By Cyndi Sellers
The use of committees and “walking quorums” by public bodies has been discussed at the Cameron Parish Police Jury and School Board meetings this past week. District Attorney Jennifer Jones brought the matter to the attention of both bodies after reading an opinion from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
She explained that the fairly common practice of officials meeting privately in small groups, less than a quorum, to discuss matters to be voted upon later is in fact illegal. Any practice which involves communicating public business in private, whether in person, by phone, or by electronic means, among a majority of members of a public body constitutes a “walking quorum,” which violates the open meetings law.
Even one member calling another, who calls another, and so on until a quorum is reached violates the principle that all discussion about public business, except that allowed in executive session, must be held in public. Communication between staff and board members should be for information only, no discussion and no polling. She said the Attorney General clearly stated members of a public body should never be discussing public business with less than a quorum.
Jones had intended to write to the AG about the use of committees, but found several opinions already given. The law states that “a committee of a public body is a public body,” and committee meetings must follow the open meetings law, which includes public notice, minutes, and advertising those minutes. She suggested that contract negotiations not be conducted by a committee, but by the administrator and legal counsel. The AG has also stated that a committee cannot take the place of the board as a whole in decision making.
“We have to change,” Jones told the Police Jury. “We can’t have private meetings between the agenda and voting meetings. Discussion has to be in open meetings, and we have to have all meetings in public