It was December 2003. Dee Stanley was on his way home from his news director’s job at KLFY-TV10 when his cell phone rang. On the other end of the phone was Joey Durel, who had just been elected president of Lafayette Consolidated Government in November. Durel asked if Stanley would meet him Saturday morning for breakfast at a la carte, saying only he had something he wanted to discuss.
The new city-parish president was a month away from taking office; though a bit apprehensive about the nature of the meeting, Stanley agreed to it. “I had no clue whatsoever [what Durel wanted],” Stanley says, recalling that he told Durel an off-the-record conversation would be difficult. “I said, ‘Mayor, I’m a little uncomfortable being here. You don’t have a CAO appointed, you don’t have a city attorney appointed, other directors. It’s my job to do stories on stuff like that.”
Durel told him to do whatever story he had to do and proceeded to talk with him for more than two hours. The two did not know each other, having only met briefly a couple of times. They talked about various issues related to local government and more personal matters of family before the conversation started to sound like a job interview. Stanley was confounded. Standing outside of the restaurant as they were about to leave, Durel posed the question: “You ever thought about changing your life?”
“Is this a job offer?” Stanley wanted to know.
“Not yet,” Durel said, without even hinting that the longtime broadcaster was in the running to be his second-in-command, chief administrative officer.
So green in the political process was newcomer Durel that he desperately needed an experienced CAO to show him the ropes. Because of the gargantuan learning curve Durel faced, this paper even called on him to hire former CAO Glenn Weber, whom he’d just defeated in the election 52 percent to 48 percent to become only the second Republican to serve as mayor.
Durel was gathering feedback, and Councilman Bruce Conque didn’t favor Stanley. “Dee and I have had a long relationship, all of it career-related,” Conque says. “Prior to our serving in government, Dee and I worked last together at KLFY, he as news director and I as production manager. The very nature of the operations placed us at odds on many occasions and I, quite naturally, factored some of that contentiousness into my thought process,” Conque says.
Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret saw it very differently from Conque. He says Stanley knew local government inside and out and also knew the inner workings of the council. In addition to his two decades of experience at KLFY — 10 years as an investigative reporter — Stanley had served as city clerk (also commonly referred to as council clerk) from 1990 to 1994, two years each under former mayors Dud Lastrapes and Kenny Bowen. “A lot of people forget that he served as clerk,” Perret says. So while Weber may have known where the bodies were buried because of his lengthy tenure in local government, Stanley himself knew where a few were stashed as well. The big plus in Durel’s mind was that Stanley had been away from the political establishment for a decade.
“I told him you got to get somebody who understands the political process and how to get things accomplished. I knew Dee knew City Hall because he’d been there,” continues Perret, noting he was the first to recommend Stanley. “I was very, very concerned that Joey had zero political experience, and going into a position where you have 2,000 civil service employees — the bureaucracy can overwhelm you if you don’t have any experience.”
|Though both spend countless hours on their Blackberries every day, Joey Durel is cracking down on his CAO’s Blackberry abuse. “I’ve gotten an e-mail from Joey on my Blackberry [during a meeting Durel is also attending] telling me I shouldn’t be looking at this,” Dee Stanley says.|
|Photo by Robin May|
Five days after their Saturday meeting, Durel called Stanley back: “It’s time to talk.”
The two met at Don’s downtown, and Durel asked him take the CAO’s post. Durel never asked his party affiliation; Stanley’s a lifelong registered Democrat. Never asked if he supported him in the election.
“He said ‘I’m looking for someone who can get the job done,’” Stanley recalls and offered to give him the weekend to consider the offer.
“I said, ‘Mayor, you don’t have four days. I’ll get back to you in four hours.’”
Stanley returned to the TV station and talked to his wife, KLFY’s Blue Rolfes, and then met with his bosses Maria Placer and Mike Barras (both of whom knew the offer might come because Durel had asked for permission to meet with Stanley).
That afternoon Stanley accepted the job.
It’s Thursday morning, Feb. 5, and Dee Stanley’s secretary cracks open the door to let him know Joey Durel wants to see him. The stocky Stanley hops from seat. “No problem,” he says to her. “Be right back,” he says, making a quick exit.
Watching Stanley and Durel interact later that morning, it’s clear the two share a mutual respect and trust that goes beyond their professional relationship. They are friends.
“If there is a day [in the past five years] that Joey and I have not seen each other, talked to each other or communicated by e-mail, I can’t remember it,” Stanley says.
Stanley’s come to appreciate the common-sense approach of his boss. “‘Because government’s always done it that way’ doesn’t fly with Joey,” Stanley says. He also quickly embraced Durel’s “do the right thing, not the safe thing” and “there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing” philosophies — even though they are typically not the most politically astute approaches.
Durel’s a big-picture guy, a dreamer of sorts, Stanley says. He points to the ambitious fiber-to-the-home initiative, which Durel fought for relentlessly in his first term and is now on the verge of launching, as well as the embarrassing defeat of the tax measures in 2006 (1 cent sales tax for infrastructure and property tax increase for a new courthouse), a bold step for the Republican mayor in his first term. “Political naïveté?” Stanley says. “He doesn’t care. It’s hard to find that in a person.”
Without a doubt, Durel got this one right in believing that a new taxing mechanism is the most viable solution to our community’s infrastructure needs. “I truly thought [the sales tax] was going to pass in a landslide,” Durel says. He also says he wishes he’d done more, like raise private funds for a campaign effort that would have “told people how miserable their lives would be” without the improvements. “I have no regret going for a sales tax. I worked harder on it than fiber, but I don’t think I worked very smart,” he says.
In retrospect, Stanley, who was opposed to Durel pushing for the tax as a first term mayor, now maintains that the timing could not have been better. It will be much harder, if not impossible, to pass a tax measure in the current economic environment.
Stanley is the process guy, the enforcer. Not much gets by him, and Durel knows it. He’s also comfortable that Dee’s covering his operational backside and is there for him on the political strategy as well.
The CAO’s also been a smooth operator when working with the council. “I’ve learned people come into this with various motives. I don’t really understand all of the motives, but Dee understands the dynamics of the council and how to do the politicking,” Durel says.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux says Stanley keeps council members on their toes and is an effective liaison. “There may be some times where he cannot deliver either because it’s truly beyond his control, or he will make you believe it’s beyond his control. I refer to Dee as the spin master,” Boudreaux says. “He won’t hesitate to be critical of one of his directors. At least that’s what he portrays. That’s part of the spin master. Whether he’s sincere you’ll have to ask him that.”
|Stanley winds down at the Cigar Merchant in the Oil Center with Wallace Granger (left), Glenn Ahava and Todd Trahan.|
|Photo by Robin May|
Boudreaux says it’s unlikely a council member will ever pull the wool over Stanley’s eyes. “I depend heavily on my skills to deal with Dee. He has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, and if you’re not prepared, there is a risk he may know something and may not share it with you. The who, what, when, why and how — he’s going to identify them. He’ll come over-prepared and almost make you feel like this thing you thought you needed so bad you really don’t need at all.”
“I can remember the occasion where I ate my words,” says Conque, who has since left local government for a job in marketing and governmental relations with the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. It was only a few months into the administration when Conque had a complete change of heart. “I told Joey at the Building Community Conference at Cypress Bend, and I told him in front of Dee, that I was mistaken. It was just an observation [at the conference] of how he and Joey put together a really outstanding team. Certainly Dee knows the politics. I saw Dee working with the council, effective at the political level as well as an administrative level.
“While Dee and I continued to butt heads while I served on the council,” continues Conque, “for the most part we were able to work together for what we considered the best interests of the community.”
Not all of Durel’s picks, however, have gone over so well. The black eye on Durel’s administration was his successful push to waive the requirement that Lafayette’s police chief have a bachelor’s degree in order to appoint his boyhood friend, Randy Hundley, to the post.
The appointment was made over Stanley’s strong objections. Because he served two years as city clerk under Bowen, Stanley had intimate knowledge of Hundley’s undistinguished career and reputation in the police department as former Mayor Kenny Bowen’s henchman. Stanley favored then-Maj. Jim Craft, who eventually got the job.
Durel did not heed the warning, and he paid dearly for it. Hundley was eventually accused of setting an illegal bugging device in his secretary’s office, and shortly after the accusations surfaced, the havoc Hundley had been wreaking on the department also came to light (“The Rise and Fall of Randy Hundley,” The Independent Weekly, June 28, 2006). Hundley pleaded guilty to one count of attempted malfeasance and was placed on probation.
“If you’re looking for an ‘I told you so,’ that’s not my relationship with Joey,” Stanley says.
It’s by far Durel’s most regrettable blunder, but there have been a few other missteps along the way. Some have been downright funny. When it comes to their public personas, Stanley knows what to say in public, and more important, what not to say. His boss is not nearly as savvy.
“He makes you cringe sometimes,” says Public Works Director Tom Carroll, a reference to Durel’s propensity for saying what’s on his mind. In one of Durel’s first radio programs after taking office — for the past five years he’s hosted a weekly call-in radio show on KPEL called Lafayette Live with Joey Durel — a female caller complained about the sound wall that had just been erected on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, saying she did not like it and was especially put off by its gray color. “Will it always be that color?” she asked Durel. “No, ma’am,” he responded. Listening in, Stanley says he “almost ran off the road,” hoping the mayor would not promise to paint it. “It’s going to get dirty,” Durel told the caller.
Though he was taken aback by his boss’ candid remark, Stanley has come to expect — and appreciate — the brutal honesty. When Stanley got a phone call from a listener of the program a couple of years ago who commented that his boss was not very politically correct, the CAO started to explain, but the woman cut him off. “Thank goodness,” she said. “It’s refreshing.”
“I wasn’t hired to spin Joey, to take the edges off, to make him politically correct,” Stanley says. “Maybe I try to temper him around the edges a bit, but he made it clear early on. He said, ‘I am who I am.’ He’s not going to let you can him and wrap him up in a tidy little bow. And that’s what makes him a great, honest, sincere person.”
Stanley’s office is filled with sports paraphernalia and mementosfrom his days in TV journalism, like this image with CBS’ Mike Wallace.
|Photo by Wilbert Rideau|
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