02 August 2007

charlie foti has got to go!

this just in - a reply to local attorney and blogger gregory aymond from the louisiana attorney general's office. charles c. foti, jr: the sorriest excuse for an attorney general louisiana has ever known together with his equally sorry excuse for an ASSistant attorney general charles h. braud, jr. have totally shirked their responsibilities and duties to the enforcement of the open meeting laws and to the citizens of alexandria and to the citizens of the state of louisiana.

in the email reproduced in its entirety below, ASSistant attorney general braud informs us that the attorney general's office will take no action against the alexandria city council's violation of the louisiana open meetings law -- except to - get this: give an "educational presentation" to the city council on the open meetings law.

charles foti and his ASSistant charles h. braud are the glaring examples of why louisiana is the corrupt cesspool that it is, because politicians know that even if they break the law nothing is ever done about it except a wink, wink and a smile smile.

we demand that the rapides parish district attorney james "jam" downs take whatever actions are necessary, both civil and/or criminal to rectify the situation with respect to the alexandria city council and their undisputed violation of louisiana open meetings laws regarding the 12 june special city council rebroadcast.

Mr. Aymond:

Several weeks ago, the attorney general's office received a copy of your Open Meetings Law complaint regarding the Alexandria City Council. A copy of the complaint was forwarded to the Rapides Parish district attorney' office and other parties. Our office has also reviewed several newspaper articles addressing the matter. It appears that the crux of the complaint is a letter dated June 15, 2007, on city council stationery addressed to Mayor Roy.

The letter discusses the possible broadcast on the government access television channel of a special council meeting held Tuesday, June 12, 2007. As we understand it, past practice has been to broadcast all regular council meetings on Cable Channel 4, but not special meetings. In the referenced letter, the council president, Mr. Hobbs, remarked "It was the decision of the majority of the council not to air said council meeting and continue with the original format. It is the practice of the Alexandria City Council to air regular scheduled council meetings and committee meetings on Channel 4."

Under the Open Meetings Law, and particularly La. R.S. 42:10(A), the attorney general, upon receipt of a complaint filed by any person, shall institute a proceeding to void action taken by a public body not in compliance with the Open Meetings Law or provide the complainant with written reasons why a suit should not be filed. Please consider this letter the required response under that statute.
Following receipt of your complaint, I was contacted by Rapides Parish District Attorney Jam Downs, who advised that, pursuant to his responsibility under the same provision of the Open Meetings Law, he would obtain any local documents or information necessary to a decision on the complaint. Since that time, I have received correspondence and exhibits from Mr. Downs and we have conferred by telephone on several occasions.

Turning to the legal issues involved, the documents and information with which I have been furnished indicate that a decision to air any or all council meetings on Cable Channel 4 is a matter within the total discretion of the Alexandria City Council. Apparently by custom, and not by formal resolution, only regular meetings and not special meetings were broadcast. Apparently when an inquiry was made as to whether the June 12th special council meeting should be broadcast, Mr. Hobbs' letter of June 15, 2007, was issued in response. That letter indicates that a "majority of the council" concurred in a decision that the former policy not to broadcast special meetings would not be changed.

Insofar as we can determine, a discussion of a change in the custom of broadcasting only regular and committee meetings was not placed on the agenda of a special or regular council meeting, nor was it voted upon at such a meeting. Accordingly, it is likely that the letter expresses the result of some sort of informal poll of council members, either by telephone or personal conversation. If a decision not to change the broadcast policy was made in this manner, it would not comply with the provisions of La. R.S. 42:5. Accordingly, if the "decision" or “action” had been made by some sort of affirmative action and without the subsequent events discussed below, the filing of a suit to void that affirmative action would be appropriate.

Since that original "decision," however, the evidence presented to our office shows that the city council has addressed the issue in open session on at least two separate occasions. On June 19, 2007, at the council's regular meeting, Councilman Fowler made a motion to add to the agenda an ordinance to change the policy to require broadcasting both regular and special meetings on Cable Channel 4. The motion died for lack of a second. More importantly, at a regular council meeting on July 3, 2007, Resolution No. 8213-2007 was introduced and passed in open session. That resolution required broadcast of all regular and special city council meetings on Channel 4 "starting from this day forward." An amendment to the proposed resolution was offered which sought to remove the "this day forward" language but that amendment was defeated and the original resolution was adopted.

A review of appellate court decisions demonstrates that actions taken by a public body without strict compliance with the Open Meetings Law are relative nullities rather than absolute nullities. Those cases hold that if, at a subsequent meeting, the questioned action is properly reconsidered by the public body and either ratified or rescinded, a suit to challenge the validity of the original defective decision will be dismissed. See Wagner v. Beauregard Parish Police Jury, 525 So.2d 166 (La.App. 3d Cir., 1988). Given the subsequent action of the city council in addressing this issue in open session, it appears clear that a suit to nullify any action taken pursuant to an informal poll of its members is doomed to failure from the outset. Accordingly, the filing of a suit for that purpose would be inappropriate and might possibly subject the filing attorney and plaintiff(s) to an award of sanctions under the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure.

Although a suit to nullify any action taken by the council as described in the June 15th letter is not appropriate because of the council's subsequent actions in open session, the inquiry does not end there. We, together with the district attorney, are seriously concerned that the June 15th letter indicates the lack of a clear understanding of provisions of the Open Meetings Law. In order to remedy this situation and to prevent repetition of matters of this sort, we will shortly present to the council a written agreement for execution by the council members and staff insuring future compliance with all aspects of the Open Meetings Law and participation in an educational presentation by our office and the district attorney's office. Both our office and the district attorney's office have utilized this approach in past cases with satisfactory results. If full cooperation and participation by all concerned is not forthcoming, our office will not hesitate to file for injunctive relief to insure against a reoccurrence of this situation.

There are some factual issues which have not been fully resolved given the brief period allotted by the law to conduct an inquiry and make a decision in this instance. The minor factual issues notwithstanding, it is the intent of this office and the district attorney to move forward to a satisfactory resolution of the Open Meetings Law issues in fulfillment of our statutory duty to see that this situation does not reoccur.

If you disagree with the legal analysis which has been made in this case regarding a suit to rescind the June 15th decision of the council, you are certainly free to institute private enforcement proceedings under R.S. 42:10(C) and to seek reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation within the sixty-day time limit established by R.S. 42:9.

With kind regards, I remain

Yours very truly,

Charles H. Braud Jr.
Assistant Attorney General

more later...