The following is intended to be a summary, in question and answer format, of the Open Meetings Law. The full text of this law can be found at La. R.S. 44:4.1, et seq. The following is not intended to constitute legal advice, but is merely intended to summarize the provisions of this law. By its very nature, this is a general presentation. All laws are subject to interpretation based upon the particular facts involved. Additionally, all laws are subject to change, both by legislative action and court decisions, and the following should be understood accordingly. No attempt has been made to identify all exceptions that might exist.
What is the Open Meetings Law?
Louisiana law clearly establishes a public policy that public business should be conducted in an open and public manner. The purpose of the Open Meetings Law is to allow the public to observe and evaluate public officials, public conduct and public institutions; it is meant to protect citizens from secret decisions made without any opportunity for public input.
What body is subject to the Open Meetings Law?
In the case of the LCG, meetings of a quorum of the City-Parish Council and the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority are subject to the Open Meetings Law. There are nine members of the City-Parish Council so a quorum is five members. There are five members of the LPUA so a quorum of that body is three members.
However, the Open Meetings Law does not apply to chance meetings or social gatherings of members of a public body at which there is no vote or other action taken, including formal or informal polling of the members.
The Open Meetings Law also applies to other “public bodies.” For example, the definition of “public bodies” includes bodies who possess policy making, advisory or administrative functions. Examples of this type of body would be the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Civil Service Boards.
When must the Council post its agenda?
All public bodies must give written public notice of any regular, special, or rescheduled meeting no later than twenty-four hours before the meeting. Such notice shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting.
Upon approval of two-thirds of the members present at a meeting of a public body, the public body may take up a matter not on the agenda.
How must the notice of the agenda of a meeting be given?
Written public notice given by all public bodies shall include the following:
Posting a copy of the notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held; or by publication of the notice in an official journal of the public body no less than twenty-four hours before the meeting.
Mailing a copy of the notice to any member of the news media who requests notice of such meetings; any such member of the news media shall be given notice of all meetings in the same manner as is given to members of the public body.
Under what circumstance can the Council conduct business in private?
A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to certain specified matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings. However, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.
The matters which may be discussed in an executive session include the following:
Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person. However, such person must be notified in writing at least twenty-four hours before the meeting and such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. Nevertheless, it is not permissible to use an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body.
Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.
Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.
Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct.
Cases of extraordinary emergency, which shall be limited to natural disaster, threat of epidemic, civil disturbances, suppression of insurrections, the repelling of invasions, or other matters of similar magnitude.
Presentations and discussions at meetings of civil service boards of test questions, answers, and papers produced and exhibited by the office of the state examiner, municipal fire and police civil service, pursuant to law.
Do I have an opportunity to address the Council?
Yes. Under Louisiana law, each public body conducting a meeting which is subject to the notice requirements described above shall provide an opportunity for public comment at such meeting, subject to reasonable rules, regulations, and restrictions as adopted by the public body.
In the case of a meeting of the City-Parish Council, these rules are explained at the beginning of the meeting and are also described on the “blue card” which may be obtained at the desk situated at the entrance to the Council auditorium.
What rules of procedure apply to the Council meeting?
Under the Home Rule Charter, the Council is allowed to provide for its rules of procedure. The Council operates under the Rule of the Chair. This means that the Chair determines such issues as order of business, procedure, propriety of actions to be taken, etc. However, if two Council members ask that Roberts’ Rules of Order should apply, such Rules shall apply from that point of the meeting.
Does the Council have to keep minutes of its proceedings?
Yes. All public bodies must keep written minutes of all of their open meetings. The minutes shall include the following:
The date, time, and place of the meeting.
The members of the public body recorded as either present or absent.
The substance of all matters decided, and, at the request of any member, a record, by individual member, of any votes taken.
Any other information that the public body requests be included or reflected in the minutes.
The law does not require that the minutes be taken verbatim. The minutes constitute a public record.