Government & Politics
 

Recreation Commission sets important meeting tonight, but doesn't comply with law

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Update, 7:28 p.m.: Landrieu’s spokesman Ryan Berni says the meeting has been rescheduled for tomorrow, January 18, at 5 p.m., after all. To clarify, a meeting of the recreation commission foundation was rescheduled. The executive search committee will meet in the Office of Homeland Security conference room on the 8th floor of City Hall.

Update, 4:15 p.m.: The recreation committee sent out an email at 4:09 p.m. rescheduling the meeting to tomorrow, January 18, at 5 p.m. but it sent another email at 4:13 p.m. canceling tomorrow’s rescheduled meeting. “The meeting date will be re-scheduled for a date yet to be determined,” the second email read.

Original story, 1:51 p.m.: Those in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s inner circle were notified Friday about a meeting tonight to narrow a list of candidates to run the city’s recreation department, but members of the public might have a hard time finding out about it.

No public notice is posted anywhere in City Hall, where the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission meets. The city’s website advertising public meetings is down today with a message saying, “SORRY — our site is experiencing technical difficulty.”

No meeting notice is posted on the doors of City Hall, the usual bulletin boards nor the meeting room door where the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission is scheduled to meet tonight. Photo by Matt Davis

The state’s Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to post such notices 24 hours before they meet. The law also requires public bodies to provide notice to members of the news media who request it; The Lens asked to be notified of all commission meetings but was never informed about tonight’s meeting.

If a public body meets without proper notice, it runs the risk of the public challenging the legitimacy of the meeting, said Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a good-government group based in Baton Rouge.

“Proper notice and posting of public meetings is essential to an open and democratic process,” Scott said. “Invalid notice of agendas can result in nullifying results of a meeting.”

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni insisted in a text message that “Public notices were posted,” before the city’s website went down over the weekend. But he could offer no proof.

A staff member for the commission, secretary Nashon Route, was not sure whether such notice was posted on the city’s website, either, because he only sent a request to the city’s information technology department asking them to do it.

The meeting was tentatively scheduled for last Friday after committee members failed to establish a quorum at a meeting on Wednesday. But the Friday meeting was never set.

The lack of openness comes as members of the recreation commission have fought to counter suggestions that Landrieu is pulling the commission’s strings, with the commission’s role in selecting a new recreation leader seen as pivotal in establishing its independence. One of five finalists dropped out last week, saying he believes that the commission will choose the person already in place, even though the commission spent $42,000 on a headhunter to conduct a national search. Landrieu appointed interim director Vic Richard before the commission was established, and the commission kept him on while the search for a permanent replacement continues.

Route said he sent an email on Friday night to a select “group of community members who have expressed an interest in the process.”

The email said that the commission is meeting tonight at 5 p.m. in an obscure conference room in the city’s Purchasing Department on the fourth floor. No agenda was included in the email. The Open Meetings Act requires that an agenda be included in the official notices of public meetings.

A staffer at Landrieu’s Office of Public Advocacy said the meeting’s agenda was supposed to be posted around the building Friday but couldn’t explain the absence. A staffer in Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin’s office said Route, who was supposed to post the notice around the building Friday, was out sick and didn’t get the notices up.

Route said he thought the city’s staffers were supposed to publish the notice in the building and that he thought a copy of it was posted on the door of the meeting room where the meeting was set to take place.

It was not.

The Lens eventually tracked down a copy of the agenda from Landrieu’s Office of Public Advocacy, which had to call Route to get it.

Route said he called a reporter from The Lens Friday and left a message relaying the date and time of the meeting. But the reporter’s phone records do not reflect that.

Route did not respond to a follow-up call seeking clarification on this point.

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