OPINION: Our Representative Republic At Work….. or Not

ClifHartI was recently excited to have an article published in Natchitoches Parish Journal about the continually declining state of the roads in Natchitoches Parish and have received many wonderful replies to it. Thanks to all of you for your kind words of encouragement.

In that article and one afterwards, I mentioned the importance of the public attending the Parish Council meetings and giving their input so that the Council would know where the public stands on issues. Since they are employees of yours, they need to know how you think they are doing as well as what they should be doing better.

I have personally attended several now and it’s slowly dawning on me how business is being done in this parish. Some of you will remember the comments I made concerning the old Police Jury System versus the new Home Rule Charter and how I thought the HRC was the better way to go for a variety of reasons.

At one meeting I attended, the floor was opened to public discussion and there were several citizens who got up to speak and to voice their opinions. It was wonderful to get a variety of viewpoints as well as seeing how the Council members reacted to the citizens speaking out. At a couple of others I attended, there was very little, if any, public input at all. I dislike things political but realize that in today’s day and time it is now a necessity to become knowledgeable about what the Parish Council is doing.

This past Monday night, I attended the regular session of the Parish Council and came away with some rude awakenings. As did most others, I walked in and picked up a copy of the Agenda and some other handouts and took a seat. I glanced over the Agenda and other handouts and then the meeting started. The meeting was called to order, we had the prayer before opening (which I personally appreciate), then the pledge of allegiance. Then the Chairman, Mr. John Salter, called for public comments (none were offered at this time) and the meeting proceeded to take place with the discussions of the various topics on the Agenda. Myself and several others in the audience were all set to ask questions but the floor was never opened to public comments again. I said to myself—Self?? Something’s not right here. More agenda items were discussed and again myself and others were waiting to have questions answered but the floor was never opened up to public discussion again. This goes on for all agenda items and the next thing I know is that they are calling for an executive session and we are all being asked to leave the room. Several of us went downstairs and sat out on the steps wondering aloud if the meeting was going to be reopened and the public allowed to speak when we noticed others getting in their cars and leaving. I had seen several quietly get up and leave as the meeting progressed and the public wasn’t allowed to say anything and wondered why? Those of us out front finally left in disgust. On my way home I was wondering out loud as I was driving “isn’t that meeting considered to be a “public meeting” and isn’t it covered under the Louisiana Open Meetings laws???

When I got home I immediately pulled up a copy of the Louisiana Open Meetings Law (available on the State website) and started reading. Yes indeed, the Parish Council meeting was subject to the Open Meetings Laws. I was now thoroughly confused as to why public comments weren’t allowed. So I read further and found out that public discussions are required to be asked for but the law doesn’t stipulate at what point in the meeting the public comments are allowed. Ever have one of those “Eureka” moments where the light bulb comes on and it all becomes crystal clear??? Well, this ol’ country boy had his right then and there. With my copy of the agenda in hand I looked and indeed there it was. Right at the beginning of the agenda. “Public discussion”. First rattle out of the box. My mind asked my heart the question “How in the world are we supposed to comment on something when the item hasn’t even been proposed yet??” We haven’t even heard what the item is about much less been allowed to form an opinion and ask questions. I had been hearing from friends and relatives about how the old Police Jury did just about anything and everything they wanted and just bullied their way through meetings. Now I had the answer as to how. By only allowing public comments at the beginning of the meetings they filled the requirements of the Open Meetings Law but effectively strangled public discussion of the items on the agenda and basically ramrodded things down the public’s collective throats. No wonder people got tired of even trying or attending meetings. They had no input into what the Police Jury did so they just got disgusted as I was and quit even trying. The results speak for themselves each time I leave my driveway and you leave yours.

I wondered also why the Parish President didn’t step in and try to “do” something. Well, in my researching the HRC form of government the president isn’t a voting member and therefore is subject to the same rules you and I are. The meeting belongs to the Council members and since three of the five are old Police Jury members it seems as if the meetings are reverting back to business as usual. It goes without saying that it appears as if the Council members do not want any input from the public. Well, I’m sorry but you are on our payroll and if you don’t want to answer questions from the public then you don’t deserve to work for the public. You get your paycheck from every person in the parish (and I personally am tired of hearing at every meeting how small you think they are) and every person in the parish deserves to have their questions answered by you so that come election time they are aware of where you stand on important issues.

Which brings up another important issue (I think). At the last meeting in May there was an Assistant District Attorney there and it wound up to be an important thing. One of the Council persons started ranting and raving about a flyer that went out to the public that had his name in it and also had some comments about the old PPJ form of government. That particular Council person was asking everyone present if they had written the flyer and was wanting to sue someone because of the information contained in it about him personally. There was even a proposition proposed that the Council sue whoever wrote the flyer to which the ADA told the Council person that everything in the flyer was public information and advised him not to pursue the lawsuit. Needless to say that motion was retracted but one could tell the Council person was still hot under the collar. If the ADA hadn’t been there and lent their advice things might have gone differently and the Council may well have started their way down a rough road (similar to our Parish roads) that may well have ended up costing the taxpayers of the Parish some big bucks for a frivolous lawsuit. I’m not sure if it’s a requirement that a representative from the District Attorney’s office be at the meetings but I would strongly urge the District Attorney to have someone attend all of them just to help keep the Parish out of trouble.

I’ve said all of that to finally say this. If you truly want to know what goes on in our Parish, please try to attend the monthly Council meetings. Meet your Councilman in person and by your voice and questions let them know how you feel about the issues brought up. Yes, I was disgusted (that’s an understatement. I was livid.) but it hasn’t changed how I feel about attending the meetings. If anything, it has enforced in my mind the importance of everyone who possibly can to be there

Thank you for listening,

Clif Hart

Louisiana Attorney General Open Meeting Law Link

The Natchitoches Parish Journal received this submission from Clif Hart. The views and opinions expressed are those of Mr. Hart and not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal.  If you have an article for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.

One thought on “OPINION: Our Representative Republic At Work….. or Not

  1. Cliff…you are definitely right on and have hit every possible nail on the head. There are definitely three members on the Parish Council who have continually been disruptive factors and defiant of the home rule form of government that Natchitoches Parish citizens overwhelming voting for and henceforth have failed to provide the leadership and saneness needed to move Natchitoches Parish in the right direction and provide us tax paying citizens the services we are deserving of. For the love of me, it is extremely difficult me to understand how the voting public of this Parish continues to votes these people into office. Cliff; perhaps you could appear at the next meeting and during the public comments sessions demand that the council place public comments at the end of the agenda.

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