While a judge Tuesday ruled the Metro Council has legal authority to consider firing the executive director of the parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district, a separate legal question that arose during the nearly two-hour hearing remains unanswered: Did the mosquito agency’s board of commissioners violate open meetings law?
Earlier this month, the MARC board held a special meeting that appears to have violated the state’s open meeting law, according to testimony in 19th Judicial District Court Tuesday, which established:
•The parish attorney’s office was not notified of the special public meeting;
•The board chair, Dr. Martha Littlefield, an LSU vet school professor, presided over the meeting by phone;
•The board went into executive session and voted to hire its own private attorney.
Any of those actions is a potential violation of the open meetings law that governs public bodies.
Judge William Morvant noted during the hearing that he was “very concerned about the potential violation of the open meetings law,” but that wasn’t the issue before his court.
Rather, Tuesday’s hearing was only to decide the narrow issue of whether the Metro Council has legal standing to hold a termination hearing, planned for April 3, on MARC Executive Director Todd Walker.
Walker is under fire by the council for questionable expenditures at MARC’s new $11.2 million facility at the Baton Rouge Airport. But MARC’s board, which serves in an advisory capacity to the agency, has rallied behind him and is trying to block council efforts to fire him.
The legal questions underscore a power struggle that appears to be emerging between the Metro Council and the MARC board, which was established by the Metro Council under the provisions of state law. MARC’s attorney, Jason Melancon, tried to argue the council is overstepping the state law that governs the board.
But the parish attorney’s office countered that MARC doesn’t even have the authority to hire its own attorney and didn’t have standing to sue the council over the Walker issue.
In the end, Morvant ruled only on the question before him, determining the law clearly gives the council the right to hire and fire the director of the mosquito agency. But the judge acknowledged that broader legal questions raised during the hearing could eventually find their way back in court to be decided at a later date.