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City Council Tries to Circumvent Public Meetings Law

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  A legislative proposal pushed by the New Orleans City Council has been dubbed "frightening legislation" by the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), a good-government watchdog group. CABL took aim last week at Senate Bill 583 by state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. The bill would exempt members of local governing bodies from meeting in public if they meet informally in groups of four or fewer, even if that constitutes a quorum.

  "In these meetings they could discuss government matters over which they have direct supervision, power or jurisdiction provided they don't take a formal vote," CABL wrote in its weekly report. "In other words, this bill would allow secret meetings of small groups of elected officials to discuss governmental business, receive and exchange information, deliberate, ask questions and engage in the decision-making process. This is a bad step in the wrong direction."

  Peterson says she introduced the bill at the request of all council members. Council President Arnie Fielkow told Gambit that under the council's three-member committee structure, no two council members could ever talk privately about pending issues without violating the state's Open Meetings Law. He said the council wants to follow the spirit and the letter of sunshine laws and is seeking a state attorney general's opinion as to whether two council members can informally discuss council business without violating the current law.

  Peterson's bill is set for consideration on Wednesday, May 26, by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, but some Capitol observers speculate it may be pulled in the face of growing opposition. — Clancy DuBos

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