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Questions still arise over “checks” issue

Questions still arise over “checks” issue

If one reads the recent District Attorney opinion regarding Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle’s self-awarded salary adjustment, one will see two simple reasons for the immediate return of the funds.

First, DA Cam Morvant advised Cantrelle in the opinion that the payments are “null and of no legal effect.”

Morvant simply quoted the Lafourche Parish Home Rule Charter under guidelines or procedures for making expenditures (LPHRC VI 2 B).

Cantrelle recently ordered his Finance Director Carol Hymel to generate a payment of over $38,000 to Cantrelle for what he called a back-pay accounting error.

The question of the two checks was raised by Councilman Jerry Jones at the June 13 Council public meeting when he grilled Hymel on how the checks came about.  Neither Cantrelle nor Interim Parish Administrator Tommy Lasseigne were in attendance. 

“It was back pay for what was found to be a miscalculation of Mr. Cantrelle’s pay for 2016,” said Hymel.

“Where did we do a supplemental to pay this money?” asked Jones.

“It was budget amendments from the abolishment of the Communications and the Grants and Developments departments,” answered Hymel.

“Who approved that?” asked Jones.

“That was the Administration,” responded Hymel who explained that he was told by Administration that they had contacted Lisa Orgeron (Assistant District Attorney) at the DA’s office who told the parish it was an accounting matter which could be “fixed” by merely paying Cantrelle the money.

Since the Finance Department could not cut a check for more than $25,000, two checks for the total amount were cut. 

Secondly, Morvant’s opinion says: “At the very least, Mr. Cantrelle is required to refund the amounts paid to him … ”

In a subsequent interview with the Daily Comet posted June 30th, Cantrelle is quoted as saying he agreed to give the money back.

“I’m going to do whatever the DA says to do.  I will return the money. That’s not a problem.  Monday morning, I’m going to return the money.”

But the Home Rule Charter does more than simply chastise anyone who so misuses parish funds. It goes on to say in that “such action shall be just cause for removal of any official, officer or employee who knowingly authorized or made such payment or incurred such obligation or who caused such payment to be authorized or made or obligation to be incurred.”

Councilman Jerry Lafont, when asked about whether simply giving the money back was enough, said: “When my brother was caught shoplifting, he had to give back what he stole.  But he didn’t just give back the stuff and go on his way.  He was sentenced too.”

Whether the Council will seek the removal of anyone involved in the issuing of the checks remains to be seen.