Vote on Livingston council’s fight for administration’s records delayed

The Livingston Parish Council delayed a decision Thursday on an ordinance to give the council access to the parish administration’s records in order to allow time for revisions — or for the parish president to change his mind in opposing it.

The proposed law, sponsored by Councilman Jim Norred, specifically targets the administration’s electronic records-keeping system, known as Laserfiche.

Parish President Layton Ricks has said he will not abide by the measure even if it passes.

Norred said Thursday the council had Laserfiche access under the prior administration.

Indeed, council minutes and correspondence between the two government branches indicate the Council Office had access as early as July 2007.

The minutes and memos also show signs of a power struggle over that access, with then-council Chairman Jimmie McCoy writing in a March 2008 letter to then-Finance Director John Gabel, “Apparently, someone restricted the Council’s access to the ‘virtual image file cabinet’ and the Council Office opened the file cabinet only to find it empty of much of the contents.”

Long-standing council members Ronnie Sharp and Marshall Harris, as well as Deputy Clerk Sandy Teal, confirmed Thursday they could view the administration’s financial records under the past three finance directors.

Councilman Chance Parent said that access was revoked only after the Council Office experienced a problem with the server and called the administration for help.

“We called to question why our access was not working, they asked why we even had access and then shut us completely off,” Parent said. “We haven’t had it since.”

Neither Ricks nor Finance Director Jennifer Meyers were present for Thursday’s council meeting.

Denham Springs attorney Bob Morgan suggested the council defer the issue for a couple weeks to work on limiting what he said was overly broad language in the proposed law.

As written, the ordinance does not limit access to any specific type of records, opening the door for violations of employment and health privacy laws, Morgan said.

Morgan and parish legal adviser Christopher Moody also suggested the council try to work with Ricks in developing a policy for access that everyone can live with.

“I think at some point we’re going to have to stop this going back and forth and bravado moves that we have between the council and the president, and I think this might be a good place to start,” Morgan said.

Councilwoman Joan Landry said she believes it is the parish president’s decision whether to allow access.

The council and president are each autonomous, but not equal, branches of government, Landry said.

Demanding access to the parish president’s records would be like demanding access to the records of the parish jail, district attorney’s office or any other governmental entity the Parish Council helps fund, Landry said.

Norred, the lone vote against tabling the measure, said the council had waited long enough for Ricks to cooperate.

“We’re not trying to go on a witch hunt, but why should we have to file a records request to get the information we need? We have a right to see and hold people accountable for what’s happening with the budget,” Norred said, adding that there is no executive privilege outlined in the parish’s Home Rule Charter.