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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Council Passes Open Meeting Ordinance

Posted By on Thu, Feb 5, 2009 at 11:06 PM

Fresh off his legislative victory that saw the New Orleans City Council unanimously pass an ordinance that states the mayor’s office must follow Louisiana’s open meetings laws in regards to selecting and awarding city contracts, Councilman Arnie Fielkow made it clear this is a council issue, and not something requiring a city charter change.


“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Fielkow said. “The attorney general has specifically opined that we have the right to take legislative action on this topic. I also agree with the attorney general’s opinion that we are subject to the open meeting laws of the Louisiana Constitution, and we should be doing that even if no action had been taken today.”


Previously, the mayor and his staff had contended that the open meetings laws didn’t apply to the executive branch in regards to selecting and awarding professional service contracts. According to City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields the mayor appoints committees to review contracts, but these committees do not make specific recommendations, so their meetings do not have to adhere to open meeting requirements.


Before the vote, a number of people on both sides of the issue testified before the council on the matter including City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields, who spoke against the measure. Moses-Fields reiterated that the ordinance was illegal and that a city charter change would be needed. Donald Hoffman, a former city attorney appearing with Moses-Fields, also opposed the Fielkow-sponsored ordinance, saying it would “fundamentally change the relationship between the executive and legislative branches in this city.”


Council President Jackie Clarkson disagreed with Hoffman’s assessment that the ordinance would transfer power from the executive branch to the legislative.


“We’re giving the people the power,” Clarkson said.


Clarkson’s comments echoed those of her colleagues who, with the exception of Councilman James Carter, all spoke in favor of the ordinance. Fielkow got in the last word prior to the vote, and he pointed out that contrary to what Nagin and his staff members have said, there is little transparency in the present system by the mayor-appointed committees in selecting professional contractors. Meetings are not open; there are no public notices of meetings and up until this past September — after Fielkow’s legislation was originally filed — there was a gag order on committee members speaking to the media.


Fielkow expressed hope the executive branch would agree to the ordinance, but added he would be willing to fight for the new measure if necessary. After the meeting, Fielkow answered Moses-Fields charge that his ordinance was political maneuvering for the future.


“I can assure Ms. Fields and anyone else that I’m in office right now to do the right things for the best interests of this community. Period,” Fielkow said. “It’s my only motivation at all. I have one year left as a city council member, and I intend to work tirelessly for the best interests of the citizens that put me in office. And I believe today was a very good day for the citizens of New Orleans.”





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