The Special Called Parish Council meeting Thursday evening, Jan. 3, had a rough start, which only worsened as the meeting devolved and ended in chaos. Allegations of impropriety were brought against the DA’s Office, two Council members and the Parish President.
It all stems from the inability of the Council to agree on the procedure for the appointment of a new Registrar of Voters for Natchitoches Parish. Council member Doug de Graffenried addressed what seems to be the core issue: The Home Rule Charter doesn’t address the procedure for appointing an ROV. On this specific issue, there’s a “hole in the Charter.”
“The process is flawed,” said de Graffenried. “We’re gonna have to work on a process that doesn’t leave anyone out.”
Council member Russell Rachal made a motion that the Council ask the District Attorney’s Office to recuse itself from the meeting after he asked Parish President Rick Nowlin if he felt disenfranchised by the procedure. Nowlin said he did feel disenfranchised and that he’s made his feelings known to the District Attorney’s Office.
“It is apparent that there is a disagreement,” said Rachal. “How can the DA’s Office represent us if it’s apparent that we’re on two different thought patterns?”
Assistant District Attorney Steven Mansour was sworn in an hour before the meeting. He is an attorney and counselor-at-law in Alexandria.
“How will he [the DA Office] fairly represent the Council and the President on a divisive matter,” said Rachal. “I don’t think there will be a fair judgement issued.”
De Graffenried seconded the motion. It failed when Rodney Bedgood, Patsy Ward Hoover and Chris Paige voted it down. Rachal then made a motion that whoever is named as the new ROV is done so by Ordinance and not by a Resolution so that the Parish President could be included. Hoover, Bedgood and Paige voted this motion down as well.
Paige accused Rachal and de Graffenried of “getting special phone calls” and “conspiring to obstruct the procedure.”
Bedgood said “I thought we’d come in here and be sensible with this and try to elect the best one for this job, but I knew in my heart before I came that ya’ld already got together.”
Paige said Rachal was “throwing malarky out to obstruct for one individual [Lynda Vance].”
None of the applicants were notified in writing 24 hours before the Jan. 3 executive session, which would discuss their names. The applicants received phone calls, which Rachal said would make the meeting illegal.
Statute quoted by Mansour: A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons: discussion of character, professional competence or physical or mental competence of a person provided that such person is notified in writing at least 24 hours exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which the executive session is to take place. In that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting.
Hoover made a motion that the Council go into executive session, which was seconded by Paige. Rachal stated that going into executive session requires a two-third majority vote. Rachal and de Graffenried voted against going into executive session.
Nowlin interjected at this point with a briefing on the ROV appointment process (SEE DOCUMENT BELOW).
Rachal then prompted Mansour to reiterate that the open meetings law does require that two-thirds of the members present must approve going into executive session.
At this point, Bedgood said the best thing to do would be to close the meeting and request another opinion from the DA Office.
“We need to sue the president,” said Hoover.