Facing Laf.’s firing line

Everything you need to know you DIDN’T learn in Kindergarten
August 3, 2011
Keith Joseph Landry
August 5, 2011

One meeting was not enough for the Lafourche Parish Council to express its dismay for and attempt to fire Frank Morris, the parish’s embattled director of planning and permitting who has now been judged by lawmakers in consecutive meetings. Both times, he retained his job.

Morris oversees permitting and inspection throughout the parish, and he has been charged with inhibiting construction through vague direction of the state’s complicated building code and exhibiting a tyrannical-like approach to issuing permits.

He wasn’t the first to step onto the council chopping block, and at this rate, he’ll be far from the last.

Before him, there was Nicholas Matherne, the former director of coastal energy and environment whose character was debated after he reportedly called a group of councilmen “stupid” following a meeting.

And before him, it was Thomas Turner, director of community services, after a parade of associates spoke out against his management style, charging him with abusing his power and verbally harassing employees.

In less than a calendar year, in a span of 20 meetings, the council has brought before itself three department heads on four occasions with intent to fire. Where does the abuse of power truly lie?

The parish’s Home Rule Charter requires at least seven council votes for the mid-term dismissal of a department head. Other than that, nothing regulates the process.

Nothing prevents the double-jeopardy situation that Morris just experienced. He could be called before the council twice more in August if someone is willing to author the resolution.

The most recent effort to displace a department head reeked of rebellion against the parish president’s office, just the latest effort in a years-long power struggle between Councilman Daniel Lorraine and Parish President Charlotte Randolph.

This is not to absolve Morris, or Matherne or Turner, for that matter, of the grievances against him. Perhaps he is unfriendly and a tyrant, and perhaps some on the council thought this was legitimate reason to target his job, which is fine, one time.

It’s also not a question of the council’s right to judge the executive branch. Checks, balance, and ideological conflict are healthy in any form of government.

But any system that permits an unfettered authority to a job snatch on the whims, either political or personal, of nine parish residents needs reform.

We’d like to see the parish make an effort to establish guiding principles and a form of double jeopardy protection.

Current department heads, and the ones that will consider positions in the future, deserve better treatment.