Former members of the Terrebonne Parish District 2-3 board did not violate Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law when they discussed the potential for hiring an attorney while outside of a meeting, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has found.
“In the course of our investigation, we were unable to find a basis for taking action against the Recreation District,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Lauryn Sudduth in a letter dated June 15th, in response to a complaint. “Based upon the evidence presented to this office, we are compelled to decline any action against the Terrebonne Parish Recreation District 2-3 and its officials.”
The letter clears the board from suspicion of a violation regarding the specific incident alleged. An Ethics Board investigation of various aspects of District 2-3 conduct continues. Due to the confidential nature of Ethics Board cases prior to public discussion at an ethics board meeting details of that investigation are not available currently.
The open meetings complaint concerned an April 19, 2018 meeting of the recreation board at which then-chairman Gary Beeson introduced an attorney whose hiring was under consideration. The discussion of hiring an attorney was listed on the meeting agenda, a discussion of the potential for hiring an attorney and distribution of a proposal from his firm.
Under questioning from a reporter, Beeson said the discussion between himself and two other members of the board -- enough to form a quorum -- was held during a chance encounter.
Because the material from the lawyer had been distributed and no public attempts to find an attorney for the district were otherwise discussed or listed, The Times contacted Terrebonne Assistant District Attorney Jason Dagate, alleging a potential violation of the open meetings law. Such violations are not a criminal offense. If an open meetings law violation is found, any action on a matter of concern taken by that board is reversed.
“We contacted the Attorney General’s Office, and it was confirmed that an investigation was opened into the matter after they also received the complaint,” Dagate said. “Rather than conducting parallel investigations, we allowed them to handle the inquires. As such, our office will not be filing suit.”
Beeson cooperated with the resulting attorney general investigation and said there was one chance encounter with a board member after a baseball game at which the matter of hiring an attorney was discussed. Another, subsequent conversation was held with then-Vice Chairman Bobby Arceneaux.
The law, Sudduth wrote, shall not apply to chance meetings or when action is not taken.
“Additionally our office was unable to find any evidence of an intentional usurpation of the law during these encounters,” Sudduth stated. “Our authority to act in regards to any open meetings law violation may be exercised only on a verifiable factual basis … This office cannot presume that the facts stated by the … official are untrue and absent affirmative proof of of an irregularity or wrong-doing, we have no grounds on which to proceed against further.”
A totally new District 2-3 board has been assigned Parish Attorney Julius Hebert as its counsel, a decision having nothing to do with the prior board members, and so the question as regards the board, officials acknowledged is additionally moot.