Aside from being sponsored by Giles Automotive, Acadiana Heroes has nothing to do with the car sales business; it’s actually a monthly initiative to spotlight and reward the people who are doing good in our community, yet, that’s not how one state agency sees it, and the program’s future is now in jeopardy.
Bob Giles, owner of the Lafayette-based auto dealership, joined forces with KLFY TV10 last July in an attempt to spotlight the good things happening here in Acadiana. The result was Acadiana Heroes — a monthly contest in which the community nominates people who are making a positive difference on a local level. And each month, three finalists are selected (including individuals and non-profit organizations), followed by a web-based vote to decide the winner, who is then rewarded with a $3,000 prize donated by Giles Automotive. All of that, including the role of Giles Automotive, is announced monthly in a story by KLFY.
And here’s where the problem arises. The Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission says auto dealers are not allowed to advertise cash donations. According to the commission's rules: “Any cash offer or anything that is convertible to cash funded by the dealer shall not be used and is prohibited.” Yet, the issue, arguably, is that this rule was created to keep new car dealers from advertising cash offers to potential customers, i.e., consumers in the market for an automobile.
“The commission says a new car dealer can’t advertise a cash offer, but I don’t think the rule was intended to prohibit a dealer from donating to charity,” explains Giles, who spoke Wednesday with The IND. “The whole reason I started this was to try and shed light on the good things going on in Acadiana and the great people in our community, those people who are the unsung heroes quietly doing things to improve where we live. The people nobody knows about. Why not try to find out who those people are?”
Lessie House, executive director for the motor vehicle commission, agrees that the rule is overly broad, but based on her interpretation, as long as the name Giles Automotive is attached to advertisements for the program, it’s a violation.
“I understand it’s charitable,” says House. “It’s not that he can’t do it, he just can’t advertise it. If the rules were changed, that’s fine, because I only enforce the rules.”
If Giles continues with the monthly program, he could faces fines of up to $5,000 for each day he’s found in violation of the commission’s rules. Yet, based on the fact he’s never sold a car to any of the finalists, Giles says he’s ready to fight the commission if it comes down to it.
“The commission was originally formed to protect consumers from dealers that were unscrupulous and to protect dealers from manufacturers,” explains Giles. “If that’s the purpose of the commission, then why would you want to stop a dealer from promoting the good in the community? That’s the conflict I have.”
The commission is comprised of 11 members representing car dealerships from throughout the state, so if Giles is brought in for a hearing, his judge and jury will essentially consist of his competitors.
Yet, two members have already sided with Giles, and one commissioner, Don Hargroder of Courtesy Automotive Group in Lafayette, has a proposed a resolution to make the cash advertisement rule more specific.
Giles may also get some help from two state legislators, Rep. Nancy Landry and Sen. Fred Mills, who may be able to attach a rule change to an existing piece of legislation for the current session.
Either way, Giles says he believes in Acadiana Heroes, and “sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in.”