DENHAM SPRINGS — A city councilman’s bid to seek a state attorney general’s opinion on whether the mayor and the other four council members broke the state’s open meetings laws died without support from his colleagues Tuesday.
Councilman Chris Davis previously filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office, alleging the committee that investigated the Police Department’s handling of his domestic violence case illegally met with the four other council members individually before the council voted April 7 to fire then-Police Chief Scott Jones.
Davis said those meetings created a rolling quorum — where a public body gathers in a series of smaller groups to discuss a matter under its authority without having a majority present at the same time — and violated the state’s open meetings laws.
Former Capt. Steve Kistler, who also was fired April 7 over the handling of Davis’ case, lodged a similar complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.
Davis’ wife called 911 after an overnight altercation between the couple on Jan. 14-15 resulted in her receiving a head injury. The police issued Davis a summons, rather than arresting him, which the committee said violated state law and department policy.
On Tuesday, Davis urged the council to seek an even broader opinion from the attorney general, asking whether Mayor Gerard Landry had the authority to appoint an advisory committee that included a councilman and whether that advisory committee was required to comply with the open meetings laws as well.
The mayor’s investigative committee did not advertise any of its meetings or its 20 interviews with city employees and others connected to the case.
City Attorney Stephanie Hulett — one of the three committee members, along with Councilman Jeff Wesley and Human Resources Manager Gary Watson — told the council Tuesday she didn’t think they needed an attorney general’s opinion, but she would request one if they wanted it.
“I think it’s clear under the law that nothing was violated here,” Hulett said. “Several attorney general’s opinions already exist that show this was not an advisory committee, and no rolling quorum existed.”
Hulett has said the investigative committee was only a fact-finding body and did not give the mayor or council any advice or suggestions on how to respond to the Police Department’s handling of Davis’ case.
Councilman Robert Poole initially said if there was no cost to the city, other than Hulett’s time drafting the request, he would support Davis’ motion for the opinion.
“Honestly, I guess I’m concerned about, on face value, what exactly we’re trying to accomplish here,” Poole said. “But I’m not going to stand in the way of somebody trying to clarify whatever they want clarified.”
But after Hulett suggested that the process of replacing Jones as chief could be delayed pending receipt of the opinion, Poole declined to second Davis’ motion.
Building Official Rick Foster told the council he didn’t “have a dog in this particular hunt,” but he said the city attorney handles more than this investigation, and the cost of keeping her tied up in this case is more than just cash.
“It’s the responsibility that we have to the city, to the citizens and to the neighbors of those folks that are making complaints,” Foster said. “When we exhaust our means and we have to lean on the city attorney, and she’s not there, then things stop. The process stops, and we need that process to go forward because for the past three months, we’ve been kind of stumbling and bumbling and doing the best that we can.”
Davis’ motion to request the opinion died for lack of a second.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.