Shed some light on the subject

Since taking office in 2016, Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove has used his knowledge of resources, connections from business and his time as a state legislator to the benefit of Terrebonne Parish and its people. He has kept public works projects on track and has developed a reputation for helping council members address issues in their districts through direction of personnel and wise use of resources.

Recent events, however, have cast a shadow over the administration.

The conclusion of a lawsuit brought against the parish and its chief executive through a financial settlement could have been viewable as a victory of sorts for both Dove and the Parish Attorney, Julius Hebert. In government, as in business, it is sometimes necessary to settle even cases of dubious merit, to halt continued expenditures of the peoples’ money. Inclusion of Dove and the parish government in this suit, which Sheriff Jerry Larpenter continues to battle, has always puzzled us.

But on the road to the settlement, Dove and company took a serious wrong turn, and we fear it will take some time for administration to rebuild trust with the public as well as the Terrebonne Parish Council. Irrefutable evidence proves that the Parish President and his attorney took conscious measures at every step of the final stages to unnecessarily, arbitrarily and capriciously conceal documents and information from the people and the council that represents them. Secrecy relating to settlements is an understandable and even desirable outcome for private business entities. But it is a matter of well-established law that Louisiana’s constitution and statutes – with some exceptions – are engineered in a manner that demands the business of the people to be done in the open. Knowing how much money the people have paid for a litigant to go away is a right, not a privilege.

In the settlement document, prepared over a period of months, a confidentiality clause was built in. Perhaps an argument can be made that a plaintiff might not settle if the amount of their windfall was put out on the street. But our courts have consistently maintained that those who choose to feed from the public trough and their attorneys should have no expectation of privacy.

The desire to keep critical information secret was further evinced by the unusual step Dove and Hebert took, of asking U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to seal all documents and information related to the settlement. Court papers show that they sought to short-circuit Louisiana’s public records act by asking for the judge to provide written permission for them to over-ride it. The request was too outrageous for such an astute jurist as Judge Africk to accept, and he denied it. Nonetheless, Dove and Hebert represented to members of the Parish Council, in individual meetings, to declare that the settlement was sealed. Such action erodes public trust.

Such a degree of secrecy so evident in a matter that should have been simple and transparent raises questions about what other issues there may be in the executive branch of our parish government. Additionally, the money was paid out of a trust fund for clients that Hebert maintains, and not out of the parish treasury. The reason for this has not been accounted for. Was this yet another ruse to prevent discovery of the settlement amount through parish financial records, until the settlement was no longer on the public radar? Deception is apparent at every turn on this matter. The structures for secrecy built into the settlement and the proposed order to seal were already, by all available indications, constructed before Assistant District Attorney Jason Dagate, at the request of The Times, directly asked why documents were not made public two weeks ago. Technically, the answers given at that time were satisfactory. But the path toward secrecy was concealed from Dagate as well. The Parish President is authorized to spend up to $50,000 without approval by the Parish Council. Why then did the Parish President work so hard to conceal the settlement details? What was the motivation? We challenge Parish President Dove to come clean with the public and the Parish Council by answering these questions at their next meeting. Secrecy and deception require far more energy than clean truth-telling and buck-stops-here courage. We mourn recent evidence of the former and hope in the future to see a commitment to the latter. The road to recovery can begin any time Gordon Dove wishes to take a step forward. •