Cooper: Counsel won’t get paid for unauthorized letter to AG

Attorney’s letter followed up on investigation

LAFAYETTE ­­­­­­­­ — Superintendent Pat Cooper informed Lafayette Parish School Board members in an email Friday that he will not approve charges for time their attorney spent drafting a letter to the Attorney General’s Office to get the ball rolling on an investigation into allegations board members have made against him.

The March 4 letter from the board’s interim general counsel, attorney Bob Hammonds, asks about the status of the board’s request to hire special counsel to conduct an investigation of Cooper.

The board voted in July to hire a Gretna law firm to conduct the investigation; however, the request stalled at the Attorney General’s Office, in part due to a letter from former general counsel, Roger Hamilton Jr., stating the investigation was unwarranted.

In the letter, Hammonds also asks the attorney general to consider the request because the board never rescinded or amended its July decision to hire an attorney for the investigation.

The letter also clearly lays out what board members have not said publicly — the investigation is step one in laying the groundwork to fire a superintendent.

“Before a school board determines whether charges should be brought against a superintendent and a hearing should be conducted, it needs to be in a position to conduct an independent investigation,” Hammonds wrote in the letter.

“Without the ability to obtain special counsel to conduct such investigation, a school board is powerless to pursue disciplinary action against a superintendent no matter how egregious his/her conduct might be.”

The Attorney General’s Office approved the letter in April, however, the attorney hired for the investigation withdrew as special counsel about a week after requesting public records from Cooper’s office.

The board approved a second resolution at its meeting May 7 that names new special counsel and that resolution is pending approval by the Attorney General’s Office.

On Friday, Cooper wrote board members that Hammonds’ March 4 letter was “improperly authorized, written and delivered,” so he planned to withhold payment for the 1.5 hours that Hammonds billed the School Board for the letter and a conversation with board President Hunter Beasley about the letter. Hammonds’ fee is $175 an hour, Cooper said.

“We’re not going to pay because it wasn’t authorized by the board,” Cooper said. “We made a decision that no single board member can call the attorney and ask for an opinion, especially not to direct a letter to the attorney general without the rest of the board knowing about (it) and without the superintendent knowing about it.”

Beasley said as board president, he doesn’t need permission to discuss issues with the board attorney during a discussion about what he considered a pending request sent to the Attorney General’s Office.

“What I don’t understand what Dr. Cooper thinks is wrong with that or is improper because again, we had sent in a resolution back in the summer last year and we had never heard anything back. It was a follow-up to see what is going on,” Beasley said.

Board members and Cooper meet Saturday in a retreat to discuss issues they’ll face in the upcoming school year, such as the impact of charter schools on the general fund. Some ongoing issues, such as board members airing personnel and management concerns to Cooper on the board floor, are also on the agenda for the day’s discussion.

The investigation by special counsel is not on the agenda.

The cause for the investigation is not included in the resolution approved by board members in July nor on May 7; however, a public records request sent by former special counsel shed some light on what board members may be interested in.

The request included copies of board action related to the following issues: salaries and work days of principals; the creation of a special assistant to the superintendent’s position and the position’s salary and work days; and other management decisions.