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):
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