The way in which the Metro Council recently eliminated its committee system for conducting public business provided a perfect example of why those committees are needed in the first place.
For years, the Metro Council has sent many important matters to its Finance and Executive committee and Capital Improvements committee before those items are considered at meetings of the full council. That system allows time for public input and comment before the council votes on these issues. The committee meetings also give city officials a forum in which to collect information on issues before acting upon them.
But recently, the Metro Council voted to abolish the committees — an action it took without the usual committee review process. The action came during a discussion that, according to the council’s agenda, was supposed to be about changing the time of the committee meetings — not abolishing them altogether.
The Louisiana Open Meetings Law generally requires that members of public bodies consider only those items listed on their publicly posted meeting agendas when they gather to discuss public business.
Parish Attorney Mary Roper told council members at their recent meeting that they could vote to abolish the committees because that action was related to the agenda item about changing the times of committee meetings.
We must wonder if this kind of bait-and-switch concerning agenda items is in keeping with the letter of the Open Meetings Law. At the very least, the council’s action violates the spirit of the law. State law requires the advance posting of meeting agenda items so that the public has a clear idea of what will be discussed when members of public bodies convene.
In voting to abolish its committee system, the Metro Council demonstrated that it places little value on public input regarding city-parish issues. The way in which the council voted on the issue showed further contempt for public engagement.
New Metro Councilman Ryan Heck made the motion to dissolve the council committees, and his motion won with eight votes. Council members Joel Boé, Tara Wicker Scott Wilson and Trae Welch voted against abolishing the committee meetings. Heck said he was attempting to streamline government by eliminating the committee meetings. He also said that the Metro Council can vote to reinstate the committee meetings if they seem necessary.
The previous Metro Council voted to eliminate its committee system in 2009, then reinstated it in 2011.
Because of this history, we’re familiar with the arguments for increasing council efficiency by doing away with committees. We readily acknowledge that these committee meetings can be time-consuming and — let’s face it — laborious affairs.
But representative government is meant to move through deliberation, and a process designed to include many voices is seldom convenient.
We agree with Boé, who said that in abolishing its committee system, the Metro Council has “pulled the shades down over the public’s eyes.”