More troubling than the push by a group of Iberia Parish politicos to pay for a gargantuan levee initiative by taking dedicated tax revenues from several public entities (the parish library system being among those) are the tactics they employed in their to attempt to fund the project — everything from threats to back-room business dealings to flat-out lying.
The issue could be dead in the water after Parish President Romo Romero vetoed a resolution late last week, putting a stop to Parish Councilman David Ditch’s Resolution 338, which called for an election in November on four separate funding redirections, including 0.75 mills from the library system, 0.5 mills from buildings and maintenance, 0.25 mills from the health unit and 0.25 mills from drainage.
|Photo by Robin May|
|The Iberia Parish Library's Main Street branch|
Since our last report on the issue went live last week (read it here), new sources have stepped forward with revealing information about the strong-arm tactics used by the levee’s backers. The IND has also learned the likely motive for their balls-to-the-wall push for a project voters already opted against funding in an election held not even six months ago.
According to our sources, Ditch’s supporters include not only a majority of his fellow council members, but also the likes of former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, the publisher and editorial staff of The Daily Iberian, state Rep. Simone Champagne and the infamous former state Sen. Craig Romero.
From the very start of their push to give dedicated taxes to the Iberia Parish Levee, Hurricane and Conservation District, Ditch and his supporters, for lack of a better word, were misleading in their to attempt to garner public support by claiming there were available matching funds from BP, as well as the federal and state governments for such a project. Yet, as we reported last week and this Aug. 22 letter sent to the council by state Sen. Fred Mills appears to confirm, those claims are bogus. In his letter, Mills writes:
You inquired if the state has any money or will receive any money for parishes to construct levees.
[The Office of Community Development and Disaster Recovery] indicated they are not aware of any levee resources. Hurricane Isaac funds are restricted with a maximum of [$250,000] and may be used as a match for Corps of Engineers projects. OCD granted funds to St. Martin and Iberia Parishes for Gustav/Ike, and those funds could be eligible for levee construction under certain circumstances, but ... funds from both allocations have already been committed to projects.
Despite receiving this information from Mills in August, Ditch and company continued using the claim of a well-spring of available matching grant funds in pitching their spiel for taking revenues from the library and other parish entities.
As the issue heated up leading up to the council’s Sept. 25 vote approving Resolution 338, a protest movement launched by the Friends of the Library group quickly attracted support from a growing contingency of the community, and new tactics became necessary in making the levee project a reality.
Old school is the best way to describe the evolution of the tactics used by the levee’s backers, according to two sources. Though our sources both requested anonymity, one was willing to identify herself as a member of the Iberia Parish Library Board.
According to the library board member, on the morning of Sept. 25, the day Resolution 338 would go up for a final vote of the council, Kathy Miles, head of the Iberia Parish Library System, received a phone call from former U.S. Rep. and Tea Party Golden Boy Jeff Landry, who, without mincing his words, threatened her job if the resistance to the levee project wasn’t dropped.
According to our other source, that wasn’t the only time Landry let Miles know her job could be in jeopardy if she didn’t get behind forking over a portion of the library’s taxes to fund the levee.
If Landry’s phone threat wasn’t enough, the story gets even dirtier when questions of motive are raised.
Though it’s hard to pinpoint Landry’s exact motive — other than he’s fairly well-entrenched in Iberia Parish’s good-ole-boy network and has a penchant for bad politics — the motive for the levee’s main backer, Councilman David Ditch, has become clear.
According to a source with extensive ties to Iberia Parish government — including the council and parish president’s office — it’s been no secret that Ditch has aspirations for becoming the next parish prez.
|Iberia Parish Councilman David Ditch|
His potential bid for the post wasn't slated to go unopposed, as our source says another of Iberia Parish’s old school politicos has had an eye on the office as well. That person, our source says, is none other than former state Sen. Craig Romero.
However, our source says a deal was hatched between the two parish president hopefuls; in exchange for getting the levee project funded, Romero would not challenge Ditch come 2015.
It's worth noting that Romero’s business interests include insurance sales and aggregate materials — like rocks, limestone and other in-fill materials — all of which would be needed in mass quantities for the construction of a 26-mile levee valued at $420 million.
"That's the funniest thing I ever heard," says Ditch, who in a Thursday phone conversation tells The IND "no deal" was ever brokered between him and Romero. Ditch also confirms that the parish president's veto means November's ballot will not include any of the planned tax redirection measures.