Fix the Charter Responds to Released Texts
The release of a string of text messages between Lafayette city-parish councilmembers has been met with controversy. The conversation between Alm-Labar, Kevin Blanchard, Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille and Bruce Conque has people questioning whether a breach of open-meeting laws had occurred. Well, in light of these events, Fix the Charter released the following statement to give their piece.
First, they thank the people who supported their efforts to restore self-government to the City and Parish of Lafayette through the Charter Amendments.
Then they address the issue. The statement reads:
Unfortunately, even after a democratic election, and even after that democratic election was upheld by the district, appellate and supreme courts, there are those both inside and outside of Lafayette who continue in their attempts to undermine the Charter amendments. Specifically, on May 9, 2019 – the day after losing in district court – the Louisiana Attorney General’s office submitted a public records request to Lafayette Consolidated Government requesting, among other things, all Charter-related text messages sent or received by Lafayette City-Parish Council members, to which LCG dutifully responded. Subsequently, on July 8, 2019, the first business day after losing at the Supreme Court, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wale prepared an internal memorandum regarding the text messages it received from LCG, accusing Council members Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille, Bruce Conque, and Kevin Naquin of violating Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law.
That same day, Assistant Attorney General Carey Jones, who led the Attorney General’s attempt to nullify the Charter amendments, shared the memorandum and the text messages with Lane Roy, the attorney for Keith Kishbaugh, who was aligned with the Attorney General in the Charter litigation. In his correspondence to Mr. Roy, Mr. Jones stated that he “thought that you or your client might have an interest in those documents.” One day later, on August 9, the documents were published by Citizens for a New Louisiana, a “Louisiana-based government policy research agency” that was intensely opposed to the Charter amendments and which is affiliated with the notoriously partisan Facebook page once known as page “Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes.”
They deny any claims that the text message string constitutes a violation of the Open Meetings Law but recognizes that the trust between government and the voters may have been shaken:
To be clear, we do not believe that any of the text messages constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Law. Indeed, the Attorney General’s office has previously opined that “[t]here is nothing in the law which prohibits a council member from relaying his or her opinion or the opinion of a constituent to another council member, or even multiple council members, outside of an open meeting through electronic means.” However, we are mindful that what ultimately matters is not whether a violation occurred, but whether the public trust has been eroded.
They have posted the entire text conversation online to www.fixthecharter.com (without redactions) and invite the public to read them to make their own determination whether anything unlawful occurred.
They assure that they have nothing to hide and begin to explain the contexts of the texts that left many in Lafayette alarmed.
For instance, there was no attempt to get Councilman Pat Lewis drunk. Believe it or not, despite the pearl clutching at the Attorney General’s office, it is well-known that Councilman Lewis does not drink. Councilman Boudreaux was making a joke. Furthermore, although certain of the text messages speak of delaying the release of various iterations of the maps, this was not done to hide the maps from the public, but to ensure that the release occurred at a time when it would not be obscured by Charter opponents. Political strategy is real – presumably, the Attorney General’s office employed political strategy when, one day after losing at the Louisiana Supreme Court, it drafted a memorandum about the text messages and, that same day, released the memorandum with the text messages.
In closing, they believe that the text message release was intended to smear the individuals who fought for the Fix the Charter Amendments, and an act of complete sabotage.
We reject sour grapes, we reject the politics of mudslinging, and we will continue to fight for what we believe will improve our community.
Mayor-President Candidate Carlee Alm-Labar is responding after a string of text messages between Lafayette city-parish councilmembers caught the attention of Attorney General Jeff Landry's office. On the text thread, were Alm-Labar, Kevin Blanchard, Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille and Bruce Conque. The following response was sent to KPEL News early this morning.
It takes a great deal of regular communication to work through issues for our city and parish, and that is going to necessarily involve council members communicating with one another through lots of avenues--including emails, texts, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and at council meetings. If council members only worked two nights a month--at council meetings--very little work would get done.
We are going to need to keep communicating to move our city and parish forward. Of course, at any point, if the communications that are necessary to shape good policy decisions cross over into a violation of open meetings laws, then appropriate actions should be taken.
In a new release, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wale says members may have violated Louisiana open meetings laws.
The texts were sent last year as the council was preparing to vote on sending the charter issue to voters. Two members of the Fix The Charter initiative, current Mayor-President candidate Carlee Alm-Labar, and Kevin Blanchard are also involved in the text conversations.
Some of the most surprising comments included a plan by councilmember Kenneth Boudreaux to convince Pat Lewis to vote for the district change. We have transcribed some excerpts below:
I am about to attend a luncheon and then after Pat and I are going to have a drink and talk about the entire plan. I am going to lay it out for him as if he had the only vote. Then, I plan to specifically ask for his support. The final big issue I think is DT. My approach there will be that ca [sic] be revisited after the 2020 census but under the new model. I am confident that I will get him. Or get him drunk and record his response.
...if we can't convince Pat then we need to either (1) convince Liz not to go to Sweden or (2) swing this back to the March ballot. The alternative is four more years and that might be the death knell for Lafayette. You are all three my friends and you are all good men. I know that when you can step away from the emotion of this , you will know that the big picture here is to win over Pat's ego. 6 votes gets us on a ballot and gives us 7 months to make the case. 5 votes gets us Mayor President William Theriot with a lopsided city parish council and 30 more years of disinvestment.
We have reached out to the involved parties for on-the-record comment. We'll bring you this story throughout the day on NewsTalk 96.5 KPEL.