The St. Charles Parish Council will seek an official opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics about what should be done when a public information request isn’t honored by a fellow council member.
The resolution, which passed during the last council meeting, was sponsored by Council Chairman Dennis Nuss. Three other council members, Shelley Tastet, Wendy Benedetto, and Larry Cochran, co-sponsored the ordinance, but Nuss says that he doesn’t plan on taking any legal action.
“I do not plan to pursue legal action,” Nuss said. “Moving forward, if I or any other council members request a document from someone, we simply want that request honored if it involves public information.”
The issue came up after Nuss had requested a copy of a statement from Councilwoman-at-large Carolyn Schexnaydre that she read at a committee meeting last Wednesday. At the meeting, several council members debated about whether or not merging their e-mail server with the parish administration’s was a good idea and whether or not using laptops to replace paper copy agendas was a good decision.
During the meeting, Schexnaydre read a statement alleging Nuss knew about the plans to merge the e-mail servers before any of the other councilmen, but failed to include them on the plans. Schexnaydre also stated that using a laptop to follow along at a council meeting instead of a paper copy agenda could be a distraction.
For an example, she talked about how Nuss announced a New Orleans Saints football score during a Monday night council meeting right before he read an item on the agenda via his laptop.
“I wasn’t aware that you can watch a live football game on a laptop and if so I don’t think I would be able to chair a meeting at the same time,” Nuss said. “I didn’t address this with Ms. Schexnaydre during the committee meeting that night because I didn’t want to make the situation worse, however this is not the first time council members haven’t received information they’ve requested from her.”
Some council members claim she also failed to turn over documents concerning a parking ordinance on Thomas Coby. In that ordinance, Schexnaydre wanted a no parking sign put up during Destrehan home football games.
“I have given all papers that were requested of me, and I’ve received only one public records request from Mrs. Benedetto and I gave her all she wanted within the 72 hours limit,” Schexnaydre said. “I don’t feel I should have to give half the work I’ve done on an ordinance – when I’m still working on it – to someone else. Mr. Nuss can go back and see the meeting on the internet to hear my statement.”
Nuss says he just wants things handled fairly to prevent future incidents like this.
“I think that the purpose of this resolution is clear and we need to know that this is all public information,” Nuss said. “Statements that are read word for word during a council meeting or notes that are passed during meetings should be released with the proper public information request.”
Schexnaydre says she doesn’t have the statement she read at the meeting anymore.
“When I spoke to Mr. Nuss to explain that I had thrown the note out, I asked why that piece of paper was so important to him because the whole meeting was on tape,” Schexnaydre said. “He told me he wanted to know where I received my information from.”
Schexnaydre says the statement was just some quickly-typed notes.
“A public request, to my knowledge, is not an e-mail,” she said. “If other councilmembers wanted my notes they personally should have asked that night. This is what I call nit-picking. They are more worried where I get my information from. It’s called read what is sent to your home every Wednesday and you’ll know what I know.”