OUR VIEW: Exposing the ExposeDat settlement

For nearly a year Terrebonne Parish has been haunted by varying accounts of alleged government wrong-doing. It has appeared on a website called ExposeDat, and a related Facebook page under the fictitious name “John Turner.”

We now know that the creator of ExposeDat was Jennifer Anderson, from court papers related to her lawsuit. The lawsuit came about after a clumsy effort at seeking retribution by insurance broker Tony Alford, whose business dealings with the parish were placed under a microscope. Alford made a complaint under the Louisiana statute making certain forms of defamation a crime. Part of the statute has been ruled unconstitutional. In Alford’s case, the criminal complaint backfired. Computers and cell phones were seized from Anderson and her husband pursuant to a warrant. The execution was done by the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In federal court, Anderson had alleged that a conspiracy existed between Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, Parish President Gordon Dove and Alford to deprive her of her rights under first and fourth amendments to the U.S. constitution.

Jennifer’s husband, Wayne, a Houma police officer, withdrew himself from the lawsuit. He an employee of parish government and therefore of Gordon Dove. Alford was released from the suit by agreement. That leaves Larpenter as the only defendant, and a petition for the suit against him to be dismissed was filed Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Afrik will decide on the merits.

As for Dove, the court record clearly indicates that an agreement was made between him – and therefore the parish – for him to be dismissed from the suit in return for some sort of financial payment.

We don’t know how much the taxpayers of Terrebonne Parish are paying for Jennifer Anderson to go away. But at this point that’s what’s being done in the eyes of the court. And the people deserve a better answer than “no comment” or to be told that a statement will be prepared some time during the week.

A meeting of the parish council in Executive Session was held two weeks ago for discussion of this matter. We understand that parish council members are not permitted to talk about what went on, and respect that.

The demurrers to questions about their understanding of what agreement might have been in the works indicated that whatever settlement has been reached is below the $50,000 threshold that caps expenditures the parish president may make without council approval.

It is our belief that whether the council’s approval is needed or not, the people have a right to decide on their own whether they approve of the parish president’s actions. And if an agreement has been made – which, again, is all too clear for the court record – then the people have a right to an answer on demand.

Much of the national news has been cluttered with unfortunate feuds between the President of the United States and the press. Much of that has been the result of the President indicating he is not accountable to press or public, except for what he may deign he will discuss in one-way conversations on Twitter.

We fear it is becoming more fashionable and acceptable for politicians to be cagey in their responses, using the president as a model. And we fear that Gordon Dove’s response to questions from The Times on this matter are too similar to the type of non-accountability that we are seeing from the White House.

Whether the settlement in question is $20,000, $50,000 or even $100,000, if it cannot be discussed for some technical reason, then the people deserve to be told in clear words why that is the case. Saying that he has to wait until everybody is on board is far too vague. It is unacceptable. And it is less than we expect from a parish president who has clearly been in office long enough to know better.

The parish has a custodian of records, Mart Black, who is doing a sterling job. The flow of information, even if through verbal confirmation rather than records, deserves the same type of respectful treatment as requests for records get from Mr. Black.

By the time this is published it is possible President Dove will have disclosed the information related to the settlement. If not, then he needs to do so quickly.

A settlement may well be the right decision, but if so its terms should be shared with those footing the bill. •