Ethics Board opinion excludes Lafourche councilman’s wife from job

A Lafourche Parish councilman who sought an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics has been told officially that his wife is not allowed to work for the parish’s hospitals.

District 4 Councilman Aaron “Bo” Melvin, whose wife Charlene is a health care professional, sought the opinion as a precaution, to ensure that no choices she made would place him afoul of the state’s ethics code.

The opinion was issued at the board’s June 17 meeting.

According to state documents, Melvin originally contacted the board about the issue on April 11. At that time, Charlene had gone through orientation to work as a respiratory therapist on an as-needed basis at Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland. However, Melvin had asked his wife to wait on beginning work until he could receive the go-ahead from the ethics board. Melvin said he consulted Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant about his wife working in Lafourche, but then went to the ethics board to get a definitive ruling on the situation.

“The big reason that these [ethics board] opinions are needed is because with some cases, a local attorney or DA may not be able to say with 100 percent certainty if something is allowed or not,” Melvin said.

Lafourche Parish has three hospital service districts – Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, St. Anne’s and Lady of the Sea. Although St. Anne’s is owned by Ochsner and is a nonprofit and TRMC receives no millage money, the districts are still considered government entities because the Lafourche Parish Council appoints board members for all three.

Because Charlene is an immediate family member of Melvin, who sits on a governing authority for the hospitals, the board said she could not work at any of the three.

“The above listed hospitals are within the Lafourche Parish government of which you are a Council Member. Therefore, Charlene Melvin, an immediate family member, would be prohibited from being employed by these agencies while you serve as a Council Member,” the board wrote in its advisory opinion.

There is one circumstance under which Charlene Melvin could work at a Lafourche hospital, however. If a family member is the only qualified applicant who applied for a position after the opening has been advertised for at least 30 days in the official journal of the parish and newspapers, the hospital could make the hire.

Melvin said his wife currently works in Terrebonne Parish as needed and will continue to do so. According to Melvin, his wife applied for the job at St. Anne’s because she wanted to work closer to home.

“It bothers me that I have a hospital a half-mile away from my home, but my wife has to drive 18 miles one way to work,” he said.

Melvin said he thought there were enough degrees of separation between the hospital’s board and the management staff who would hire his wife to put her hiring in the clear. However, the state ethics board saw it differently.

“The law is the law, and as long as it doesn’t go against any of my moral beliefs, then I’ve got no problem following it,” he said. “I just wanted to check and make sure we were all right with the law before we went ahead.” •