ST. FRANCISVILLE — A judge on Wednesday applied temporary brakes to a West Feliciana Parish Council move seeking to restore the police jury form of government.
State District Judge William G. Carmichael issued a preliminary injunction preventing the council from conducting a public hearing Monday after which the council conceivably could ask voters to repeal the Home Rule Charter.
Carmichael’s decision was a temporary victory for Z. David Deloach, who filed suit Tuesday contending the council violated Louisiana’s Open Meetings law.
The suit alleges the violation involves an item on the July 13 meeting agenda that did not sufficiently describe what the council was considering. The agenda item E mentioned making amendments to the Home Rule Charter. Instead, the ordinance that was introduced was to place a proposition on the fall ballot to restore the police jury form of government — and repeal the Home Rule Charter — as of Jan. 1, 2016.
“It’s a difference between making changes to the Home Rule Charter as opposed to doing away with it completely,” Deloach’s attorney, Dannie Garrett, said. “Had the council put the word ‘repeal’ in the agenda that was published, we believe they would have gotten a much higher level of resistance at the meeting from the public. …
“The purpose of having an agenda is so the public has a reasonably good idea what subject matters are going to be discussed at an open meeting. To write one thing on the agenda — and do something different — robs the public of the ability to attend that meeting.”
District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla and Assistant District Attorney Mike Hughes, who represented the council at Wednesday’s court hearing, said they plan to discuss with the council the next course of action. A trial date must still be set for Carmichael to consider a permanent injunction, plus the judge will consider any legal fees and civil fines of up to $100 for each of the councilmen named in the suit.
Named as defendants are the council as well as Melvin Young, Ricky Lambert, John Kean and Otis Wilson, the four members who voted in favor of putting the ordinance on the Aug. 10 agenda.
Council members can still put a similar measure on a future agenda by rewording the language and by following the procedure as outlined by state law.
“If they want to have another meeting, and introduce another ordinance, that’s up to them,” Garrett said. “But the public has a right to know specifically what they are going to discuss.”