But that changed the afternoon of the June meeting, when much to their surprise, Commissioner Don Higginbotham ' who like Robichaux and Burley wanted the director to retire, resign or face termination ' instead motioned that a contract be drafted to keep him on for at least six months. Several weeks later, in a letter dated June 28, Higginbotham dumbfounded those commissioners again, resigning from the embattled board, citing the effect recent controversies have begun to have on his insurance business.
For the past year, the commission has been under fire for allegedly tainting a process to award a fixed base operator contract to an out-of-state company, questionable spending practices and violations of open meetings laws, and more recently Roberts' future at the airport after 14 years.
Shortly after throwing Roberts a lifeline, the State Farm insurance agent ' in his capacity as head of the commission's internal affairs committee ' began working on a draft of Roberts' employment contract along with Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger (at this time Roberts is an at-will employee). The contract, which is not yet finalized, spells out Roberts' duties, responsibilities and compensation and provides a mechanism for addressing and evaluating his job performance.
Ottinger's been filling in as a result of the first casualty of the frazzled commission ' the May 30 resignation of longtime airport commission attorney Glenn Edwards, who bowed out amid allegations he gave bad advice about the legality of some commission expenditures. Last Friday, Ottinger said he had just presented the working employment contract to Roberts' lawyer, Joel Babineaux, but was not sure whether it would be ready for the Wednesday, July 11, meeting. (Ottinger has since appointed the Lafayette law firm of Simien & Miniex, headed by Clyde Simien and Rickey Miniex, to take over as the commission's legal adviser.)
Last week Chairman Robichaux asked that the issue of Roberts' contract be put on the agenda. "If the contract is ready, it'll probably be voted on," he says. Even if the commission approves the contract, Robichaux says the $92,000 position will be advertised this fall to ensure the airport has the best director in place. "[Roberts] can apply for the job," he says. At the June meeting, the commission supported another resolution by Higginbotham, voting to conduct a national search for a new director 90 days before Roberts' contract expires.
Burley was the only commissioner to vote against the six-month contract but supported Higginbotham's second resolution; as chairman, Robichaux votes only in the case of a tie. His tenure as chair ends in November, though his current commission appointment does not expire till October 2008.
Should Roberts apply, lining up the votes against him may be a challenge in light of the change of heart some commissioners experienced; in part, Roberts' future could be in the hands of his staunch supporter, City-Parish President Joey Durel.
"We are immediately searching for an individual that reflects Don's character and business acumen to serve the remainder of his term," Durel said last week in a tersely worded statement that commended Higginbotham for his service and expressed "much regret" over his departure. "There will be no further comment," he added.
Durel did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
Both Robichaux, a Lafayette City-Parish Council appointee who has served since 2004, and 11-year commission veteran Burley say they want Roberts replaced for a number of reasons, citing his abrasive personality and the way he treats individuals who do business with the airport as their primary motivation. "Years ago, I said, 'Greg, don't ignore our customers.' And when I say customers, I mean tenants," Burley says. "But he would do it anyway."
While it's unclear what factors caused Higginbotham's about-face (he's since been unavailable for comment) on Roberts' future, both Robichaux and Burley say they endured undue political pressure over their opposition to Roberts.
In one instance of particularly egregious behavior, such influence initially appeared to be coming from those with the power to control how funding is funneled to the airport. A June 11 letter penned by Louisiana DOTD Secretary Johnny Bradberry to Durel explained just how out-of-line that kind of pressure was. Bradberry's subordinate, State Director of Aviation Phil Jones, wrote a May 23 letter on department letterhead to Durel and also appeared at the airport commission meeting June 7, in both instances pleading ' and using language some commissioners deemed threatening ' with local officials to retain Roberts. In his letter, Jones even asked Durel to "use your influence" to prevent Roberts' termination.
Though clearly perturbed by his employees' decision to create the appearance of departmental support for Roberts, Bradberry apparently learned about their inappropriate behavior too late to offset the impact of it. Pressure from Jones and other officials like Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais, who placed phone calls to commissioners on Roberts' behalf and also spoke up at the June meeting, appears to have swayed commissioners.
The Independent Weekly obtained a copy of Bradberry's letter from Durel's office last week. "These actions, in my opinion, border on a violation of Civil Service rules and contradict the organizational culture being created in this department," he wrote. "Understanding the outcome as reported in the media, I sincerely hope your decision and the decision of the committee were not overly influenced. In addition, I would like to explain that in no way would federal funds be withheld from your airport by DOTD because of leadership changes that may or may not occur."
Burley says Jones, who oversees 70 public airports in the state, used language she and other commissioners considered threatening. Both in his letter and at the meeting, Jones implied that Roberts' termination could impede the progress of the airport, saying it would be difficult for the FAA to put money into an airport with such management problems. "It was like if we got rid of [Roberts] we weren't going to get any funding," Burley says. "I said, 'Now that was a threat.'"
In addition to Durel's backing, commissioners Allen Dugas and immediate past Chairman Jim Nunn, perhaps Roberts' most loyal advocate, have not wavered in their support of the director. Such proponents note that the airport is doing well under Roberts' leadership, citing increases in passenger and air freight business, airport rental income and its 2005 recognition as the FAA's Louisiana Airport of the Year.
"If anyone thinks the success of an airport is because of one person, that's an insult to our intelligence," Burley says. "They're forgetting our great economical boom, convenience of location and all the other people involved in the operations of our airport. It's everyone working together ' in spite of Greg."
Robichaux, however, says the recent uncertainty over Roberts' job security seems to be having a positive effect on the director. "His demeanor has changed a lot. He's not as boisterous," Robichaux says. "But I want to see how long it's going to last. I want to see how his actions and demeanor progress after the contract is signed, sealed and delivered."
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.