A Livingston Parish Council member criticized for texting during an executive session said Monday she has not leaked parish legal strategy and will no longer support closed-door meetings.
Councilman Chance Parent said Friday that a proposed resolution to ban cellphones during executive sessions was in response to Councilwoman Sonya Collins’ texting during a legal strategy discussion.
The resolution was tabled at Thursday’s council meeting, but led to a shouting match between the two council members just after the meeting.
Parent said Friday that he and other council members were concerned because of “relationships between certain council members and engineering firms” suing the parish.
Parent said he did not know whether Collins had leaked information about the parish’s legal strategy, but it was “very possible.”
Collins denied the allegation Monday, saying she was texting her 10-year-old daughter, who was home sick at the time.
“I know I’m a public servant, but I’m also a mother,” Collins said. “Sometimes family just has to come first.”
She said she did not leave the room to call her daughter because she thought that would have been rude.
Collins acknowledged her friendship with the owners of an engineering firm suing the parish, but said she does not discuss the parish’s legal business with them.
Collins said she felt attacked, both by Parent’s accusations and by the proposed resolution.
“I’m the only one on the council with young children,” she said. “I have to have my phone with me.”
“I’m not going to be ridiculed for taking care of my daughter,” she said.
Collins also said she will no longer vote for the council to enter into executive session “unless there is a dire need for it.”
The closed-door sessions, allowed under state law for the discussion of legal strategy, security measures and certain personnel matters, are sometimes abused by the council members, Collins said.
“There are times when they get off the agenda, and that’s just not right,” she said.
“A lot of people feel like back-door deals are being made, and if information is leaking out anyway, we might as well just do it all in public.”
The parish’s attorneys should handle the legal strategy and, when necessary, contact the council members using confidential emails, she said.
Collins said she believes Parent’s accusations stem from a prior disagreement between the two.
During the council’s Aug. 22 meeting, Collins accused Parent of improperly seeking input from an engineer in drafting a proposed request for qualifications for engineering work on the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program.
Parish President Layton Ricks already has hired a firm for the job, but several council members want to put out a request for qualifications for the project instead.
Collins said in August it was a conflict of interest for Parent to allow an engineer to help write the RFQ template. Parent has said he only sought the engineer’s input.
Collins apologized for her behavior Thursday night, saying it was out of character for her.
“But sometimes when you’re pushed and shoved into a corner, you just have to fight for what you think is right.”