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Hemelt: Answering questions is not always easy but is always important

Jaclyn Hotard shared with L’OBSERVATEUR recently that sometime back the Louisiana Attorney General’s office visited with St. John the Baptist Parish elected leaders to host an open meetings law workshop because “many things have changed regarding open meetings rules.”

Hotard, Division B Councilwoman at Large for the St. John Parish Council, was sharing her thoughts in the wake of a lawsuit filed by District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut against five Parish Council members and the Parish President.

In essence, the D.A. said the group knowingly participated in a closed-doors meeting and conducted Parish business, the substance of which should have been advertised ahead of time and performed in public.

Hotard, who was not at the meeting or named in the lawsuit, said the issue of public meetings could be tricky.

“For example, the possibility of e-quorums and rolling quorums by having email threads with a quorum that specifically discuss an item that should be discussed in a public forum,” she said. “We are also required to be much more careful when ‘replying to all’ in emails and other similar situations.”

Hotard stressed to L’OBSERVATEUR that she does not believe her fellow Council members are in the practice of conducting secret meetings, noting there are times where a quorum of the governing body can all be in a room and there is no violation.

“For example, when there is a recess in a Council meeting and members grab coffee in the same room and only exchange pleasantries or conversation non-related to Parish Government,” she offered.

“Or in a casual setting you may have a quorum as long as the conversations are not about anything that should be discussed with the benefit of public participation. For example, talking about how the kids are doing in school or anything along those lines.”

Her insight and feedback were appreciated because she and Councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. were the only members of the Board who spoke with L’OBSERVATEUR when the lawsuit was entered into the public record.

(Editor’s note: We did not reach out to Kurt Becnel, Marvin Perrilloux or Michael Wright because they were neither named or mentioned in the lawsuit.)

Thanks to the access created through the Internet and social media, it’s extremely easy to know, firsthand, what our community and readers want to be more informed about.

We’ve been taking those thoughts and comments straight to elected leaders, and we’re very thankful to those who return our calls and answer reasonable questions “on the record.”

Public office isn’t all about ribbon cuttings and public acknowledgment. It takes brave people to put themselves out there by running for office. We applaud those who continue to exercise those leadership qualities by responding to reasonable concerns raised by taxpayers.

With that in mind, I would also like to thank St. John School Board members Ali Burl III, Gerald J. Keller, Patrick H. Sanders, Keith Jones, Shawn Wallace, Debbie Schum and Nia Mitchell for speaking this week with L’OBSERVATEUR.

In light of significant election news and state performance evaluation, we reached out to all School Board members who have secured another term in office to get their thoughts on the present and future of local public education.

It was nice to know a majority of the Board felt our questions and our readers are worth their time.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.