School board member Tehmi Chassion, who has for months threatened to release an audio recording he claimed included explosive revelations about misconduct on the part of school administrators, Tuesday found a media partner to get the word out: Busted in Acadiana.
Surely IND readers know all about BIA. (Read the latest story here).
Unfortunately for Chassion, the audio doesn’t hold up to the hype, and the release of it is further evidence that the school board member is out to discredit the superintendent and his administration.
It is Chassion himself who has bigger problems to deal with, including a potential violation of the Louisiana’s Code of Governmental Ethics. Read that ABiz story, which published Monday, here.
His ethics dilemma may be, in part, what set Chassion off Monday, when he paid a visit to the school board office in search of Superintendent Pat Cooper and Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau. He didn’t find them at the office but did speak with Director of Risk Management Mona Bernard, where Chassion took issue with this April 12 IND story, and Cooper’s executive assistant, Melva Perry. In an interview with The IND Wednesday, Cooper said both were asked to put in writing their exchanges with Chassion, which The IND requested and received. View the letters below (the "Federal Building" mentioned in Perry's letter is a school board building that has meeting rooms).
Board member Mark Cockerham says the recording alludes to serious problems in the maintenance and custodial department, which Cooper has fought to overhaul by bringing in and battling the board to keep on the job That Welch, his assistant in charge of the department.
"They're just trying to get this thing in order," Cockerham told The IND Wednesday after listening to the recordings, noting, however, that he does not always approve of Billeaudeau's style.
"That's why I fought so hard to keep Thad in there," Cockerham adds. "We need somebody we can trust."
Listen to the two audio recordings here.
Cooper responded Wednesday with the following statement about the recording involving Billeaudeau:
Certain parties have anonymously distributed two heavily edited audio recordings via the internet. The two conversations in question occurred in November of 2012 and included LPSS employees discussing internal HR matters. I would first like to say that I do not condone the use of profane language by LPSS employees. On behalf of the Lafayette Parish School System, I apologize for the unprofessional and harsh language heard on the recording.
It should be noted that we were first made aware of a recording in February by LPSS School Board Member Tehmi Chassion, who at that time did not indicate his intentions or how it came into his possession—only that he felt he had some evidence of misconduct. Now, the recording has been anonymously shared through the internet and social media in heavily-edited and manipulated form. It certainly begs the question, why now and why in this clandestine manner?
When I came to LPSS, I pledged to root out corruption and clean up our system so that we can create a world-class district for Lafayette students. I discovered rampant and widespread corruption, especially in the personnel, maintenance and custodial departments. It is an affront to the good name of our hard-working and honest staff to allow such behavior to continue. We are continuing to dismantle an old politically driven system of operation. We are focusing on children and teachers, parents and the community instead of favoritism and corruption. During this cleanup, it is sometimes necessary to use language that people understand in order to demonstrate the seriousness and the gravity of the situation. When one is talking to real or potential bullies and thieves, then such language may be necessary to make a point. I certainly don’t condone the use of profanity by our staff, but when it comes to playing hardball on behalf of our children and the taxpayers, we will not sacrifice effectiveness for politeness.
I want to be clear that we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional conduct. We can and will do better. The recording as it has been released represents only a small span of time from the end of a roughly 45 minute meeting. I encourage whoever provided these recordings to share the entire unedited audio.
“I just think this is his best shot,” Cooper told The IND Wednesday in a phone interview, saying he has no doubt Chassion leaked the recordings.
It remains unclear why Chassion sat on the recordings until this week.
Board members Cockerham, Kermit Bouillion and Hunter Beasley all confirm to The IND that Chassion mentioned the recordings to them at an informal meeting Chassion called at his home on a Sunday afternoon several months ago.