Criminal Justice
 

Landrieu’s group studying jail meets in private; no plans to take comments from public

A mayoral advisory group examining the controversial planned expansion of the Orleans Parish Prison apparently held its first meeting recently, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration said the group is meeting privately and is not open to public input.

“The public process will take place at City Council when they hear the recommendations,” of the group, said Devona Dolliole, Landrieu’s communications director. (Note: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly quoted Dolliole referring to a “working group.”)

However, the state open-meetings law applies to advisory boards.

Public officials are often under the “mistaken impression if they just meet to talk about an issue and not actually take action they can meet privately,” said Jennifer Pike of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

Additionally, she said, “an important aspect” of the public meeting laws is that “minutes are taken and made available at some point.”

Thursday evening, Dolliole referred to the July 9 gathering as a group of “stakeholders,” insisting they’re not subject to the open-meetings law.

Landrieu formed the advisory group after public outcry over Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plan to expand the jail from about 3,800 beds to about 5,800 beds.

It’s unclear whether the mayor has much control over the process, other than speaking from his bully pulpit. Gusman has the money for the building project using a combination of FEMA money and bond money issued after voters approved a jail-building referendum by a 3-to-1 margin in 2008.

The City Council, however, needs to give final approval to a zoning measure before Gusman can proceed, and members said at their July 1 meeting that they’re waiting for the advisory group to make recommendations, particularly on the size of the prison.

In advance of the meeting, a number of organizations expressed concerns over the size and cost of the facility.  The American Civil Liberties Union questioned the expansion in the face of budget cuts and deficits, as well as “making the city of New Orleans potentially home to the largest per capita jail in the world.”

Council members were told that Landrieu’s office formed a working group to address the concerns and to make recommendations to the council as it moves to approve the final phases of the zoning requests.

The group met last week with Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin taking the lead on the issue, and additional meetings are taking place with “various stakeholders to collect data,” Dolliole said.

Kopplin will continue to meet to “review information to make informed recommendations to Mayor Landrieu” over the next few weeks, she said.

Dolliole said the following people were invited (Earlier versions of this story said this was the list of those attending, but Dolliole has since changed the description and said she’s trying to figure out who was really there):

Kopplin

Gusman

Budget Director Cedric Grant

City Attorney Nannette Jolivette-Brown

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas

Councilwoman Stacy Head

Councilwoman Susan Guidry

Councilwoman Jacquelyn Clarkson

Jackie Cole, Clarkson aide

Deborah Langhoff, Guidry aide

Amy Chandler, Guidry aide

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro

Michael Cowan, Common Good

Rafael Goyeneche, Metropolitan Crime Commission

Allen James, Safe Streets/Strong Communities

Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens

Criminal Court Judge Terry Alarcon

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  • Do we need to jail a generation of people to fix this city?

  • M.G.

    Who or what department has the power to enforce the state’s open-meetings law?

  • It will be interesting to see the minutes of the meeting.

  • jeffrey

    Are at least the names of the “stakeholders” participating in these meetings available? The article wasn’t clear on that.

  • The Editor

    Jeffrey, the story was just updated because the city spokeswoman just provided those names. They’re now at the end of the story. Generally, the mayoral staff members can get together without following the open-meetings law. But looking at the list, these aren’t just staff members. Three are community members, and several others are elected officials.

    We’re eager to find out what the city attorney, who was in attendance, says about the status of this body.

  • BG

    Shady and does not inspire confidence.

  • Here is a link to PAR’s fact sheet on open meetings laws in Louisiana. It offers a plain-language description of citizens’ rights and public officials’ responsibilities regarding the law.

    http://la-par.org/Publications/PDF/Open%20Meetings_03.16.2010.pdf