OUR VIEW: Zero tolerance

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.

“Did you hear about the Louisiana politician who lied?”

Except it’s not. It’s a conversation that could be had based on a story in today’s issue of The Times.

If audio recordings obtained by the newspaper are correct then Parish President Michel Claudet let go with a pretty big whopper, back when former police chief Todd Duplantis tendered his retirement as chief of the HPD.

If any number of things make the premise of the story we ran less than true, then the only person who can tell us that is Claudet.

And he’s not talking.

Not to us.

Not about this.

When Claudet was asked by reporters if the retirement of Duplantis was fallout from a $300,000 judgment the parish had to pony up due to a recently settled lawsuit, he said “no.”

Claudet also suggests that questions about those circumstances were not the business of a local television station.

While discussing the need for Duplantis to retire, Claudet said it was parish council members who demanded that the chief fall on his sword.

Duplantis is now safely retired and can talk about it.

Claudet is being term-limited out come December.

So with one gone and the other going, why should it matter?

Obfuscation is one thing.

Stating that something is not true when it is, that’s something else.

And given such strong evidence that this is what occurred, it is the newspaper’s duty to tell the public for whom the elected official works.

In Claudet’s case being true to that duty is especially compelling.

When Claudet first took office he had a penchant for avoiding accountability at critical moments, such as accusations that he ceded control of the parish during Hurricane Gustav.

The accusations proved more severe than the truth of the matter, but that wasn’t due to much assistance from Claudet in setting the record straight.

A man used to the rarified position of being a CEO of his own businesses and a board member helping run entities like Synergy Bank, could easily have trouble adjusting to the magnifying glass of public scrutiny, in a state whose public records and open meetings laws, while flawed, provide at least a blueprint for transparency.

Over time Claudet proved himself to be a capable leader of Terrebonne Parish, and made great strides in professionalizing the office of Parish President, managing catastrophes like the BP Oil Spill with aplomb and courage.

Claudet has proven himself a friend to local businesses, and made himself available time and again at various public functions. He now seems to thrive in the limelight of ribbon cuttings and other events.

The recordings of conversations with Todd Duplantis speak the obvious. The man behind the curtain in Terrebonne’s Government Tower is not always the avuncular, benevolent leader whose reputation he has worked diligently to sculpt. He instead comes across as a manipulator. It begs the question of what else he has been truthful about, or not.

Faced with direct questions that clearly were formed because of his own spoken words, written in a lengthy e-mail, Claudet gave no response. Nor did he respond to a follow-up e-mail.

It would appear that now, closer to the date he is no longer accountable to the public on a daily basis, Claudet has regressed to the posture of a pouting CEO, as if his accountability has shrunk or disappeared already, a mere vestige of the days when he needed a vote in order to keep doing the job.

As two candidates vie for the seat Claudet is about to vacate, it is important for them to know that this newspaper – and its readers by extension – will demand accountability from the first day one takes office.

And it is important for all who trade on the public trust to know that if you blatantly speak a falsehood, and by doing so dismiss the public, a demand for accountability will follow.

This newspaper will do its best to guarantee that if the truth hurts, it’s likely because somewhere, at some time, somebody who should have known better abandoned the principle.

When that happens, nobody gets a free pass.