Wednesday, August 3, 2011
By Walter Pierce
Memo to Acadia Parish: The 1960s called, they want their politics back.
Talk about team spirit: Employees of the Acadia Parish Clerk of Court’s Office are getting in shape compliments of their employer. The office’s “Get Fit Program” is detailed in an inter-office memo distributed July 8 by Chief Deputy Clerk Blane Faulk that came to us by a source. The program, Faulk writes, “will shed pounds and inches off in a matter of weeks.” Best of all, according to Faulk, the program is free.
This sounds like a pretty awesome team-building effort and means of helping ensure the health of employees. But it isn’t.
The “Get Fit Program” the chief deputy trumpets entails employees hitting the pavement and campaigning door-to-door for the re-election of their boss, Clerk of Court Robby Barousse — in Estherwood and Egan July 11 to 14, to be specific. In the swelter of a Louisiana summer, to be dramatic. But fear not: “Hydration fluids will be provided for all days for participants,” Faulk adds reassuringly.
The memo begins like a cute joke before devolving into an ominous reminder: “On a serious note,” Faulk continues, “our campaign is in full swing and several have been working hard already to secure everyone’s job. We take this campaign very seriously as it affects everyone here, even those who have already retired and are planning to retire. Everything that this office provides to the staff and retirees can be taken away at any given time with a change in Clerk, therefore, we must stand and protect all our futures.”
C’est what? Jobs on the line? Retirement benefits, too?
Indeed, employees of clerks of court in Louisiana are at-will, not civil service, but this seems a little beyond dramatic. And it’s a near certainty that accrued retirement benefits cannot be rescinded.
The icing on the cake — bad metaphor, this being a fitness program — is employees were also assigned tickets for a Barousse re-election fundraiser, referred to in the memo as “your tickets,” which they were expected to sell.
The memo has Barousse’s opponent in the Oct. 22 election understandably upset.
“I’ve never even once mentioned that these employees would be laid off or fired if I happen to have the opportunity to serve them,” says Crowley businessman Larry Lege, the only person so far to announce a run at the clerk’s office in Acadia Parish. “And that’s one thing I didn’t like in the letter, that they scared them into thinking that they’ll lose their position or their retirement if I walked into that position.”
But it’s understandable that Barousse might be a little rattled by Lege’s challenge: Robby Barousse has never faced a re-election opponent. In fact, it’s fair to say that the clerk of court office in Acadia Parish “belongs” to the Barousse family: Robby Barousse’s father held the job before him, and his grandfather was clerk before that. The Acadia clerk of court office has been in the direct succession of the Barousse family without interruption for at least five decades. From father to son to grandson — an entitlement program at worst, a dynasty at best.
Robby Barousse was first elected, unopposed, in 1999. An apocryphal story in the parish holds that his father, longtime Clerk Andy Barousse, was set to run unopposed in 1999 and waited until the 11th hour during the qualifying period to retire, effectively handing the job to his son, who qualified at the last moment. Robby Barousse was re-elected in 2003 and 2007 without opposition. Andy Barousse, going back to 1983, which is as far back as the secretary of state’s electronic records go, was re-elected every four years without opposition.
Nice work if you can get it. The job currently pays about $115,000.
“This is Hooterville! It’s so 1960s; it’s not even funny!” roars a public official in Lafayette who asked not to be identified, speaking of the “Get Fit Program” memo. “With this being an inter-office memo, I see all kinds of problems here. There should be a fire wall between employees and campaigning. Maybe that flies in Crowley or Rayne, but in this day and age of the Internet, you can’t just do those things.”
Evidently you can. But is it ethical? Specifically, does it violate the Louisiana Code of Ethics?
Part B of Section 1116 of the code, subtitled “Abuse of Office,” reads in part: “No public servant shall use the authority of his office or position, directly or indirectly, in a manner intended to compel or coerce any person or other public servant to engage in political activity. For the purposes of this Subsection, ‘political activity’ means an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office in an election.”
But duty is in the eye of the beholder. Are Barousse’s employees being compelled or coerced into politicking for their boss? Is it their duty to canvass for his re-election and sell fundraiser tickets? Would the state Board of Ethics find fault in Chief Deputy Faulk’s epistle? Not unexpectedly, the board is frustratingly circumspect.
We sent a copy of the memo, with names and locations redacted to keep the discussion on “general terms,” to Communications Director Alainna Giacone, who consulted Chief Administrator Kathleen Allen.
“[Allen] doesn’t know before something like this actually goes before the current board, how they would interpret it,” Giacone says, speaking for her boss. “Would they say this is a clear case of someone being compelled or coerced? She would be hesitant to comment on this specifically unless it actually came before the board and she actually got some guidance from them and opinion from them.”
Even if the board took up the matter, it would be mum until an investigation was concluded and charges, if any, were filed. But the board may yet look into this “Get Fit Program.” Lege says he plans to file a complaint with the Board of Ethics through his re-election committee.
“I don’t know why I feel like I’m the one that needs to step up and challenge this,” Lege says. “Nobody in Acadia Parish wants to mess with this.”
In a written response emailed Monday afternoon to The Independent, Faulk insists that campaign activities by clerk’s office employees “are strictly on a volunteer basis, and no one here is required to participate in campaigning or to do anything outside of the scope of their employment. Fortunately, however, many do.”
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.