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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Issues linger after parish president no confidence vote

Issues linger after parish president no confidence vote

During the Lafourche Parish Council's 6-1 vote of no-confidence last Thursday, many issues and allegations were brought up by the council as reasoning for their vote against Parish President James Cantrelle.

The most common complaint levied by multiple council members was perceived abuses of employees, especially last week's firing of Reggie Bagala as parish administrator.

Last week, Bagala was fired and escorted from his office by police.

According to Councilman Jerry Jones and Council Vice Chairwoman Luci Sposito, this public display was over the line and may open up the parish to civil lawsuits.

"We've had back-handed comments being made to the employees, we've had an abundance of civil service suits brought against this parish in the last year and enough is enough," Council Chairman Corey Perrillioux said. "We've experienced the highest number of civil service complaints in one year than ever before."

The Courier and the Daily Comet has reached out to Cantrelle for comment multiple times over the past week, but he could not be reached or has said "no comment."

The Louisiana Board of Ethics is also reviewing a case from last year where the former finance and human resources director, Tommy Lasseigne, purposefully put an employee on the random drug screening list even though he did not have the authority to handle the employee file.

This, along with the fact that Lasseigne has been appointed to be the new interim parish administrator, was one of the main reasons Councilman Armand Autin gave for casting his vote of no-confidence.

"I think most of us view that as a violation the charter," Autin said at the meeting. "That's wrong. That's wrong, Mr. Jimmy. We're friends, but that's wrong."

The Louisiana Board of Ethics is also reviewing a case alleging ethics violations involving malfeasance, bribery and extortion against Cantrelle.

On Nov. 15, Bagala reported that he, Public Works Director James Barnes and Cantrelle met with Parish Councilmen Jerry Jones, Perillioux, Autin and Accounting Manager Renita Jackson to discuss parish health insurance. A compromise agreement was that Cantrelle would submit the same provider and agent, but employee contributions would increase by 5 percent.

Cantrelle reportedly went to Bagala's office the next day, said he wasn't happy about "giving in and not getting anything in return" and asked Bagala to call the council members and tell them he would submit the current insurance with the 5 percent increase.

In return, Cantrelle wanted council members to agree to a $5,000 raise for Deputy Communications Director Caroline Eschette, a $3,000 raise for Plans and Permits Director Tony Breaux and a position switch for Eschette and then Communications Director Doug Cheramie, who resigned Thursday.

Bagala said he asked if Cantrelle was sure that's what he wanted him to do, and Cantrelle said yes. But after speaking with Sposito and then Autin, he told Cantrelle he was uncomfortable making the calls and would not make any more.

In his interview, which supports Bagala's statement, parish Public Works Director James Barnes said he went to Bagala's office and was invited in as the above conversations took place. He said Cantrelle used the term "bargaining chips" in making his request to Bagala and that Bagala asked at least twice if Cantrelle was sure that's what he wanted him to do.

According to a letter detailing District Attorney Cam Morvant's investigation into the matter, Cantrelle said he was in the room at the time but didn't tell Bagala to discuss raises when making the calls.

Morvant said he could find no criminal wrongdoing but decided to ask the state Board of Ethics to review malfeasance, bribery and extortion allegations against Cantrelle.

In prepared statements given out after the Morvant's decision was read at the Jan. 10 Parish Council meeting, Cantrelle said he and his administration "did not violate any criminal statutes and no criminal charges were filed."