The McDonogh City Park Academy board of directors held a closed-door meeting last week to discuss the status of a public records request they said was sent by a local teachers union to every school in the city.

According to board chairwoman Mary Kay Parker, City Park Academy received a public records request recently from the United Teachers of New Orleans. The correspondence asked for a list of all City Park Academy employees, including first and last names, job titles, home addresses and home phone numbers; a copy of the employee handbook; a copy of the employee policy manual; and a copy of the school’s current charter agreement with any amendments that have been adopted.

Parker said during the Jan. 15 meeting that the board’s attorney, Eddie Rantz, recommended Parker update the board in executive session, prompting a Lens reporter to formally object because the board failed to meet the requirements outlined by state law for entering into a private meeting.

Following the objection, Parker said the board could forgo the closed door meeting and discuss the issue publicly, noting that the board “has nothing to hide.”

The board, however, dismissed Parker’s advice after fellow board member and local attorney Mike Bagot interjected.

“[The attorney’s] position is that we certainly have to comply with the requests for employee handbook, charter agreement, the list of employees and their job titles,” Parker told the board before the executive session took place.

“To the extent that you want to discuss with the board what you and counsel discussed, that would be an appropriate thing for the executive session,” Bagot said. “That’s privileged information. You’ve indicated what the correspondence was. I think that’s all you need to say at this point.”

State law requires that charter school boards conduct all business in a public meeting, save for special exceptions that allow public bodies to meet behind closed doors. Executive sessions, according to the statute, should be noted on the meeting agenda, published at least 24 hours before the meeting date and, like other action items listed, “described with reasonable specificity.”

The executive session was not listed on the board’s meeting agenda, which should have included “a statement identifying the parties involved and reasonably identifying the subject matter of any prospective litigation for which formal written demand has been made,” according to state law.

The board’s chairman or designee should publicly state why a closed door meeting is permissible, and two-thirds of the members present must vote in favor of holding an executive session before it takes place.

Parker said at the start of the meeting that the executive session was needed to discuss “legal matters.” City Park Academy’s board of directors did not take a formal vote before meeting privately.

Rantz, who was not present at the monthly meeting, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he suggested the executive session based on an exception to open meetings laws allowing private discussions for “strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.”

The board attorney called the private meeting a “strategy session” to discuss collective bargaining or prospective litigation, maintaining that the teachers union has made a formal written demand for information.

“If UTNO had a representative present at the meeting, it would have been detrimental to our position,” he said.

Heather Miller

Heather Miller is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Lens' Charter School Reporting Corps. She is a former staff writer for The Independent in Lafayette, and is now based in New Orleans.