Election signs purchased by a board member on the Recreation 2-3 Board were illegally placed on public property late last week.
Some of the signs have been removed, but others still sit on public property or on right of ways today — just days before voters will be asked to renew the district’s 5-mill millage for the next decade.
Late last week, The Times was alerted of election signs that showed up at the Bayou Country Sports Park. The signs say “Vote Yes, Rec. Dist. 2, 3, Millage Renewal, For Our Children.”
RS 18:470, a statute of Louisiana election law bans the placement of signs on public property, and also publicly owned vehicles.
There are exceptions for signage that is for “dissemination of factual information relative to a proposition,” of which the Rec. 2-3 signs do not apply.
Rec. 2-3 Board Member Chris Chiasson confirmed to The Times that he purchased the signs.
He said he posted a photo of the signs on SnapChat, which solicited interest from community members.
“A bunch of people saw them and wanted them,” Chiasson said. “There’s no way I can put out 150 signs on my own, so I agreed.”
He said he gave signs to “about 15-20 people,” adding that he “has no idea” who put them at the Bayou Country Sports Park or other places.
Chiasson said he was at a camp in Mississippi this weekend when he found out they were placed on public land.
By Sunday, he said he personally went and took them down.
“I told them, ‘Don’t put them on public property and don’t bring them outside of the district,’” Chiasson said. “I guess people don’t know what that means. But as far as my knowledge goes, there’s no more there. Unless there’s something I didn’t see, they’ve all been removed.”
The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office and Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office were both alerted of the signs, but Chiasson said he removed them without the urging of anyone, because he knew they shouldn’t be there.
A spokesman with TPSO confirmed to The Times that calls had been made regarding the signs, and Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has advised all callers to reach out to the agency it is that’s placing the signs (Recreation 2-3, in this case) or the agency who owns the public land (Terrebonne Parish Government, in this case).
Violation of election law can result in a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to two years, per the statute.
At the Sports Park, most of the signs are gone.
But as of press time, there are still several others at public parks and right of ways around the district.
That’s drawn the ire of opposition to the millage’s renewal.
Nicholas Hebert, a spokesman with Rec Reform for Terrebonne said he thinks the situation involving the sign placement is a bad look.
Hebert said he doesn’t think ignorance of the law is in play, because he’s served on other boards with members of Rec. 2-3 and he knows their members, and especially, Chairman Jeff Teuton, know the laws.
That they weren’t followed, Hebert said, is telling, and is part of a pattern. The group has also been warned about violating open meetings laws in recent months, per a written letter sent out by the District Attorney.
“There is a right way and wrong way to do it,” Hebert said. “They’ve been told that what they are doing is wrong, so ignorance is not an excuse here. It’s willful. If voting yes was the right thing to do, then promote it the right way. Another point here is that it is yet another example of this Board ignoring laws because it feels it’s trivial. They attempted to trivialize open meetings and public records violations and the same appears to be happening here.”
OPPOSITION SAYS THERE’S TIME TO DECIDE THE FUTURE
Opposition to the millage say a vote of “no” on Saturday would mark a desire for change in recreation in Terrebonne Parish.
Supporters of the millage say that things have gotten better in recent years and that bypassing on the millage would cost our area valuable funding for parks and facilities.
But Hebert said he believes there’s time. He said the current millage doesn’t expire until 2020, which means that Rec. 2-3 will be funded through 2021 — if not longer than that.
“At a minimum, you have at least 2 more years before the threat of defunding and all these things come true,” Hebert said.
Hebert said lawmakers have told him that “millages keep passing, so that means people are happy.”
But he said he has spoken to hundreds of people who are not happy and who want things to be done differently in the future.
“We’re told that these continual millage renewals show that people are happy,” Hebert said. “I don’t agree with that. Many people don’t agree with that. But if that’s what we’re being told, then we have to vote and voice our opinion. A vote for no today is for a better tomorrow.”
Chiasson said he disagrees with the call for change. He said events are happening at the Bayou Country Sports Park throughout the fall and more things are going to happen beyond that until the park is fully completed.
“We’re starting to get the train rolling,” he said.
But Hebert said he believes it’s a train without an idea of where the tracks will run.
He said the park is devoid of funding and direction. Reformation, he said, would solve the issue and help bring a brighter future.
“We have a beautiful plan. A gorgeous plan,” he said. “But we don’t know how we’re going to pay for it and we don’t know how we’re going to run it. I’m thrilled things are happening at the park this fall. That’s great for our area and our kids. But just because we have activities going on right now, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the questions we don’t have answered.”