LSU accused of violating meetings law

LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope on Monday accused the LSU Board of Supervisors of knowingly deceiving the public on a vote taken last month that changed the top hierarchy of a university system that includes colleges, professional schools and public hospitals.

The LSU board member who called for the vote and a lawyer representing the university denied the allegation.

Cope called for Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell to investigate whether LSU’s management board violated state open meeting laws on Oct. 26 when members voted to merge the system president and Baton Rouge chancellor positions without telling the public that specific issue would be discussed.

Caldwell declined to comment Monday through spokeswoman Amanda Larkins.

Louisiana’s open meeting laws require that public bodies give 24 hours written notice of a meeting and make available the agenda before a meeting, detailing what a board will discuss.

LSU’s official meeting agenda gave notice that board members would discuss a report put together by the Association of Governing Boards consulting group, a Washington, D.C. firm known as AGB, helping LSU plan its future.

The 16-page report addressed a number of issues related to LSU’s structure, including the efficiencies that could be created by combining the two positions.

During the meeting, LSU board member Blake Chatelain pushed for a vote on the portion of the report that called for the merger of the system president and Baton Rouge campus chancellor positions.

In his letter to the attorney general, Cope points out that the AGB report was not distributed to the public at the start of the meeting, but rather was passed out when the consultants went before the board to discuss it, denying the public a chance to respond to it.

LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe confirmed Monday that the report wasn’t posted to the system’s website for public view until 4:54 p.m. — after the consultants had finished presenting it to the board and nearly four hours after the board meeting started.

The LSU board tried to orchestrate the vote as if it was a spontaneous decision to vote on the job merger, but an attorney representing the board “read on cue a carefully prepared version of the resolution,” Cope wrote to the attorney general.

Cope called that proof the board intended to vote on the matter prior to the meeting without giving the public the required access to the report.

Cope said the LSU board acted in a way that “violates the letter” and “mocks the spirit” of public meeting laws.

The board’s vote essentially paves the way for one person to have complete control over LSU’s richest college campus in Baton Rouge; its law school; agricultural center; two medical schools; 10 public hospitals and academic campuses in Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport, Cope said.

“When you flout procedure, corruption can creep in ... ,” Cope said. “You won’t have the opportunity to know the consequences of this matter until you open it up for debate. I don’t believe this is the way a great institution is supposed to operate.”

LSU system general counsel Shelby McKenzie on Monday said LSU’s board did nothing wrong.

The agenda item was listed as: “Consideration of a report from the Association of Governing Board on the Structure of the LSU System.”

“The public was on notice that the report would be considered,” McKenzie said. “I agree it could have been more specific, but there was sufficient notice.”

Chatelain pushed for the consolidation vote at the meeting. On Monday he dismissed Cope’s allegations.

Chatelain said it was his decision alone to request that McKenzie draft a resolution prior to the meeting.

He noted that the LSU board has been discussing consolidating positions going back several months, including during a seven-hour retreat in August and again at a joint board-faculty meeting on the morning of Oct. 26.

Cope attended both of those meetings, Chatelain said. “I don’t see how this is a surprise,” he said.

State law gives a person or agency up to 60 days to challenge a vote of a public body. It is unclear whether the attorney general’s office would pursue the case if it is deemed to have merit.

The attorney general represents the state and, therefore also represents LSU. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore’s office also could file suit, but Moore, who was out of the office on Monday, said he was unaware of the issue and didn’t know if anyone had made a formal complaint to his staff.