Outgoing Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter sent out an email to local media yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a candidate in the race to replace him took to Facebook to question the current financial position of the office.
Since that email, the candidate Larpenter questioned, challenger Jerri Smitko, has chimed in with further clarification, stating that she never once lied in her original post, nor did she mislead the public — two things that Larpenter claimed.
The back and forth between Larpenter and Smitko comes as early voting is ongoing leading up to the October election. Smitko seeks Larpenter’s seat as sheriff, which he will not pursue after serving two terms.
Larpenter said comments made by Jerri Smitko were "inaccurate" and "misleading", adding that "this misrepresentation smears this office and our dedicated deputies, making me duty-bound to address it."
On Tuesday night, Smitko posted an email she sent to a reporter at another Houma newspaper. It was in response to a story written that quotes Larpenter as saying the office is in a good place financially going forward.
Smitko posted her thoughts on ‘Da Buzz’, a popular local social media site where candidates and concerned citizens gather to discuss community issues.
She stated that TPSO's financial position was the worst of any parish sheriff's office in the state, citing a financial audit that determined that TPSO's current financial position should be evaluated at negative $53 million.
Larpenter denies those claims, saying that the Sheriff's Office is not $53 million in the hole, and that the money “owed” is going to go to medical benefits and pensions over a long span of time.
He said Smitko's post was either inability to read a financial statement or a lie.
Larpenter is not running for re-election in October. He has endorsed his Chief Criminal Deputy Col. Terry Daigre.
"The candidate has repeatedly stated that our office is $53 million in the hole, and nothing could be further from the truth," Larpenter said. "...The $53 million she refers to is on Page 6 of our latest legally required audit. It represents money we must pay for medical benefits and pensions over the expected lifespans of employees and retirees. It is a “pre-expenditure,” an estimated future cost spanning about 30 years. It is only listed because of recent changes to the standards accountants must follow, per Governmental Accounting Standards Bureau Statement #75, and has no effect on our actual current budget."
Larpenter closes his statement by saying that he believes the rant was election propaganda, stating that he spoke out against it because it was so inaccurate that the public needed to know.
"Nobody knows more than I do that elections can result in rhetoric and ill-chosen claims," Larpenter said. "This misinformation goes far above that threshold. It is my hope that once this candidate properly reviews our audits, all of which are public record and available online, she will apologize to myself, my accounting staff, and all the men and women who work here serving the public every single day."
But Smitko stands firm in her research and said she’s a bit taken back by how this has all played out.
She said she didn’t expect the sheriff to reply to her post, because the numbers she stated are the truth.
In an email sent to The Times early Thursday morning, she broke down every piece of her post on The Buzz and listed why she believes the numbers in the audit are accurate depictions of the office’s current financial positioning.
She then picked apart Larpenter’s email reply, pulling apart things that she believes are not true.
“I have spent countless days going through the audit reports and tabulating the data in order to get the message out to the citizens of this parish,” Smitko said. “The TPSO is in a precarious financial situation and has been for a very long time. The information I presented was not misleading, inaccurate or misrepresented. I do not have a comprehension problem and have not communicated any lies. I owe no apology to the Sheriff for putting forth the truth, and will not be intimidated. It is regretful that Jerry saw fit to use such harsh language, but I’m not so thin skinned that I would demand an apology for his nasty remarks. I’ll just chalk it up to a lack of understanding on his part, or perhaps self-preservation, and hope that he enjoys his retirement.”
The Times made Sheriff Larpenter aware of Smitko’s emailed response and offered to allow Larpenter a chance to rebuttal.
He said he’d instead refer back to his emailed response, standing 100 percent behind his message to the public.