Search committee asks Lafayette board to clarify authority

Group to solicit legal counsel bids

A search committee charged with recommending a new general counsel for the School Board decided Tuesday to ask the full board to look at revising the policy that gave the committee the authority to recommend lawyers.

The search committee includes five board members — board President Hunter Beasley, board Vice President Tommy Angelle, Kermit Bouillion, Rae Trahan and Mark Cockerham — and Superintendent Pat Cooper.

Some committee members said the policy creating the committee is vague and confusing because it states the committee shall have five voting members, but doesn’t designate which committee members get a vote.

The policy designates that all assistant superintendents also may serve on the committee, but only in an advisory capacity. No other advisory capacity is given to other committee members, according to the policy.

The board will review the policy at its next regular meeting scheduled May 7.

The search committee’s first meeting last month was brief — only 20 minutes — and committee members discussed a tentative timeline of July to make a recommendation to the full School Board of at least two top firms for the job.

The committee decided Tuesday to continue reviewing its existing request for proposals for legal services and to meet again to devise a request for proposals.

The committee next meets at 6:30 p.m. May 14.

Committee members briefly discussed the possibility of hiring a full-time attorney on staff, similar to the neighboring parishes of Vermilion and Iberia. But the discussion veered back to hiring an attorney who would be available to advise the board during board meetings and on an as-needed basis.

The school board’s special counsel, Hammonds, Sills, Adkins and Guice, is currently serving as interim general counsel at its approved special counsel rates.

Attorney Jon Guice of the firm has been attending School Board meetings since March 5 at a rate of $175 an hour.

The board voted in November to relieve the District Attorney’s Office as general counsel. Some board members had disagreed with Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton Jr.’s handling of a board request of the Attorney General’s Office to hire special counsel to investigate Superintendent Pat Cooper.

In a letter, Hamilton informed the Attorney General’s Office that he found no cause for an investigation of Cooper. Hamilton continued to serve as the board’s appointed general counsel until early March and attended his last meeting March 5, alongside Guice.

By law, district attorney’s offices are required to provide general counsel services to school boards, but the boards are under no obligation to accept the free service.

State law also enables school boards to hire and negotiate private general counsel services. It remains unclear how much general counsel services will cost the School Board.