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Sunday, September 22, 2019

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Chairman questions transparency in Parish Government

Chairman questions transparency in Parish Government

Anyone who attended last Tuesday’s council meeting surely felt the uneasy silence in the council chambers when Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle refused to answer questions put to him by Council Chairman Corey Perrillioux.

The questions were in response to the administration’s barring of Internal Auditor Reggie Bagala from observing budget meetings, which Bagala attempted to attend at the request of Perrillioux.

Perrillioux said he wanted Bagala to attend and report back to the council, but “the door was shut in his face.”

While referring to the parish website’s “Transparency and Open Government” tab, Perrillioux asked Cantrelle, “What is your legal reasoning for keeping council members and our internal council auditor out of meetings that deal with capital projects or budgetary matters, sir?”

As he often does when asked unexpected questions, Cantrelle said nothing. Then he turned to his staff for help.

Interim Administrator Tommy Lasseigne attempted to respond to Perrillioux, saying, “It’s not a legislative function.”

But Perrillioux cut him off, “I didn’t ask you, sir. I asked the parish president.”

Cantrelle finally replied that he was not going to answer that question.

“I have asked you to submit your questions so we can research them and give you the answers you need. Ya’ll refuse to do that. When you do what I ask, I’ll answer you,” said Cantrelle.

“I am waiting for you to answer,” said Perrillioux.

“Well, you’ll wait a long time,” said Cantrelle.

Silence for several seconds.

Councilman Jerry Jones asked Cantrelle, “Do you think the public has a right to know what’s going on?”

“Sure they do,” returned Cantrelle. “But I refuse to answer any questions or be part of this circus that’s going on.”

More questions from Perrillioux were unanswered. “This is your policy Mr. Cantrelle. What needs researching about your policy?”

More silence, then Cantrelle reiterated his request that questions to be submitted prior to meetings. “If you do what I ask, I’ll answer your questions,” he stated.

“We don’t work for you. We don’t have to abide by your rules about questions,” answered Perillioux.

Reggie Bagala, in his council report, referred to emails from Interim Administrator Tommy Lasseigne in which he was informed he was not allowed to attend administration meetings.

Governmental “transparency”, said Bagala, is one that “operates under the premise that meetings of public bodies of financial capital projects or of a policy-altering nature should be open for observation by the legislative branch.”

Lasseigne said the reason Bagala was barred was because “it’s not a legislative branch function. This went to the DA. This has happened before. When I was a councilman, I never sat in on any meetings. It was point-blank clear. It was not a legislative function … to think that … when Mr. Cantrelle is in negotiations, to think that we’re going to notify somebody to have somebody in there during all these negotiations is irrational!”

The Lafourche Parish Home Rule Charter states that the Internal Auditor “shall be responsible for reporting to the Council on budgetary and financial matters relating to the Parish … ”

But it says nothing about where they should be observed. Nor does it say where the line is drawn between the functions of legislative and executive branches of government. Ergo, the question of exactly what “transparency” means.

While the distrust between parish administration and the legislative branch continues to grow, where the parish president and council members stand on the “transparency” question depends on how each one interprets the Charter.