Larpenter served Terrebonne well

The decision by Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter not to seek re-election after 26 total years in the top law enforcement spot was a wise decision whose time had come, for the good of the parish as well as the good of a sheriff who has demonstrated commitment and dedication throughout his career.

We know that Larpenter has mulled the question of whether to run, in particular since his proposal for a half-cent sales tax to address a damaged budget went down in flames last year.

The question of whether that proposal could have been presented in a more palatable manner to voters is now moot, since the people of the parish have spoken already. Much of the opposition to the tax stemmed from the disclosures about the Sheriff’s Office’s financial straits. Larpenter acknowledged that he could have made policy changes, such as charging the parish for Carnival cleanup by inmates or for correctional personnel at the jail, which the parish owns. And in fairness, Larpenter had alluded to budget woes for some time, never hiding the fact that problems were building. The tax campaign, however, suffered from a misplaced execution. The proposed package relied for its public delivery on the stick-suspended carrot of a resource officer in every school, a promise that while attractive to many, was not enough to win approval. There were complaints as well that inclusion of the resource officer lagniappe was a tax approval ploy. At a time of cynicism and mistrust of government, here and throughout the nation, the tax fared just as well as many people thought it would.

Complicating Larpenter’s legacy further was the Expose Dat saga, which saw deputies seizing electronic equipment from a Houma blogger critical of Larpenter and others in government. The sheriff’s deputies were authorized by a warrant to make the seizures, although the warrant later failed appellate court scrutiny. Still, Larpenter’s close relationship with the complainant, the fact that he was a target of the blogger, and other factors made his decision to handle the complaint himself unwise. That decision led to a lawsuit from the blogger and her husband that was later settled. A wiser action would have been to turn the case over to another agency.

But now these gaffes are in the past, and that is where they should stay.

They do not reflect the history of a sheriff who took office during a contentious time of government shake-up, was able to unite an entire parish behind him, and over decades made changes and instituted programs which still greatly benefit citizens today.

Larpenter made his share of enemies during his tenure, particularly friends and family of people he dismissed from his employ, as was his privilege. But during his time of service, despite the circulation of half-truths that were often politically motivated, there can be no doubt that his primary goal was to serve all of Terrebonne’s people. To his credit, Larpenter has always been open about his thoughts and has taken ownership of his deeds, whether popular or not. Under his leadership public presentation of the day-to-day work deputies do, with the help of professionals like Maj. Malcolm Wolfe, has been transparent and open as well.

With Larpenter’s decision not to run now public, attention is turning toward the upcoming election that will replace him. The men who have declared themselves as contenders for the job – and some who shall but have not yet announced – all have histories of being honorable and have compiled strong histories of public service. It is our hope that their campaigns, as election day draws closer, will focus on the positives that each of them has to offer if elected sheriff. Terrebonne Parish does not need a blow-by-blow accounting of the rights or wrongs of how Jerry Larpenter handled his office over the past two decades. We do need to know what each candidate brings to the table.

The end of Jerry Larpenter’s career is the end of an era in Terrebonne Parish politics. Blustery, non-apologetic and fully accountable to the public, he has represented the last of a species of sheriff in Louisiana, and his like shall not be seen again. We wish him a healthy and joyful retirement because he has earned it. And we wish the best for Terrebonne Parish as the day for a successor’s choice grows ever closer.