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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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Attorney general: Parish president can fire director

Attorney general: Parish president can fire director

After an opinion from Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office was released Monday, the Lafourche Parish Council took no action Tuesday regarding ongoing issues in the parish Community Action office.

The Community Action office is in charge of anti-poverty programs. It operates the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, Emergency Assistance services for homeless prevention and emergency food banks, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and distribution of food through the Commodities Program with Second Harvest Food Bank.

It has been the center of a debate between the council and parish administration since June when the office was temporarily closed.

Throughout the debate, Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle has maintained that he has authority over the Community Action office by order of the parish charter, which contradicts the agency’s bylaws.

The attorney general opinion confirmed Cantrelle’s position, stating “ … the (parish) president, pursuant to the authority granted in the charter, may discipline and/or dismiss the (Community Action) employees, including the executive director.”

The letter went on to say that the Community Action bylaws cannot override the administration’s authority granted in the charter.

“We will continue to keep our promise to protect the interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Lafourche Parish. We simply cannot tolerate conduct which violates the trust we place in employees that are charged with helping the poor, elderly and neediest of our people,” Cantrelle said Tuesday.

Councilman and Community Action Advisory Board liaison Jerry Jones said previously that the parish president is not allowed to fire the director.

But after parish Risk Manager Brent Abadie read a statement from Cantrelle about the opinion, Jones pulled all items regarding the office from Tuesday’s council agenda – except a request for the Lafourche District Attorney’s Office to investigate possible wrongdoing regarding Community Action time sheets.

At the last council meeting, Jones claimed that the investigation conducted by the administration revealed alleged misallocated vacation time in the department that was claimed without the knowledge of the director, who was later fired.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Jones said he pulled the measures as a result of the opinion. But he noted that the Community Action bylaws were approved by the Louisiana Workforce Commission when they were adopted in 2015. He said that Landry is also the legal advisor of the workforce commission and questioned why the conflict with the charter wasn’t brought to light at that time.

The Community Action Advisory Board holds the power to change its bylaws, Jones said, but he said he was uncertain if it would do so.

“We’ll wait and see what happens,” Jones said.

The advisory board has not met since May. Board President Richmond Boyd previously said it would not meet until the attorney general issued his opinion.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.