Lafourche council ratifies new parish administrator

Archie Chaisson III, Lafourche Parish’s coastal zone management administrator, has been ratified as the parish administrator.

Chaisson, 27, follows Crystal Chiasson, an Assumption Parish resident who was ousted when parish voters enacted council-proposed amendments to the Home Rule Charter to impose a parish residency requirement on the position and retroactively enforced it. The position is second in line to the parish president.

The parish administrator oversees project management in the parish, and Chaisson said his roots in coastal zone management will meld with the long-term issues facing the parish.

“The infrastructure projects are here – we’re going to see those coming in 2013,” Chaisson said. “In the future for us is going to be some of this BP money coming in and the fine dollars and how we apply that to save what’s outside our system. We’ve built up the levees, we’ve built up the drainage, we’ve built up the pump stations. Now how do we build up what’s on the outside of that to protect what we just invested all this money in?”

Chaisson joined Lafourche Parish Government in 2011 as its CZM administrator. He works hand-in-hand with coastal restoration stakeholders at the local, state and federal level regarding permitting and plans and has overseen such projects in the parish, including the Caminada Headlands restoration at Fourchon Beach.

Chaisson has also overseen the parish’s permit and planning department.

Prior to joining the parish, the Central Lafourche High and Nicholls State University graduate – with a bachelor’s degree in management – worked for three years as a project manager with the engineering firm Picciola and Associates.

Chaisson, a Leadership Lafourche graduate, also serves on the board of directors for the Lafourche Chamber of Commerce, the NSU Alumni Federation and the Central Lafourche Ambulance Service District.

Parish President Charlotte Randolph approached Chaisson before the Christmas break, and he accepted the promotion a couple days later, after consulting with his wife, he said. The position carries a $67,000 salary.

“I’m included in the civil service position, so for me it was, ‘Do I leave the comfort of the civil service system and kind of leave that security to go into an unclassified position where every two weeks, they can technically fire me?’

“There’s still some friction there between the council and the administration, so going in there, having to deal with those political issues versus just sitting back and dealing with coastal and building permits and the other day-to-day stuff I do now. I think it’s a good move. I’m up for it, and I can handle it.”

The council nearly unanimously ratified Chaisson’s appointment. Councilman and outgoing-chairman Joe Fertitta was the lone dissent in filling what has been a politically charged position.

Fertitta said he opposed Chaisson’s promotion because he wasn’t sure the expecting father would be able to fulfill at least the final three years of Randolph’s term.

Chaisson and other department heads serve at the will of parish presidents and must be reappointed at the turn of each council term.

“I think, personally, him being a young person, it’s not advantageous for him to take that job at this time,” Fertitta said, adding that he would prefer someone at a “different stage in their life.”

Councilman Daniel Lorraine raised questions about a copy of an email he requested from Chaisson months ago. His request wasn’t fulfilled. After mentioning the issue, Lorraine voted in favor of Chaisson’s appointment.

Councilman Jerry LaFont, who had asked to postpone the vote for two weeks because he said he didn’t have enough time to talk with Chaisson’s subordinates before the nomination, also voted in favor of the new administrator.

Others spoke of favorable experiences in working with Chaisson, who was a liaison to the parish when he was with Picciola and Associates and has grown to become an authority on coastal issues.

Randolph said Chaisson, who she regards as an up and comer, would continue to spearhead coastal zone management business in the near future.

“His experience so far is impressive,” said Randolph, who emphasized Chaisson’s coastal and engineering acumen. “I think he’s young enough that we can mold and shine him.”

The parish president indicated that coastal restoration would remain a top priority for parish leaders, though perhaps it will receive even more attention in the coming months as the federal-government directed billions of dollars in BP fines stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster are funneled to impacted states and parishes/counties.

DA opinion sought on ethics of bar-hour ordinance

The Lafourche Parish Council has asked the district attorney to weigh in on the legality of a club-owning councilman’s sponsorship of a law that would extend bar hours until 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Councilman John Arnold, the sponsor of the ordinance and owner of Club Illusions outside Thibodaux city limits near Lafourche Crossing, seconded the motion to send the proposed law before the district attorney. It passed unanimously.

Because Arnold introduced the ordinance on Jan. 8, the council is now scheduled to discuss and vote on the new weekend bar hours during its next meeting, on Jan. 22.

A spokesperson for the state Board of Ethics said it would not be a violation of the state code of ethics as long as Arnold, as a bar owner, does not see a substantially greater benefit than other bar owners.

His establishment Club Illusions, formerly the G-Spot Lounge, a strip club, would benefit from the new law, while bar owners in the City of Thibodaux would still be under municipal law, which requires they close at 2 a.m. – the status quo in unincorporated Lafourche.

Arnold said after the meeting he would withdraw his leadership from the bill and abstain from voting on it if the district attorney opinion advises against his involvement.

“Someone else can run with it,” he said. Arnold has said the ordinance, which would allow two more hours of bar operation each weekend, is geared at helping businessmen during an “economic disaster.”

He said roughly 20 bars would be impacted by the changes and that he anticipates an economic ripple effect that would primarily save bars from shedding jobs and shutting down.

Council elects new leadership

Councilman Lindel Toups, of Gheens in District 6, was elected by his colleagues as the 2013 council chairman.

Toups has chaired the New Jail Committee – a nearly two-year-old body tasked with developing a new parish detention center – since its creation. Toups, the council’s vice chairman in 2011, is in his 18th consecutive year on the parish council.

Councilman Daniel Lorraine was elected vice chairman. Council chairman in 2010, Lorraine is entering his 30th year on the parish governing body.

Councilman Joe Fertitta, the outgoing chairman, said he tried to maintain proper parliamentary procedure throughout his term, including having speakers address him directly to avoid personal quips.

“I think they learned something about Roberts Rules of Order (a parliamentary guide book), because they used them last night,” Fertitta said.

Archie Chaisson