OUR VIEW: Executive action merits new course

Perhaps it is reflective of the national trend, for members of the executive branch of government to put their worst foot forward in crucial matters, to be thin-skinned in the face of criticism.

To say that President Donald Trump has routinely exhibited questionable taste in his dealings with the news media is an exercise in understatement. The most recent, a faux-wrestling match with a person representing CNN through a mike-cube head, is cause for concern when it overshadows the real things that need discussion, like foreign policy and health care reform. The president’s willingness to blame the messenger is disingenuous, and stands in the way of the true debate on which our system is built.

Principle must win out over personality in matters of government, and there is little of that in Washington right now. Calling out the failings of government by tweet and an obvious sentiment that bullying the press is a good thing are not consistent with what responsible Americans had in mind when they elected a chief executive, or so we might hope.

A bigger problem is that it appears local government executives appear to be pulling pages from the Trump playbook when dealing with significant local affairs.

Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle has demonstrated yet again his contempt for the people he governs, and for the legislative branch of government whose role is to act as a counter-balance to the executive branch.

Cantrelle’s decision to leave a Parish Council meeting along with other administration members coupled with refusals to answer questions in the past posed by council members are the most recently problematic behaviors. To be questioned by Parish Council members is something an executive should expect. Certainly Cantrelle’s statements that suggestions he was overpaid were a matter of “beating a dead horse” were upturned by an opinion from District Attorney Cam Morvant which found just the opposite.

In Terrebonne Parish, Gordon Dove did not have his finest hour when, at a committee meeting, he berated Councilman Gerald Michel for having a conversation with a Times reporter. During his indignant tirade Dove stated that Michel disclosed proprietary information about the $50,000 “ExposeDat” lawsuit settlement, a statement that is absolutely false. Michel sought discussion on whether the Parish Council should have its own legal representation. This was prompted by his questioning of whether it was legal for administration to meet individually or in small groups with council members to disclose the settlement amount. Michel’s confidence in Parish Attorney Julius Hebert was shaken when he learned – from the reporter – that a federal judge had refused to seal the case, as Dove and Hebert had claimed. That made Michel’s question valid, no matter the eventual answer. During the discussion that followed Michel was left standing alone, with no parish council member asking the obvious question, which was whether the claim of a court seal was a matter of intent to mislead or mistake. The former could have resulted in serious consequences. The latter could be forgiven, but should have been a fair topic of discussion.

Most disturbing, however, was Dove’s insistence that he operates a transparent government at the same time he was defending secrecy and what could easily have been perceived as deception.

During this past week we have celebrated the birth of our nation, commemorating the July 4, 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The signing led to war, and war led to a constitution. The constitution made clear pertinent concepts, the most important being that we are governed by the consent of the governed. It is in our nature to question why government does what it does. That means parish councils have an inherent responsibility to ask questions in the name of the people who are governed, and that those who govern should be required to give answers.

This is a week during which all government officials can and should reflect on whether their actions are consistent with our best hopes for proper government as a people. The tests that are most vital to see if government is doing its job properly and openly are best done at times of distress. It is in these instances that elected officials can show whether their actions are motivated by a desire to public good, or to make a point. •