It happened again.
Recreation Board 2-3, the one that is partnered with the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government on construction and operation of the Bayou Country Sports Park, one of the biggest public works projects for these parts in recent memory, does not appear capable of following the simplest requirements of the Louisiana Open Meetings law.
The law is very simple. It says that public business needs to be done in the open, where everyone can see it done.
And that didn’t happen at their board meeting last week.
Chairman Gary Beeson declared that the board had discussed obtaining legal counsel, something that hadn’t happened until it was on the agenda for that meeting, which occurred on Thursday.
A proposal for representation was prepared and given to Beeson by Houma attorney Daniel Hoychick. We don’t know if the other board members reviewed it. There was not even a show or a pretense of that at the meeting, because Beeson did not bring the proposal with him.
So when members of the public asked what the hourly rate of the firm would be, Beeson said he didn’t know.
This is the same board chairman who has no idea why there are thousands of dollars in financial discrepancies concerning concession scales.
The same board that last year posted agendas that said little to nothing about what was on the agenda, and even then, in places from which people couldn’t read them without field glasses.
The same board with at least one employee being closely looked at by the state’s Ethics Board, for potential violations.
This is the same board with members who also work -- for pay -- with the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government’s recreation department. The TPR has teams that are the same ones using the district’s fields for practice, fields whose use and assignment is determined by members of the board.
When The Times, along with some concerned parents and citizens, began looking closely at District 2-3 and its circus of shenanigans, board members had a rejoinder.
They really didn’t know how these things worked. They are all volunteers, giving their time to see to it that kids have places to play and that grown-ups have places to walk and jog.
They operate some of the best fields and gyms in Terrebonne Parish. All this good, they said, should not be overlooked due to technicalities.
Fair enough. For a while.
What has been displayed is bumbling incompetence.
Gary Beeson said he discussed board business with two other board members, but not at the same time.
Members of other like boards know that this is a walking quorum and that Louisiana doesn’t allow it. A key element of the law when a violation is alleged appears to be whether there was a “willful” attempt to make an end-run around the open meetings requirements.
When actions that are contrary to established practice in other districts and other boards in local government are taken repeatedly, what are we to then believe about intent?
The board is not required to produce requests for proposal or do bids for professional services, like a lawyer.
But with all respect to Mr. Hoychick and his firm, just how did this marriage -- clearly what occurred when Beeson told Hoychicl “welcome aboard” after a vote -- come to be?
Who recommended Hoychick? What other firms were considered?
District 2-3 produced no evidence that they intended to look at anyone but Hoychick. A message was left for him to discuss these questions at the firm. But he has yet to answer the call.
Almost everyone who has a business, at one point or another, has sought a relationship with an attorney, maybe even retained one just in case. Short of a lawyer being someone’s business acquaintance or brother-in-law, don’t most folks compare rates and try to get a good idea of what services they are buying?
Yet District 2-3’s board members took what by comparison is a cavalier approach.
A resolution by the Terrebonne Parish Council that would increase the board from five to nine members is coming up for a final vote soon. This would take away some of the problems that exist, by not guaranteeing a lock on votes to three members. From where we sit, the current members should have already at this point resigned.
In our opinion the change can’t come soon enough, nor determination by the Attorney General and the District Attorney on whether this most recent fumble rises to the willful disregard of the people’s will as enshrined in the law.