Parish Council did not interview ROV candidates; meeting fails to go into executive session

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

The announcement for the Parish Council meeting slated for Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. was published numerous times in the parish’s official journal, The Natchitoches Times, as an executive session meeting.

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The text follows: “Special called meetings for the Natchitoches Parish Council will be Jan. 3 and Jan. 7 at 5. p.m. The meetings will be executive sessions to interview Registrar of Voters applicants.”

The statement originated from Parish President Rick Nowlin’s office. Executive session means the meeting is not open to the public, therefore the Times did not attend. The Times learned there was apparently an open meeting as well and contacted Nowlin Friday morning. Nowlin stated he had someone in his office and would return our call in 15 minutes. He did. Nowlin stated there was discussion about the process of going into the executive session to discuss interviews.

Nowlin said, “There seemed to be a lot of questions about going into executive session and quite frankly, they got into an argument. They didn’t get the votes to go into executive session.”

The Times asked Nowlin if he knew there was going to be a discussion before going into executive session. “Well, I knew it was a possibility. It starts in open session. Mr. (Russell) Rachal told me earlier he had some questions about the process of interviewing the selected candidates and I assumed there would be a few questions and then we’d go into executive session.” He said he did have a prepared statement he wanted to read before the council went into executive session and would provide the Times with a copy, but it was not available press time.

The Times stated we did not attend because the meeting was supposed to be executive session only. Nowlin asked if we were told not to attend.

The Times attempted to contact council members and reached Russell Rachal. He said he would prefer an in person meeting to discuss the events.

The Times asked if the vote came up to go into executive session. He said, “It did. Three to two to go into it and … I had to show the newly appointed Assistant District Attorney who was sworn in yesterday morning that the open meeting law had to have two-thirds, which would be 3.3 of 5, to go into executive session and he agreed with me. It was voted down after some fight. The open meeting law states you have to go into a regular or special called meeting then vote by two-thirds to go into executive session. You cannot open and end in executive session.”

The Times also spoke with temporary Registrar of Voters Debbie Tebbets. She stated she went for her interview at 5:45 p.m. as scheduled. “I felt very discouraged when I went for my follow-up interview only to find out all the interviews were cancelled.”

 

Nowlin provided his statement shortly after the print edition went to press. It is included below.

PRESIDENT BRIEFING

ROV APPOINTMENT PROCESS

January 3, 2019

The Parish Council has issued calls for two special meetings to be held on January 3, and January 7, 2019, for the purpose of interviewing applicants for the position of parish registrar of voters. Please accept this briefing as a statement of my continued problem with the apparent procedure the Parish Council has decided to follow in the appointment process.

The primary reasons for my concern about the Council process include, but are not limited to, the following:

1.         As I stated at the Council meeting on December 17th, the elimination of any role by the Parish President in the appointment process results in the President not being able to perform his lawful role under the home rule charter form of government.

2.         The appointment of a ROV by a resolution rather than an ordinance violates the home rule charter provisions that all operating budget expenditures must be approved by ordinances duly enacted by the Parish.  The appointment of a ROV by a resolution includes the commitment of financial resources from future Parish budgets without the proper authorization provided by an ordinance.

3.         The language in one section of the constitution that defines the parish governing authority as the legislative body of the parish does not consider the recent creation of home rule charter governments wherein an elected president is a part of the local governing authority.  That language must be taken in context of the entire constitution, state laws and the authority granted to home rule charter governments.

4.         At the meeting on December 17th, I offered to work with the Parish Council to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution to the conflict regarding the process by which the new registrar of voters would be appointed.  The announced Council process does not appear to be aimed at reaching an amicable resolution of the conflict.

While we have respect for the staff of the District Attorney office and appreciate the work of the office on behalf of the Parish, we respectfully hold a different opinion in this matter as outlined above.

Rick Nowlin