The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has settled its dispute with Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge, agreeing to pay his court costs and to hold a new election for board vice president.
Hodge sued after he was barred from speaking Jan. 17 when the board selected Jill Dyason as its vice president over fellow board member Dadrius Lanus in a close vote. Hodge was trying to protest Dyason because she’d signed the St. George incorporation petition, but new board President Mike Gaudet deemed his comments not germane.
The first item on the agenda for Thursday’s regular board meeting, starting at 5 p.m., was “election of vice president.” The meeting, though, has been postponed until April 25 due to bad weather.
Baton Rouge attorney Donald Hodge Jr. is suing the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, alleging it denied him his right to public comment on…
Hodge said he doubts the results will change, but he will be there to “get my three minutes.”
“I wanted them to hold a vote that was legal and allowed people input, especially (about) Jill Dyason signing the St. George petition,” he said.
The school system released a statement Wednesday on the decision to settle.
"Due to a concern regarding the opportunity for public comment at a previous meeting, we will reopen nominations for the election of vice president," the statement said. "Previously, public comment was allowed on the motion to nominate; however, a question arose whether public comment was permitted on the full agenda item. Public comment related to this agenda item will be allowed.
"Please know that our school board has a strong belief and a vested interest in the democratic ideal of open meetings and the importance of public comment."
Hodge, who has named his legal practice Hot Poker of Justice LLC, argues that it makes no sense to reward someone who signed the St. George petition with a leadership position on the School Board.
“Their ultimate goal is to break up the EBR school system,” Hodge said Jan. 17.
Dyason has said she signed the petition only to let the people vote on this contentious issue. She said that in her view, the latest St. George petition has more to do with creating a city than any changes in schooling, and it has no bearing on her School Board service or whether she would make a good board vice president.
Dyason had won the post in a 5-3 margin; board member Dawn Collins abstained. Gaudet proved the deciding vote when he shifted his support from Lanus to Dyason.
Lanus, who took office in January, said he agrees with the settlement decision and he expects to be renominated for vice president.
“This time, you will really have public comment and everyone will express their opinion on this; it will be interesting to see how the board responds," Lanus said.
Hodge said he told board President Gaudet and another board member he would sue if not allowed to speak freely. He said people rarely sue related to the open meetings law issues.
“Is someone going to sue because they are not going to get their three minutes?” he said. “Well, yes they can.”
Breaking a week-long deadlock, Jill Dyason was elected Thursday as vice president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board Thursday — the f…
Hodge retained Philip House as his attorney. A hearing was scheduled for May 13. Hodge said the school system approached his attorney about settling after requests were made for documents and to schedule depositions with every board member.
As part of the settlement, the School Board has agreed to pay Hodge $2,435 in court costs. Hodge said he dropped a request that a penalty of up to $100 be assessed against Gaudet for forcing him to quit talking that night.
Louisiana law requires school boards to allow public comment on motions, but the discussion allowed on Jan. 17 was very limited. It was a big contrast with the freewheeling discussion of a week earlier when the board deadlocked on who to pick for vice president.
“We’re not going to be sitting here making speeches and things for or against any candidate,” Gaudet told the audience. “The discussion will be whether or not you agree to the motion to close or if you have any objections to the motion to close.”