OUR VIEW: Jimmy CAN do better for Lafourche

When Jimmy Cantrelle ran for the presidency of Lafourche Parish, he said that leadership would make the difference in the path the parish takes, offering “business-like decisions applied to the running of government.”

After reviewing District Attorney Cam Morvant’s report on allegations against Cantrelle, we see little to suggest that any business person we know would wish to follow Canrelle’s example in certain matters.

Morvant did not conclude that Cantrelle’s actions in regard to raises for certain employees and choices for insurance that would cover all employees, as well as other issues before him, rose to a need for criminal action.

But that has not erased questions about whether Louisiana ethics laws have been violated, and Morvant is rightly referring to the matter to the state ethics board, finding “numerous civil service procedure violations and potentially a civil rights violation.”

Cantrelle, according to the findings, instructed Parish Administrator Reggie Bagala to call council members and tell them he wouldn’t approve renewal of the parish’s current health insurance plan, in exchange for a switch in positions between Deputy Director of Communications Caroline Eschette and Director of Communications Doug Cheramie, a $5,000 raise for Eschette and a $3,000 raise for Plans and Permits Director Tony Breaux.

The action, whether legal or not, is outrageous. Rather than act as the informed and able chief executive he told voters he would be, the parish president has acted like a goon in charge of a third-world country. There can be no mistaking that what is alleged was strong-arming plain and simple.

This is not business. This is thuggery.

Louisiana has had enough banana-republic dictators over its history in various positions of responsibility for the people to know immediately what they are dealing with when they see such behavior. Maybe to Jimmy, it appeared just a matter of skillful negotiation. But it was way too clumsy to be skillful.

Charlotte Randolph, his predecessor, took a great deal of criticism from many quarters during her tenure. But never was anything Randolph was accused of – and in most cases she was always vindicated – so mean-spirited or ill-conceived. If Cantrelle’s favored partially-self-funded plan was indeed the best choice for the parish, then finding willing accomplices to his job-assignment scheme should never have come into play as a matter to be added to the mix.

Morvant’s findings included a determination that former Finance and Human Resources Director Tommy Lasseigne purposefully placed an employee on the “random” drug screen list without authority. A later memo provided such authority after the fact and was a poor attempt to cover up wrong-doing.

Council member Lucy Sposito should largely be credited with bringing matters to the public eye, resulting in Morvant’s study. She should be praised and encouraged. Too often legislative office-holders are too quick to keep a matter away from the eyes of the public or authority, hoping to find a “polite resolution.”

Sposito chose to do what was right by following proper procedures and using the right channels. As a result these matters can more easily be publicly discussed.

As for Cantrelle, his refusal to speak of Morvant’s findings in any detail demonstrates lack of judgement and political character.

It will be interesting to see how the ethics board handles these matters. Cantrelle is only just completing his first year in office and has three more ahead. Hopefully he will focus on doing what is right for his parish rather than what can help expedite a power play.

He has time left to clean up his act and not let this type of bullying be the mark by which his administration is measured. To do so he must speak candidly and with truth about what actually occurred, making what apologies are necessary.

To fail this is to dig himself – and the reputation of the parish as a whole – a lot deeper.

Hopefully he will not waste time or energy criticizing those who see through the sham, but rather come clean and stay clean.

The time for a new direction in government is now.

We believe that Jimmy Cantrelle means well, and will accept that perhaps he confused resolve and political maneuvering with ill behavior. But everyone is now watching.

We know that Jimmy CAN do better. We look forward to seeing these matters resolved.. •