If Lafourche Councilman John Arnold is to be believed, then the months-long debate that culminated with the hire of an internal auditor who answers to the parish council was decided by the flip of a coin.
The first-term councilman from Bayou Blue held up a quarter, which he claimed to have tossed in the air prior to the meeting as a way to simplify his decision.
“I left it in God’s hands,” Arnold said. “I flipped this coin.”
Tommy Lasseigne was chance’s beneficiary. A former councilman who failed in his bid to unseat Parish President Charlotte Randolph last October, Lasseigne tried to quell the notion that he was brought in to target Randolph’s administration.
“I have nothing but the best intentions,” the Thibodaux resident said. “We’re all in this together. I don’t like controversy.”
The position commands a $60,500 salary this year, parish spokesman Logan Banks said. At that price, Lasseigne is paid more than every administrative department head, excluding the parish administrator.
Lasseigne, a 59-year-old contractors’ consultant, has an extensive education background. He received a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from Louisiana State University, a master’s degree in business administration from LSU, a master’s degree in management from Texas A&M and a doctorate in strategic management and finance from Florida State University.
After the meeting, the auditor said disagreements between he and Randolph would not motivate his behavior. “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the pope on everything, either,” he said.
Daniel Lorraine, the actual fifth vote and the councilman who has led the charge for a legislative auditor, bellowed his response during a roll-call vote, “Thank God, yes.”
Councilmen Joe Fertitta, Phillip Gouaux and Jerry Jones opposed the hire. Councilmen Aaron Caillouet, Jerry Lafont and Lindel Toups voted with Arnold and Lorraine.
During a discussion before the vote, Gouaux posed several questions regarding the position’s job description, such as office location and duty delegation.
“We don’t have anything in place,” Gouaux said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough planning or put enough thought into this position.”
The council unanimously passed a motion that says Lasseigne’s duties are to be funneled through Fertitta, the council chairman.
A motion to fill the position was deferred indefinitely last month.
At that time Caillouet, a former parish president in his first term as a councilman, said he would vote in favor of Lasseigne but not in favor of the position, citing Lasseigne’s qualifications.
Caillouet said the parish’s population isn’t vast enough to warrant an auditor at that salary.
Lorraine, the most vocal proponent, forced the vote at last week’s council meeting. “It’s for checks, balances and accountability and transparency,” he said.
Toups, the chairman of a committee that is trying to replace the parish’s antiquated and overcrowded detention center, said he hopes the auditor can find excess property-tax revenue that could be rededicated to building a new jail.
Toups, along with other councilmen, has also expressed the need for more flood control-related revenue.
“I’m expecting the auditor to work with us and the administration,” Toups said. “There’s money to be found out there. Let’s go find it.”
Lasseigne’s first task will likely be examining the parish’s boards and commissions, for this purpose. However, many property-tax calls are specific to certain districts.
There has been public debate about the potential of rededicating a parish-wide millage away from public libraries and into drainage and jail funds.
“I’m going to bring it up to the people to vote, to move it to drainage and the jail,” Toups said of the library’s 5.4 mills, which collect an estimated $4.5 million per year. “I didn’t even go to a library until I was 40.”
Lasseigne reiterated after the meeting that he would complete any task he is assigned.
A three-man committee comprised of Fertitta, Arnold and Lorraine culled resumes and nominated Lasseigne.
Arnold, one of three newcomers to the council, had originally placed an item on the agenda to defer Lasseigne’s hiring at the council’s March 21 meeting. After a brief discussion, he pulled the item from the agenda. Instead, Caillouet proposed the deferral, which passed 5-4.
“I’m tired of messing with this,” Arnold said at the time. “What we need to do right now is quit bickering and bellowing … Let’s get to it (and vote).”