Randolph Scott, spokesman for the Concerned Classified City Employees (CCCE), accused the New Orleans Civil Service Commission of violating Louisiana's Open Meetings Law when the commission voted to hold a closed executive session at the beginning of its monthly meeting Oct. 17. Jane Barney, an attorney representing Scott's group, agreed. "We kept asking why they wanted to go into executive session," Barney said.
When pressed by both Scott and Barney, commission chairman and Loyola University President the Rev. Kevin Wildes referred them to the agenda for the executive session, which contained two items, including the discussion of a complaint filed last month by the employees group against Commissioner Dana Douglas. As Gambit previously reported, in the commission's September meeting, Douglas stopped the CCCE's attorney from completing a presentation protesting a change to the city's so-called "bumping" policy governing layoff procedures, a change proposed and strongly supported by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The group complained that Douglas acted improperly in stopping the presentation.
The administration, with support from local business interests and government reform groups, has indicated it plans to push for changes to the city's civil service rules — including procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining city employees — that many workers believe will undermine protections. The layoff policy change, the administration's only solid proposal so far, has yet to face a vote after two commission deferrals.
According to Barney, the commission, like all public bodies, is required to justify any vote for an executive session by proving that the closed-door meeting is legal. State law provides for public meeting exceptions — limited, fairly specific cases that justify gathering out of the public view — including "strategy sessions or negotiation with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand or [pending] litigation" as well as "investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct."
Given the group's complaint against Douglas, one of those two could potentially apply, though the CCCE never threatened litigation in its complaint. The commission's executive session agenda, in reference to the complaint, says "discussion," rather than making reference to an investigation. (In the open portion of last week's meeting, the commission voted to declare that Douglas' actions during the September meeting were proper and not a violation.)
"We have a right to file a complaint with the state attorney general and the local district attorney's office," Scott said, though he did not say whether the CCCE would do so. — Charles Maldonado