The LSU Board of Supervisors has agreed to redo a vote on the merger of the president and Baton Rouge chancellor positions after Louisiana’s attorney general launched an investigation citing “serious concerns” over whether LSU violated the state’s open meetings law.
The board’s unanimous Oct. 26 vote came under fire from Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, who complained the merger vote was not on the board agenda as required by the Open Meetings Law.
Cope took the matter up with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, arguing that the LSU board intentionally hid its plans in order to stifle public comment.
The LSU Board tried to orchestrate the vote as if it was a spontaneous decision to vote on the job merger, but an attorney representing the board “read on cue a carefully prepared version of the resolution,” Cope wrote Caldwell.
Cope called that proof the board intended to vote on the matter at the meeting without giving the public the required access to the report.
“The board’s actions shows contempt for the public in that they illegally tried to stifle input from the public,” Cope said Thursday. “If the merger is such a good thing, why was the board afraid of public debate.”
Blake Chatelain, the LSU board member who pushed for the vote, has denied Cope’s allegations.
LSU General Counsel Shelby McKenzie has also argued that, although the meeting agenda was vague, LSU did nothing wrong. McKenzie has since declined further comment.
The letter from state Assistant Attorney General Emalie Boyce to LSU mentioned some missteps in the way LSU handled the vote.
The official meeting agenda gave notice that board members would discuss a report put together by the Association of Governing Boards consulting group, a Washington, D.C. firm known as AGB, helping LSU plan its future.
The 16-page report addressed a number of issues related to LSU’s structure, including the efficiencies that could be created by combining the two positions.
State law requires that each item on a meeting agenda is required to be listed and “described with reasonable specificity.”
Boyce wrote in her letter that board members voted to consolidate the two positions during the part of the agenda listed vaguely as “consideration of a report from the Association of Governing Boards on the structure of the LSU system.”
Boyce later cites the detail in which several other items on the agenda were listed including requests for property transfers and approval of a construction budget. She juxtaposed those items with the imprecise way the merger vote was listed.
“The agenda item which is the subject of this complaint ... does not appear to convey to the public the same degree of specificity that other agenda items indicated,” she wrote.
Boyce added that the murkiness of the agenda item denied the public sufficient notice and opportunity to comment on the issue before the board vote — also a possible violation of open meetings law.
The letter ends with Boyce advising LSU that any action made in violation of open meetings law can be voided should someone file suit within 60 days of the vote.
On Thursday morning, shortly after learning of the attorney general’s investigation, LSU board chair Hank Danos announced that the board will re-introduce a resolution to combine the two positions at their Dec. 7 meeting.
“We thought what we did was appropriate, but the attorney general suggested there were some concerns. We will take the appropriate action to correct that at our next meeting,” Danos said.
Cope called Danos’ decision a “welcome development.”
“The attorney general’s action sends a clear sign to the Board of Supervisors that the old days where much of the business could be conducted in secret, are over,” Cope said.
Marsha Shuler contributed to this report.