Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle's decision to ban employees from speaking with the council's auditor could open the parish up to lawsuits, the district attorney has determined.
A parish compliance officer last Wednesday sent a letter to District Attorney Cam Morvant II saying she took sick leave because of "emotional distress" after a meeting with her supervisor, Public Works Director James Barnes. She said Barnes told her that Cantrelle had ordered her not to talk to Reggie Bagala or she would be fired.
The employee said Barnes told her Cantrelle had not authorized him to put that directive in writing. She told Morvant that she had the responsibility to communicate with Bagala as part of her position.
"I do believe that my civil rights and ability to do my job in a professional manner are being compromised," she wrote.
In an opinion issued to Cantrelle, the Parish Council and Council Clerk Carleen Babin, Morvant said he'd also received a phone call from another employee regarding the same issue.
"It is my understanding based upon conversations with these employees that they, along with all of the parish employees in the Mathews Government Complex, were given the same directive described in the letter and threatened with termination if they failed or refused to comply," Morvant wrote.
Bagala was previously director of community services and parish administrator.
According to interviews Morvant conducted with parish officials, Cantrelle told Bagala in November to call council members and say Cantrelle would propose certain health insurance provisions if they would support raises for two employees and a change in two employee assignments.
Bagala called two council members but said it made him uncomfortable and refused to call any others.
Cantrelle fired Bagala on Jan. 31, but the Parish Council hired him as legislative internal auditor in a Feb. 2 special meeting.
Morvant also said the administration has tried to limit legislative branch employees' access to parish buildings and equipment. He warned that employees who feel threatened might take legal action.
"As was stated in earlier opinions, the parish president, as chief executive officer, is responsible for providing reasonable work space for all parish employees," he wrote. "Previous administrations understood this basic concept and as a result, work areas were constructed and/or designated in Thibodaux, Mathews and Galliano specifically for the Legislative Branch to meet with constituents and/or house the employees that the (Home Rule) Charter provides they can hire. It's bewildering as to why the occupation of a legislative office space by a legislative employee has devolved into such a spectacle, but here we are. It is troubling to witness the divisiveness that has manifested and grown within our parish government."
Cantrelle could not be reached for comment. Barnes declined to comment, and Bagala did not respond to a Facebook message.
-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.
Posted on Mon, February 27, 2017
by By Bridget Mire, Daily Comet Staff Writer