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Lycée committee interviews three interim CEO candidates in meetings held without quorum

The committee charged with finding an interim chief executive officer for the embattled Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans met twice over the last 24 hours to interview three candidates behind closed doors.

But they did so without the quorum that Louisiana’s open meeting law requires.

With only three of the six committee members present Tuesday night, the committee did not have a quorum, defined as a “simple majority” by state law.

Members Tim Gray, Erin Greenwald and Alysson Mills did not announce whether there was a quorum, and proceeded into an hour-long executive session to interview Ghislaine Bazir using Skype, an internet-based video conference.

When asked Wednesday morning by The Lens about the lack of quorum Tuesday, Gray, a recently appointed board member and lawyer, said he thought the reporter present might take note of that.

Gray said because the committee was not taking any official action they felt they could proceed with the interviews.

But when the reporter for The Lens countered that going into executive session constituted an official action, Gray agreed.

“Yeah, that’s a good point,” he said.

When the committee makes its official recommendation to the board, he said that would be done with a quorum. Gray also said he felt it was more important to carry out the interviews as planned rather than delay the process because the committee lacked a quorum.

The committee’s board-approved timeline aims to recommend an interim CEO by June 30.

“I think we’re going to have quorum today,” said Gray before Wednesday morning’s meeting started.

They did not.

Erin Greenwald, head of the committee, called six names Wednesday morning.

Again, only three members were present.

Again, the committee did not announce whether there was a quorum.

And again, they entered into executive session.

The committee interviewed Joseph Daschbach first. He was present at the meeting and went into executive session with committee members. Daschbach left the closed session a little more than an hour later.

The committee remained behind closed doors for an additional 45 minutes interviewing candidate Marina Schoen by Skype.

During the executive session, parent Paula Griffin said she was less concerned about the lack of a quorum. “We have a desperate need for an interim CEO.”

Parent Amy George-Hirons said she somewhat agreed. “I don’t feel like there’s ill intent.”

Griffin said she hoped Carol Asher and Kelly McClure — the only two members of the search committee who are not members of Lycée’s full governing board —  would remain involved in the search. Asher and McClure, two of the original committee members, were both absent Wednesday.

Members returned to the cafeteria at about 10:15 a.m. to close out the session publicly.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” said Greenwald regarding the candidates.

With a motion to adjourn on the table, Griffin asked the committee about the lack of quorum, reiterating that she wasn’t overly concerned.

“We have talked about that and I think [Lens reporter] Marta [Jewson] asked a very fair question,” said Gray. “We recognize that a lot of problems at this school over the past year are because of a lack of transparency.”

“It’s important that you guys trust us,” said Gray, “But we’re balancing that with 340 kids who are going to be walking through that door the first week of August. If I gotta be the bad guy that voted to go into executive session without a quorum, then you know, so be it.”

“But I can promise you this is not what we are going to do moving forward,” said Gray.

Greenwald reiterated Gray’s sentiments from earlier in the day.

“We certainly won’t make any action, we won’t take any action without having a quorum present,” Greenwald. “This was simply in the interest of keeping the process moving forward because we’re running out of time.”

But, under Louisiana law, the board committee did take action by recessing into executive session.

“I did notice and I will always notice stuff like that,” Griffin said regarding the quorum issue.

“I do appreciate a lot that although you recognized that issue that you are being understanding of it,” Mills said to Griffin.

The committee is scheduled to interview candidate Keith Bartlett Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • Michael Pinkerton

    Come on, The Lens. Board members don’t need a quorum to interview or negotiate with a candidate in private. They need a quorum to have deliberations and vote on something and that needs to be in public. If they have a quorum and they want to do something privately, they need to give notice, vote and give reasons to go into a private (executive) session. If they don’t have a quorum, they can and should just shut the door.

  • Rebecca Catalanello

    Thanks for your comment, Mr. Pinkerton. As Marta Jewson’s story describes, the committee did not have a quorum, but did operate and vote as if it did have a quorum. It did so twice, and apparently with an understanding that they were doing so. – Rebecca Catalanello, charter schools editor

  • ET

    this new board needs help. Don’t let the lawyers pitch in. They helped mess up the past. Find an experienced school board member to advise the team. now.

  • Michael Pinkerton

    Rebecca, thanks for your note. I’m specifically referring to your headline and first two sentences: “The committee . . . met twice over the last 24 hours to interview three candidates behind closed doors . . . [b]ut they did so without the quorum that Louisiana’s open meeting law requires.” That’s simply not the law. You should consider editing that. It’s also misleading to say here the committee members operated and voted as if they had a quorum. Unless I’m missing something, they didn’t deliberate or take any action except to collectively decide to conduct private sessions with applicants. They had every right to do conduct those private sessions, quorum or not. Their vote without a quorum to do so was superfluous but absolutely fine.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    And so it continues. Executive session requires a quorum. Did the committee go into Executive session? If Executive session was not in play, the committee should be interviewing with a majority present, even without a vote. That would be four since there are six members. Keeping the process above board gives everyone the feeling of confidence in the committee. This new board needs training immediately – not later.

    The hiring of an interim CEO is extremely crucial to the well-being of this school, given its past history. Why wouldn’t all of the committee members be present? Isn’t this issue sufficiently important for everyone’s attendance?

  • Rebecca Catalanello

    I appreciate your perspective, Mr. Pinkerton, but here’s a reminder of how Louisiana law defines a “meeting”:

    La. R.S. 42:13 Definitions

    A. For the purposes of R.S. 42:12 through R.S. 42:28: (1) “Meeting” means the convening of a quorum of a public body to deliberate or act on a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. It shall also mean the convening of a quorum of a public body by the public body or by another public official to receive information regarding a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.

    We believe that interviewing an interim CEO candidate would fall under the category of “receiving information.”

    Thanks again,

  • Michael Pinkerton

    Rebecca, it’s not a “meeting” if there’s no “convening of a quorum.” Here there was no quorum, and thus no “meeting” of a public body that they needed to make open to the public.

    Is it The Lens’ position that a committee member may only “receive information” in a properly-noticed open meeting with a majority of his or her colleagues? I’m sure a board member or two may invite one of these applicants to lunch for a follow-up and “receive information.” Do they need to give notice, bring along a quorum, and open it up to parents and reporters?

  • E.J.

    By your interpretation, because the City Council regulates public utilities, my City Councilmember would be in violation of this law if she listens to anything I say (i.e., “receiving information”), via phone or email or Skype, regarding Entergy or Cox Communications?