Lafayette board postpones action of proposal to mediate differences

School Board to weigh workshops later

The Lafayette Parish School Board opted not to make a final decision Wednesday on whether to take Superintendent Pat Cooper up on his suggestions that mediation and a separate workshop on governance issues could improve relations between members and himself.

The two workshops were listed separately on the board’s introduction agenda, and motions to move the two items to the action agenda so a vote could be made Wednesday failed to get the six votes needed to move issues to the action agenda.

The workshop issues will be on the action agenda at the board’s Dec. 18 meeting.

Cooper said he’d like the board to do a governance training first to clarify issues related to Act 1, which he described as a cause of discord among himself and board members.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette educational leadership professor Nathan Roberts, who teaches school law to future principals and future superintendents, volunteered to lead the governance training. Roberts is a former assistant district attorney and former school board attorney.

Because trust is an issue for some board members, board member Tehmi Chassion said he’d question any presenter proposed by district staff.

He suggested using the board’s special counsel, Bob Hammonds, who also represents the Louisiana School Boards Association and frequently leads trainings on state law for school board members.

Cooper questioned whether Hammonds could be unbiased, given his representation of the state school boards association, and he’d prefer someone like Roberts, who “doesn’t have a dog in this hunt.”

Chassion said he’s not against a governance session.

“If Act 1 could come and represent itself, I’d like that, but I know it’s not possible,” Chassion said.

Board member Mark Cockerham suggested the board meet and vote on who they’d like to give the governance training.

After discussion, board members seemed to prefer board member Mark Allen Babineaux’s suggestion that they meet and select a panel for a governance session. However, a move to try to advance the issue to the action agenda failed in a 3-6 vote.

Board members Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb voted in support of advancing the item for a final decision on Wednesday. Board members Greg Awbrey, Babineaux, Hunter Beasley, Tommy Angelle, Rae Trahan and Tehmi Chassion voted against. The board members voted the same way: 3-6 on advancing the mediation workshop to the action agenda Wednesday.

As of 9 p.m. Wednesday, the board had not taken action on how to move forward with selection of new general counsel after it relieved the District Attorney’s Office as its general counsel during its Nov. 20 meeting. The board was to vote Wednesday on a recommendation to hire its special counsel, Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice as its interim counsel, as it searches for a permanent replacement.

Early in the meeting, as an information item, Cooper asked the board for clarification on whether its Nov. 20 vote to relieve the District Attorney’s Office was valid, since it hadn’t yet changed its current policy that designates general counsel.

“I’m trying to figure out where we’re going to go with this, because we have things stacking up that need attention,” Cooper said.

The assistant district attorney assigned as the board’s attorney, Roger Hamilton, attended Wednesday’s meeting and sat at the board attorney’s designated seat.

Cooper suggested the board change its policy and then reconsider the idea of relieving the District Attorney’s Office.

Board member Greg Awbrey, who proposed the general counsel change, said the board’s special counsel, Bob Hammonds, advised that the board is able to make exceptions to its policy, if a majority of the board votes in support of it.

Cooper asked if Awbrey’s explanation meant that the majority of the board agreed to violate its own policy.

“I wanted to hear that the majority of the board agrees that they broke the policy and that was OK,” Cooper said.

When no board member responded, board president Shelton Cobb said, “I think the vote on the issue stands (in) the record.”

A recommendation to revise the general counsel policy was on Wednesday’s agenda as an introduction item, and an attempt to advance it to the action agenda, so the board could vote on it Wednesday failed in a 5-4 vote. At least six votes or a super majority vote is needed to move introduction items to the action agenda.

Prior to the policy change vote, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce CEO Jason El Koubi asked the board to reconsider its decision on relieving the District Attorney’s Office. He said he was concerned with how the business community would perceive the board’s decisions to hire private attorneys as its general counsel when the DA’s Office provides services at no expense to the board.

“The proposals … regarding counsel will be interpreted for what they are. Taking money away from the kids and giving (it) to lawyers,” El Koubi said.