Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for an emergency meeting of the City Council tomorrow morning, an announcement that triggered hue and cry over whether his last-minute announcement violated the state’s open-meetings law.

An email from the council was sent out to reporters and others around noon on Wednesday, announcing the meeting would be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in council chambers.

That’s 22 hours between the announcement of the meeting and the meeting itself.  

State open meetings law requires notification of public meetings at least 24 hours in advance.

Landrieu’s designation of the session as an “emergency” meeting, despite the absence of any need for immediate City Council action, suggested it was another round of theatrics in the bitter feud between the mayor and Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

Though frequently at odds with Landrieu, Council President Stacy Head said she believes the session as scheduled is in accord with open-meetings law. If there’s a violation of the law, she said, it’s a trivial one of no more than 15 minutes.

In support of her view, she gave The Lens the following blow-by-blow account of how the council was apprised of Landrieu’s request for the meeting:

  • At about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Landrieu’s office sent a note to council chief of staff Evelyn Pugh giving “informal notice that the mayor would be calling the meeting,” Head said.
  • A second, formal letter announcing the mayor’s request for a meeting was “clocked in” by two council staffers at about the same time. One clocked it in at 9:10 a.m.; another clocked it at 9:04 a.m.
  • “The clerk then had to take that letter, which requested a 10 a.m. meeting, and turn it into a notice, as well as a website entry, as well as do our courtesy email out to everyone,” Head said.
  • The public notice for the meeting, she said, was posted in City Hall at 9:30 a.m.
  • The website notification was posted between 10:04 and 10:15 a.m., and the email blast went out after that. Head described the email blast as a courtesy.
  • The just-past-10 a.m. postings on the city website started the clock ticking on the 24-hour prior notification requirement.

At the meeting, Landrieu is scheduled to give the council an update on the city’s plans as they relate to a proposed consent decree between the federal Department of Justice and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Landrieu plans to air his concern that the proposed consent decree will impose an insufferable burden on the city’s already straitened finances, according to the release.

Landrieu has accused Sheriff Marlin Gusman of poor administration of the prison complex and has said the city won’t write a blank check to cover his mismanagement.

On hand for the meeting will be Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, to provide specifics on possible budget-cutting scenarios arising from the consent decree litigation.

Since the Landrieu administration announced it was going to fight to back out of the federal consent decree signed by the New Orleans Police Department, city officials, including Kopplin, have been assailed by outraged criminal justice advocates  – including at Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee.

Wednesday’s meeting – regularly scheduled, and with ample advance notice – was attended by a number of criminal justice activists. The discussion centered on the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies and racial profiling in its juvenile curfew program.

Chairwoman Susan Guidry repeatedly asked for order from the crowd as the meeting degenerated into threats and swearing.

“You work for us, bitch,” one woman shouted at a shocked Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. Clarkson soon called for the in-house police officer to intercede.

The officer succeeded in restoring order by moving toward the hecklers with his arms folded and urging Marjorie Esman, from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, to begin her remarks.

The consent decree negotiations are rooted in longstanding criticisms from the federal Department of Justice that jail conditions violate the constitutional rights of inmates. The pressure for reform increased as the result of a lawsuit filed last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners alleging abuse.

Gusman and the Department of Justice released a draft of the consent decree late last year at a press conference outside the jail. Notable by their absence were any officials from the City of New Orleans, which pays about $23 million annually for the care and custody of prisoners.

The city has cited high costs as its reason for seeking to break free of the separate consent decree with the NOPD signed last July.

In addition to its meeting with Landrieu, the council will meet in executive session with a representative from the city attorney’s office for a status report on the litigation over the jail. A trial set to determine whether the jail is an unconstitutional charnel house is scheduled for April 1 in U.S. District Judge Lance Africk’s court.

Head told The Lens Wednesday afternoon that the council would be pushing the meeting back by a few minutes “because of the short notice.”

She said the last-minute notice from Landrieu and subsequent dust-up over the open meeting law would delay the start of the meeting by between four and 15 minutes. She said the meeting could start sometime after 10:15, but that it could start as early as 10:04, and still meet the 24-hour requirement.

Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New...