Criminal Justice
 

Police chief search leader: Open-records laws don't apply

Update: The public isn’t entitled to see all the applicants for the next police superintendent, and Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s transition team screening the applicants isn’t a public body or subject to public records law, its leader said today.

Xavier University president Norman Francis took these positions at a press conference to address the resignation of NAACP President Danatus King from that search team serving Landrieu. Francis is the co-chairman of the search team.

He said the transition team hired the International Association of Chiefs of Police to screen applicants, winnowing the field down to 10 or so, who will be considered by Landrieu’s NOPD Task Force.

Asked what exemption in the public-records law allowed them to keep the names of applicants secret, Francis said simply that they weren’t a public body, arguing they were merely an advisory committee to Landrieu.

Landrieu spokesman Todd Ragusa said he didn’t know what the mayor-elect’s position is regarding whether his advisory committees are public bodies.

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Even before the local NAACP president dropped off of Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s team to select a new police superintendent because of a lack of openness with the names of candidates, The Lens was asking how to get the list of applicants, with no luck.

Landrieu’s transition team didn’t respond to the Thursday morning e-mail until we followed up today, and spokesman Todd Ragusa only promised a response later today, providing no immediate information.

The Lens also asked for a schedule of all meetings of Landrieu’s many transition teams.

The application deadline for police superintendent is Friday.

Landrieu’s transition team has established a structure that has a national police organization vetting applications, passing along to Landrieu’s NOPD Task Force only candidates that they deem viable. Even the names of those contenders might not be released to the public. Landrieu has said he would consider releasing the names of the top three applicants, whom he will personally interview.

The NOPD Task Force helped determine that strategy, but it’s unclear when they did so or whether they did it at a public meeting. When the strategy was announced last week in The Times-Picayune,  The Lens asked Ragusa:

When did that task force meet to decide that? When are they scheduled to meet next? How did they decide on the strategy and were there other options considered or put forth by some members of the task force

I’m sure members of the public would like to observe the members of each transition team task force in action and to understand how decisions are made.

The Lens will update this story when the Landrieu team responds.

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  • This is a clear violation of the law. The Louisiana Public records act includes “any committee, subcommittee, advisory board, or task force” as well as all private entities that serve a clear public function (Louisiana R.S. 44.1.1). This should be overturned in court.

  • Sophie

    No, it’s not a “clear” violation of the law. According to La. R.S. 44:1, “public body” means any branch, department, office, agency, board, commission, district, governing authority, political subdivision, or any committee, subcommittee, advisory board, or task force thereof, or any other instrumentality of state, parish, or municipal government, including a public or quasi-public nonprofit corporation designated as an entity to perform a governmental or proprietary function.”

    It is absolutely debatable as to whether the transition team of a mayoral administration that is not yet actually in office fits the definition of public body. And even if it does, the statutes following 44:1 contain hundreds of exceptions to the public records law. The language of 44:1 is not the final word on the matter.

  • Sophie

    Er, not that I think a lack of transparency is a good thing, I’m just saying, it’s not the slam-dunk legal question the commenter before me seems to think it is.