Ourso calls actions illegal

PLAQUEMINE — An Iberville Parish School Board member accused her fellow board members of violating the state’s Open Meetings Law after saying she was bullied by text messages from a board member on the upcoming vote over a new redistricting plan.

During a special meeting Monday night, board member Darlene Ourso showed the board text messages she received from board member Tom Delahaye implying a majority of the board was going to approve a redistricting plan that would make it difficult for her to get re-elected.

The School Board called the special meeting to approve a new 13-member redistricting plan after tabling the issue at its Dec. 11 meeting. In November, the board vote to reduce the 15-member board to 13 members.

Ourso presented the board with screen shots of several text messages Monday that she said she received from Delahaye on Saturday.

Delahaye did not attend Monday night’s meeting.

In a text to Ourso, sent at 5:26 p.m. Saturday, Delahaye wrote: “I hear you recommend (attorney) Jill Craft to others to sue the school board. You might want to consult her about the district we are putting you into!! LOL.”

In a follow-up message Delahaye wrote: “You might have a claim!”

Delahaye’s texts were sent four days after the Dec. 11 meeting, during which Ourso criticized the proposed redistricting plans because they would have her representing the Plaquemine area instead of White Castle.

Delahaye, in a text sent to Ourso at 8:02 p.m. Saturday, wrote: “Oh. I have now obtained the 8th vote to eliminate the white district in White Castle. Everyone agrees with me that Plaquemine should pick up that district. Good luck in your new district.”

Delahaye then texted: “Do you have your votes?” And in the last message Ourso showed the board, he wrote, “Mine are solid. Bye bye. Lol.”

The state’s Open Meeting Law, R.S. 42:14, prohibits proxy voting, straw polls or telephone polls.

“I don’t deserve this,” a teary-eyed Ourso said during the meeting. “For members of the board to allow this to happen ... this really hurts.”

Board members Donald Patterson and Brian Willis said they were offended by Ourso’s allegations.

Both men called the text messages a personal issue between Ourso and Delahaye.

“I haven’t spoken to Delahaye in four months,” Willis said to Ourso. “I understand why she’s upset, but the reason (her district was) moved into the Plaquemine area has to do with population. This plan has nothing to do with Delahaye and what he wants.”

Superintendent Ed Cancienne added, “Not one of these board members have done anything to attack you, Mrs. Ourso. Everything has been open and above board. This board is not engaged in a plan to do you in and I take offense that members of this board were attacked.”

The School Board ultimately approved a 13-member plan on a 10-3 vote. Board members Pam George, Dorothy Sansoni and Ourso voted in opposition.

Besides Delahaye, board member Michael Barbee also was absent from Monday night’s meeting.

Ourso tried to offer a substitute motion to adopt a 9-member redistricting plan she said the board needed to do to be in compliance with a 2010 Louisiana law that calls for the reduction of the board from 15 to nine members.

Ourso’s motion failed by a 5-8 vote.

Glenn Koepp, a redistricting attorney hired by the board, previously told the board it wasn’t obligated to follow that state law because the nine-member plan had not been submitted for pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ourso said Monday she asked the state’s Attorney General’s Office for an opinion on the issue.