Ruling on texts during meetings makes sense

Published 9:02 am Monday, December 1, 2014

A recent ruling by the state attorney general’s office stating that elected officials aren’t to text or e-mail each other during public meetings seeking votes was a common-sense opinion.

Any attempt by an official to use any sort of secretive manner to sway a vote would be a clear attempt to circumvent open meeting laws.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued the opinion at the request of St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr. The Times-Picayune reported that St. Pierre did so after questioning from residents.

“The right to observe the deliberations of public bodies, except in cases established by the law, is guaranteed” by the Louisiana constitution, Caldwell said.

When a quorum of a public body is gathered, it is required to abide by open meeting laws, Caldwell said.

“If one council member is able to sway other council members towards a particular vote during a public meeting, the public should have the benefit of observing how any other public officials were convinced and who initiated the effort to pass or defeat a particular measure,” Caldwell said.

The law does not prohibit texting or e-mailing between public officials during a meeting, but the opinion did “not attempt to draw absolute conclusions about the use of electronic devices during a public meeting,” Caldwell said.

The attorney general urged public officials to be cautious about texting their voting intentions, even outside of meetings, because of how that communication record could be used in the future.

The open meetings laws were enacted to ensure that the democratic process isn’t being trampled on. You don’t have to be an attorney general to know that public officials secretly communicating in a meeting to sway a vote is a violation of those laws.(MGNonline)