting arguments similar to Hebert’s.
Ascension’s Parish Council reverted to virtual meetings on August 5 and each council committee has followed suit. The Planning and Zoning Commission conducted its business in-person on August 11, as have the councils in Ascension’s two east bank municipalities. The City of Donaldsonville City Council’s August 24 meeting will be conducted “via video teleconference.”
Given AG Landry’s ultra-public opposition to COVID-19 precautionary measures, he should be all over this one. A suit to void all or parts of the August 9 EA Drainage meeting must be filed in the 23rd Judicial District by October 8. Every virtual meeting held by the Council and its committees in August violated the requirements of R.S. 42:17.1.
Measures have been introduced to remedy the violations on Thursday’s meeting agenda.