[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish judge blocks two council members from taking seats on hospital board

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Jun 18 21:22:56 EDT 2009

St. Bernard Parish judge blocks two council members from taking seats on
hospital board
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Thursday June 18, 2009, 6:08 PM
A St. Bernard Parish judge has ordered a preliminary injunction blocking two
Parish Council members from taking seats on the parish's hospital board,
ruling that public notice of the appointments on the council's meeting
agenda last month was "legally deficient."

The ruling by 34th Judicial District Judge Robert Buckley is the latest in a
legal feud between two camps of the St. Bernard Parish Council. But it
brings no closure to the issue of filling two vacant seats on the parish's
five-member hospital board, which has become a political lightning rod over
the past year.

After the Parish Council voted 3-2 May 19 to appoint Councilmen George
Cavignac and Wayne Landry to fill vacancies on the board minutes after
announcing two members had resigned, three other councilmen got a temporary
restraining order blocking them from taking those seats.

Council Chairman Frank Auderer and Councilmen Mike Ginart and Ray Lauga said
in a court filing that Landry and Cavignac violated the state's open
meetings law. The three councilmen said they knew nothing of the
resignations from the board -- which opened the two seats -- and that a
"motion to discuss appointments" to the board was an "unauthorized addition"
to the agenda.

In his ruling, Buckley said the agenda item met the council's time
requirements, but that, "It is also clear that (Landry and Cavignac) had
knowledge of the resignations of two members of the Hospital Service
District well in advance of the meeting ... The information was not shared
with other council members or in any way noted on the agenda item to provide
notice to the public. That failure is what renders the agenda items to be
defective as a matter of law."

The preliminary injunction will remain in effect until a full trial for a
permanent injunction is held, "or until the matter is properly addressed
before the Parish Council," Buckley noted.

What lies ahead is uncertain.

Landry and Cavignac said earlier this month that their main issue was
Auderer's assertion that the agenda item was improperly posted.

Last week Landry put a resolution on the agenda for last Tuesday's council
meeting that clearly stated a motion to appoint himself and Cavignac to the
hospital board. But Auderer altered the agenda before the deadline to read
"motion to advertise for volunteers to the Hospital Service District Board."

Auderer said he changed the agenda because he believes the council should
use the parish's appointments review board process, which would solicit
nominees from community organizations. Landry and Cavignac say that process
is unnecessary for the hospital board, which falls under the jurisdiction of
the state.

The appointments review board process was not used in 2007 when the previous
Parish Council appointed board members.

Landry and Cavignac plan to pursue the fight, submitting evidence this week
to Buckley that they say shows Auderer lied earlier this month when he
testified that he was on the northshore the day the May 19 council meeting
agenda was approved. They say the evidence shows Auderer typed in his
personal code to enter the council offices at 8:49 a.m. on May 15, the
Friday before the council meeting where the appointments happened.

Auderer's testimony before Buckley June 5 contradicted that of Landry and
Council Clerk Roxanne Adams, who both said he was in the office that day.
Earlier this week Auderer said he may have gone to the council building
before he drove to his daughter's business in Mandeville.

Lauga said he hopes the council can "put this sad event behind us and move
forward with a more productive and constructive use of everybody's time."

"Whenever your government clouds transparency and camouflages its true
intentions, every citizen should be alarmed," Lauga said in a statement.

Landry and Cavignac had not decided whether they would appeal the case
Thursday evening. Cavignac said the other council members denied them the
opportunity this week to vote on the matter again at the council meeting.

"When we attempted to do that for the people of St. Bernard, to take the
high road, the plaintiffs themselves yanked it from the agenda."

Chris Kirkham can be reached at ckirkham at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.

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