By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
A subcommittee of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission aiming to recommend a new chief executive insisted this afternoon that it is independent, despite following Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s latest wishes on the issue to the letter.
An assistant city attorney working with the subcommittee also appeared to admit violating the state sunshine laws; this comes after the subcommittee twice in the past week stumbled over the state Open Meetings Act as it goes about its business.
Having previously planned to go into executive session to whittle four candidates down to three, the subcommittee decided this afternoon to interview all four remaining candidates in a public meeting. Landrieu suggested that course of action Tuesday in a statement to The Times-Picayune.
Former City Council President Arnie Fielkow and two city councilwomen have now said they favor an outside candidate for chief executive, while Landrieu has said he thinks the existing interim director at the agency, Vic Richard, is doing a good job.
Fielkow led efforts to reform the city’s recreation leadership, changing operations from a city department to a new city commission with an autonomous oversight board, a move approved by voters in 2010. Landrieu recently derided Fielkow, whose family still lives in New Orleans, as “a former politician that quit his job and moved to Chicago,” after Fielkow wrote an opinion piece for the paper that said former pro football player Reggie Williams is the right choice.
As political tensions rise around the issue, members of the recreation commission have fought to counter suggestions that Landrieu orchestrates their actions. Subcommittee Chairman Roy Glapion told The Lens he had decided, independently of Landrieu, to suggest this afternoon that the committee move forward with all four candidates — an idea that drew unanimous support.
“I read it today,” Glapion said of The Times-Picayune story about Landrieu’s new preferred recruitment policy. “I answer to me, and God alone.”
When asked to clarify his remarks, Glapion insisted he made the decision independently.
“I haven’t talked with the mayor,” Glapion said, or with “anyone from the administration.”
Glapion said instead that he was being responsive to public pressure for more openness.
“My decision is simple,” Glapion said. “If you have an outcry for one candidate, two candidates, three candidates, four candidates, then what is wrong with changing the process?”
Activist attorney Tracie Washington described Glapion’s explanation as “disingenuous.”
Washington has pressed the subcommittee to be more open, and filed a public-records request with the administration Tuesday for communications to and from candidates for the job asking that their credentials be discussed publicly, instead of in executive session.
The state’s Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to discuss such matters in public if candidates ask that they do so, and Washington had heard that Williams and technology executive Wanda Durden had made that request, she said.
“They couldn’t do what they wanted to,” Washington said, referring to the subcommittee, “because the candidates informed them they wanted it done in public.”
Williams and Durden were unreachable for comment this afternoon.
Assistant City Attorney Anita Curran told Washington at this afternoon’s meeting that she had “gathered some documents,” in response to Washington’s public records request. But Curran refused to turn them over, in apparent contravention of the state Public Records Act which requires public agencies to turn over records immediately if they are not in active use.
Curran refused to discuss the issue in response to Washington’s comments about it in the public comment period.
“I want my records,” Washington told Glapion, after the meeting had concluded.
Glapion told Washington to send him an email, and that he would respond to it with the records as soon as he could.
“The law is pretty clear,” Washington told The Lens, clearly frustrated at being given the run-around by the subcommittee. “It’s frustrating because I could have just gone over to the commission’s offices and got these records.”
Washington said she had also heard that Landrieu’s Deputy Mayor of Operations Michelle Thomas wrote back to the candidates Tuesday night, saying that their credentials would not be discussed in executive session.
Washington has made a public records request for that email, too, she said. But if such an email does exist, then Washington is also curious why Thomas is writing to the candidates, and not Glapion.
“My question, then, is why did that communication come from Ms. Thomas?” Washington said. “She does not sit on this commission, and according to the mayor, he has no control over the process.”