By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
A state body that approves millions of dollars in criminal justice grants to local agencies, including those in Orleans Parish, failed to post its agenda 24 hours in advance of Thursday’s meeting, a violation of the state open-meetings law.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s criminal justice czar James Carter is one of 10 local representatives scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Baton Rouge before the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.
The irony is that the lapse comes at a time when local leaders have been demanding more openness and accountability around criminal justice spending. Indeed, Carter himself vowed in July to improve the transparency of criminal justice grants awarded by the City of New Orleans, following criticism that some grant requests are simply “rubber stamped.”
“I would hope that all commissions under the open records law would do at least the minimum, or more, to make sure that the public is notified about their activities,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a non-profit watchdog group which is a member of the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance, of which The Lens is also a member. “You would hope that commissions of this type would be encouraging participation and not discouraging it.”
When a reporter from The Lens called the commission on Tuesday asking whether an agenda was available for the commission’s quarterly meeting, he was directed instead to a press release, stating only that the meeting was scheduled.
The commission had not posted an agenda for the meeting by 11:20 a.m. Wednesday, 22 hours and 40 minutes before the meeting, in contravention of the notice section of state open meetings law, which states: “(b)(i) All public bodies, except the legislature and its committees and subcommittees, shall give written public notice of any regular, special, or rescheduled meeting no later than twenty-four hours before the meeting.”
A meeting agenda is required as part of such notice, the law states.
Contacted by phone to explain why the agenda had not been posted, commission staffer Erica Matthews first declined to address the legal question, then asked her caller to hit the refresh button on his computer.
“We have that posted onto our website,” Matthews said, as the agenda suddenly appeared.
Asked about the delayed posting, Matthews said, “I’m having trouble hearing you, sir,” and the call went dead. Matthews’ phone went to voicemail when the reporter tried to call back and resume the conversation. Carter’s spokesman, Ryan Berni, has yet to respond to a request for comment.