Randolph Scott, the spokesperson for the Concerned Classified City Employees group, accused the New Orleans Civil Service Commission (CSC) of violating Louisiana's Open Meetings Law today when the commission voted to hold a closed executive session at the beginning of its monthly meeting.
Scott and his group have repeatedly challenged the commission, accusing it of unquestioned compliance with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration. The administration has indicated it plans to push for changes to the city's civil service rules — including procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining city employees — that many workers believe will undermine vital protections.
"They violated the law," said Scott in a hallway outside CSC board room, after it had taken a vote to close the meeting.
Jane Barney, an attorney representing Scott's group, agreed.
"We kept asking why they wanted to go into executive session," and Chairman Kevin Wildes, when pressed by both Scott and Barney, would not specifically say why. Wildes only referred Barney and Scott to the agenda for the executive session, which contained two items, including the discussion of a complaint filed last month by the Concerned Classified City Employees group against Commissioner Dana Douglas.
From Gambit's previous report on that complaint:
The Concerned Classified City Employees Group — which, during the Sept. 19 New Orleans Civil Service Commission meeting raised its objections to proposed civil service rules changes for city employees — has filed a formal complaint against commission vice chairwoman Dana Douglas.
During the meeting, Douglas stopped the group's attorney, Arthur Smith, from completing his full presentation. Smith had planned on reading interview material from state employees whose departments had undergone similar changes as those proposed by the Landrieu administration. Smith said that new layoffs procedures, and other changes like those the city is considering, eroded both worker morale and confidence in the State Civil Service Commission.
According to Barney, the CSC, like all public bodies, is required to justify any vote for an executive session to prove that it's legal. State law provides for certain exceptions, cases in which closed sessions are legal, but there's a limited list of acceptable reasons for them. Here they are, with the potentially applicable one bolded and the the possible, but maybe stretching-it one italicized.
§17. Exceptions to open meetings
A. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:
(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours before the meeting and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.
(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.
(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.
(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct.
(5) Cases of extraordinary emergency, which shall be limited to natural disaster, threat of epidemic, civil disturbances, suppression of insurrections, the repelling of invasions, or other matters of similar magnitude.
(6) Any meeting of the State Mineral and Energy Board at which records or matters entitled to confidential status by existing law are required to be considered or discussed by the board with its staff or with any employee or other individual, firm, or corporation to whom such records or matters are confidential in their nature, and are disclosed to and accepted by the board subject to such privilege, for the exclusive use in evaluating lease bids or development covering state-owned lands and water bottoms, which exception is proved pursuant to and consistently with the Public Records Act, being Chapter 1 of Title 44 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, as amended, and other statutes to which the board is subject.
(7) Discussions between a city or parish school board and individual students or the parents or tutors of such students, or both, who are within the jurisdiction of the respective school system, regarding problems of such students or their parents or tutors; provided however that any such parent, tutor, or student may require that such discussions be held in an open meeting.
(8) Presentations and discussions at meetings of civil service boards of test questions, answers, and papers produced and exhibited by the office of the state examiner, municipal fire and police civil service, pursuant to R.S. 33:2492 or 2552.
(9) The portion of any meeting of the Second Injury Board during which records or matters regarding the settlement of a workers' compensation claim are required to be considered or discussed by the board with its staff in order to grant prior written approval as required by R.S. 23:1378(A)(8).
(10) Or any other matters now provided for or as may be provided for by the legislature.
But the CSC's executive session agenda doesn't say anything about an investigation, and Scott's group never threatened litigation in its complaint.
"We have a right to file a complaint with the State Attorney General and the local District Attorney's office," Scott said, adding that the group is considering taking such an action. "Sometimes you've got to get down. It's a fight."
The public portion of the meeting began a little after 12 p.m. Here are some highlights:
—The commission voted to declare that Douglas' action, cutting short the presentation of Concerned Classified City Employees' lawyer Arthur Smith, during the September meeting was proper and not a violation.
—The CSC voted to defer for one month a request from the Office of the Inspector General to allow OIG to inspect confidential employee records, including evaluation reports, addresses and social security numbers, now blacked out in personnel information requests.
—Claude Schlesinger, an attorney representing the Fraternal Order of Police, advised that the commission speak to legal counsel about the proper reasoning and procedure for holding an executive session.