The people of Lafourche lose in this debate
Perhaps it is a sign of times during which political discourse has taken on nastier tones. But it is not the first time that disagreements between Lafourche Parish Council members have resulted in harsh words and threats of violence. In the more distant past actual fisticuffs have ensued.
Most recently it is council members Jerry Lafont and James Bourgeois.
To be clear, Bourgeois is the alleged aggressor. Lafont is the complainant.
Here’s a recap.
Lafont filed a criminal complaint against Bourgeois in connection with a post-meeting incident, wherein he alleges — and witnesses affirm — that on April 24 Bourgeois bumped him in the chest and made statements that Lafont perceived to be a threat on his life.
What resulted was a judicially-approved stay-away order against Bourgeois, who is also charged with simple battery, which is a misdemeanor.
The incident — the word “kerfuffle” is banned from the pages of this newspaper — has already had an effect on the public’s right to representation by its choice.
When Bourgeois was served with a preliminary injunction barring contact with Lafont, he left the meeting in order to remain within its restrictions.
Bourgeois has since been judicially informed that he can attend meetings, however.
At the April 24 meeting Lafont had brought up other criminal charges his colleague is facing, for filing false public records and claiming two homestead exemptions, as alleged in court papers.
Bourgeois threatened to sue Lafont. The conversation continued after the meeting.
Several things are wrong with this entire picture, on both sides.
Lafont cannot be faulted for bringing up the matter of charges brought against a colleague. But there are protocols that could have worked and kept him from being the object of Bourgeois’ wrath. It is perfectly acceptable for the Council — by resolution or otherwise — to ask questions of such a matter. Bourgeois could, at the very least, have addressed the criminal charges as a courtesy without incriminating himself.
Using such a method could have stripped the matter of personalities away from those of principle, and possibly quashed emotion, thus avoiding the later rancor.
Bourgeois’ alleged threats are unacceptable for members of an institution that is rooted in democracy, under any circumstances.
But something must be said of Lafont’s choices.
He has every right to file a criminal complaint, just as any other citizen does. And we are keeping in mind his disclosure that his father was a crime victim, making him emotionally vulnerable to Bourgeois’ alleged action.
But in a situation involving elected officials there could and should be better ways, just as there are better ways for Bourgeois to address his displeasure with Lafont.
Lafont claims he has video of the encounter which he turned over to the Sheriff’s Office. It was after viewing this, along with interviewing witnesses, that deputies found probable cause to charge Bourgeois.
Perhaps the better thing for Lafont to have done would have been making the video public, rather than casting it into the black hole of an ongoing investigation, where he knew it would end up once he turned it over and once the complaint was made.
Both Lafont and Bourgeois, by their various actions and inactions, have cut to the quick what reputation the Parish Council has that is positive. They have both done disservice to the public they serve.
Voters can make their views on this known when the time is right. But the Louisiana Ethics Board should also take a close look.
The sniping between members of the Parish Council and Parish President Jimmy Cantrell is already the stuff of unfortunate legend. This latest chapter in the council’s history throws off balance any redemption that might have been attempted on both sides of that issue.
When people elect council members to represent them there is an understanding, however unspoken, that when that body meets every person on the dais make up the body of adults in the room.
Sadly, that is not what is happening.
Lafont set the ball rolling by calling out his colleague in an unnecessarily harsh context. Bourgeois trumped Lafont with his later action.
Neither is doing the people who sent them to the Council any good.