In the Tri-Parish Times’ edition dated March 6, an article was published subheaded, “Council shakes up Lady of the Sea hospital’s board of commissioners,” which addressed the appointment of a new board member to its board.
In this article, your staff writer attributed several quotes to Councilman Jerry Lafont, which raised very serious allegations against this hospital’s board. Specifically, it was reported that Councilman Lafont believed that the hospital board “misled him as a whole regarding its intentions on a property tax call the board wants to present to voters” and that “he was told at the district’s previous board meeting the measure would not raise existing taxes.” Further, it was reported that Councilman Lafont said “he felt deceived and pointed to that as one reason for the appointee change-up.”
While the reporting of your staff reporter may have accurately quoted Councilman Lafont, this article told only his side of the story and failed to tell the whole story.
Was any hospital board member, whose reputation was being attacked for being deceitful and misleading, ever contacted prior to this article being published, to get their side of the story? Was there any fact checking conducted to determine whether the hospital board had, in fact, told Councilman Lafont at its prior meeting that the board issue would not raise existing taxes? Or was the picture portrayed by Councilman Lafont accepted and published as the Gospel truth, without any attempt whatsoever being made to flesh out both sides of the story?
Any attempt to report both sides of the story would have easily revealed the following facts:
• That, at the board’s Dec. 6, 2012, meeting, both Councilman Lafont and Councilman Lorraine were invited and were present for a presentation of the hospital’s intention to request support and approval from the parish council for a bond issue of up to $3 million supported by an increase in the hospital’s tax millage, if approved by the voters of the hospital district;
• That the amount of the required millage increase (0.2 mills or 0.3 mills) was specifically addressed depending on whether the bond issue was paid off over 10 or 15 years; and
• That, following the presentation, Councilman Lafont stated and indicated that “it sounds good with me and I don’t see why it should be a problem going to the council,” and when leaving the meeting stated, “Thank y’all and definitely you have my support on it. I see no problem with it whatsoever.”
Further, there can be no dispute as to whether or not Councilman Lafont was told that the “measure would not raise existing taxes,” as all of the hospital’s board meetings are recorded (which recordings are public record) and available to the public, including any reporter who wants to do fact checking (especially one who is reporting and disseminating such alleged egregious behavior by public officials, such as hospital board members).
As such, both you and your staff reporter, along with any concerned citizen who has been unduly alarmed by the slanderous and defamatory statements made by Councilman Lafont towards the hospital’s board members, are welcomed to listen to the recording from this meeting or review a transcription of this meeting, which clearly reveals that Councilman Lafont was made fully aware that approval of the bond issue would result in an increase of the hospital’s tax millage.
Thus, the question to be answered is who was, in fact, deceived and misled. Was Councilman Lafont deceived and misled by the hospital’s board, or was the hospital board deceived and misled by Councilman Lafont, who feigned support of the bond issue and then railed vigorously against it at the Lafourche Parish Council meeting and, in fact, voted against the measure.
Although the bond issue was passed by the Lafourche Parish Council, with a vote of 8 to 1 in favor of the measure (with only Councilman Lafont voting against it), the damage to the image and reputation of Lady of the Sea General Hospital and its board members has already been done.
Hopefully, however, your newspaper will take the steps necessary to address this matter, as the incomplete reporting by your newspaper has clearly let down Lady of the Sea General Hospital, its board members and, most importantly, your readership and public as a whole, by failing to fulfill the basic obligations required of any responsible journalist.
Ronald Callais, Board chairman
Paul Chiquet, Jamie Pitre, Board members
Bryan Duet, Former board member