Malfeasance? AG Issues Opinion on Council Absences
Written by Mark Chreene on May 11, 2020
After another failed meeting on Monday for the Minden City Council due to lack of quorum, things took a turn towards answering the question many have been asking: Is there anything that can be done to have the councilmembers report for a meeting?
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry weighed in on the continued absences of councilmembers Terika Walker and Vincen Bradford. In a letter obtained by KASO/KBEF dated May 8, 2020, Attorney General Landry responded to a letter from Minden Mayor Terry Gardner per a conversation originally held with his office on January 9, 2020.
Landry consolidated the questions raised by Gardner to four main issues:
- Are discussions and pre-planning between majority of the membership of a public body that take place outside of a public meeting, regarding business over which they have control, a violation of open meetings law;
- What actions would constitute a walking or rolling quorum;
- If a quorum is established at the beginning of a meeting, and a majority of the members subsequently leave, can the remaining members continue with the meeting, and
- What relief is available to prevent council members from intentionally walking out of meeting to avoid voting on issues or so that a quorum is not present to conduct business?
While the bulk of the letter spells out the definitions of walking or rolling quorums as well as the Open Meetings Laws, the final few paragraphs gave the most clarity of what legal steps might be taken in the city council absence issue.
Landry states that in the Minden Code of Ordinances §2-34 states “(e)ach alderman present shall be required to vote on all questions unless excused by the council, but shall not vote for himself on a question involving his individual interests unless he prepares and files a statement as permitted by La. R.S. 42:1120.”
Landry referenced a similar case involving a school board, stating that in “La. Atty. Gen. Op. 02-63, our office concluded that while no statute was found that penalized a school board member for failure to attend meetings, “[i]t is our opinion that the continued failure or refusal to attend meetings of the School Board, without any excuse other than that of purely business reasons, would doubtless constitute malfeasance in office, and the courts would doubtless construe such malfeasance as misconduct in office.” (citing Attorney General Opinion of 1960-62, page 311).
Landry then said in his opinion that if malfeasance in office is to be brought in regards to the excessive absences that “the decision to bring charges rests with the District Attorney,” citing La. Atty. Gen. Op. 00-51 and State v. Kibodeaux, 435 So.2d 1128 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1983). He further said that “whether failure to attend meetings amounts to malfeasance is a factual question within the discretion of the district attorney.
KASO/KBEF has reached out to Minden Mayor Terry Gardner and DA Schuyler Marvin regarding the Attorney General’s opinion and has not received comment from either as of time of posting.
A full copy of the Attorney General letter can be found here.