[StBernard] Don't Exclude Citizens from Redistricting Briefing, PAR Says

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Thu Sep 24 21:25:04 EDT 2009

Don't Exclude Citizens from Redistricting Briefing, PAR Says

Legislative committees responsible for redrawing voting districts have
announced plans to invoke an exception to Louisiana's open meetings law
and hold a two-day, closed meeting to receive information relative to
the law and history of redistricting. Given the significance of the 2010
redistricting cycle for Louisiana and the potential for major shifts of
power nationally and within the state, every single meeting on the
subject should be open to the public so that the debate can be fully

Louisiana's open meetings law asserts that the maintenance of democracy
depends on public business being performed in an open manner and
citizens being advised of the deliberations and decisions that go into
policymaking. The law provides a narrow exception to open meetings for
informational presentations given to legislators where no vote or other
action will be taken, but it is hard to imagine a valid reason for
hiding such a meeting behind this exception.

One top legislative official responsible for organizing this private
meeting has justified it with the argument that keeping the public and
the media out is the only way to enable legislators to speak freely
about their questions and concerns. This claim is reminiscent of the
argument made during the 2009 regular legislative session to shield
certain documents exchanged with the governor's office. Taking various
public deliberations into the backrooms is a dangerous trend that should
be stopped.

Redistricting is the decennial process of redrawing states'
congressional and legislative district maps to reflect population
changes. How those maps are drawn ultimately can affect what types of
candidates are able to win elections. Redrawing district lines in
Louisiana is expected to be exceptionally politically charged in 2010
because of the state's significant population loss and redistribution.
Louisiana is projected to lose one congressional seat and see some
shifting in state legislative power-away from parts of the New Orleans
area in favor of faster growing parishes.

PAR's 2009 study, "Redistricting 2010: Reforming the Process of
Distributing Political Power," recommends that the task of redrawing
political boundaries should be done by an independent commission instead
of legislative leaders who have an inherent conflict of interest. Those
leaders have dismissed the recommendation and are proceeding to
undertake the process themselves. Regardless of who does the work, the
entire redistricting process should be open to the public.

Public confidence is the underpinning of effective government.
Confidence is built with transparency and accountability. Although the
Legislature is within its legal right to hold informational meetings in
private, doing so sends a message to citizens that some political
plotting can and might take place behind closed doors. The desire and
willingness of public officials to skirt the spirit of public records
and open meetings laws to shield their dialogue about contentious
subjects should not be tolerated, as it erodes public confidence and
discourages civic participation.

Jim Brandt
Public Affairs Research Council (PAR)
P.O. Box 14776
Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776
Phone: 225-926-8414, Ext. 21
Cell: 225-266-4225
Fax: 225-926-8417
E-mail: jimbrandt at la-par.org <BLOCKED::mailto:jimbrandt at la-par.org>
Web Site: www.la-par.org <http://www.la-par.org>

The Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) is a nonprofit, non-partisan
public policy research organization. Founded in 1950, PAR is dedicated
to pointing the way toward a more efficient, effective, transparent and
accountable Louisiana government.

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