Tehmi Chassion is still after that master key to Northside High.
Can we all just agree here that Tehmi Chassion hasn't learned his lesson?
The District 4 school board member is back to his behind-the-scenes antics and never-ending pursuit for control over his alma mater Northside High.
Chassion’s power thirst is what ultimately led to the resignation earlier this year of Northside’s last principal, Melinda Voorhies. And even though a new principal now runs the show there, sources tell The Indepdendent Chassion’s back to his old tricks, essentially over the same issue that brought him and Voorhies — not to mention former Superintendent Pat Cooper who backed Voorhies during his tenure on the job — to first butt heads in early 2012.
At issue is a master key copy to Northside High, and essentially, access to the school’s indoor basketball courts. At one time, prior to Cooper’s arrival as superintendent of the LPSS in 2012, Chassion did receive a copy of Northside’s grand master key.
For [Northside Principal Melinda] Voorhies, one of the biggest hurdles she faced came from Chassion, initially over his possession of a grand master key, which granted him all-hours access to Northside and its facilities.
“Fairly soon after arriving, I became aware that Mr. Chassion had keys to the [Northside] gyms and also a grand master key, a key that can get into all of our buildings,” Cooper tells IND Monthly in a recent phone interview. “He told us they were going in and practicing for his daughter’s basketball team.”
The problem, says Cooper: “No one knew when and how the gyms were being used. As a whole, it appeared by virtue of his being a school board member, Tehmi Chassion was getting some things of value or favor that the ordinary citizen could not obtain.”
According to documents received by IND Monthly, Chassion obtained his master key — based on orders from former Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Lilly — from the district locksmith on March 30, 2011, granting him access to all school district facilities.
“This came to a head because Ms. Voorhies said, No more,’ and told Tehmi he couldn’t be using Northside’s gyms anymore,” says Cooper. “She wanted it stopped because of the liability and potential of theft and misuse and injury. There were even reports of copies of the keys being distributed to various people. Reportedly in some cases there were damages, trash left to be picked up, dressing room property broken into, items stolen, but no one seemed to know how it was all happening.”
Cooper says on one occasion Chassion even went so far as to make himself at home inside Voorhies’ office and was found using the principal’s telephone. Enough was enough for Voorhies, and from March 15-21, at her request, the entire school, including her office, was re-keyed at a cost of $6,000 to the school system. On March 21, Chassion was called to the school for a meeting with Cooper, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau, Northside coach James Simmons, board president Shelton Cobb, and Kyle Bordelon, LPSS director of planning and facilities.
According to a document from that meeting, in which the board member was required to turn over his grand master key, LPSS locksmith Ricky Andrus states: “I ... am verifying that I was directed by my immediate supervisor, Mr. Tracy Patin as per the request of Mr. Lawrence Lilly, Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Operations to make a grand master key for Mr. Tehmi Chassion. I gave Mr. Patin the grand master key who in turn gave the key to Mr. Lilly.”
The application Chassion submitted shows the master key would be used for year-round, anytime access to all the gymnasiums in the school system for both youth and adult league basketball, including AAU and Lafayette City Parish Recreation Basketball teams. Such access typically comes with fees, proof of a $1 million minimum liability insurance policy, and signatures of the principals whose gyms would be used.
Chassion was granted the key, despite his failure to obtain liability insurance, or obtain signatures from principals, and instead stated on the fee checklist portion of the application: “NO FEE — Intergovernmental Agreement.”
Yet, according to an email from LPSS Planning and Facilities Director Kyle Bordelon, sent to Cooper on June 28, AAU basketball teams “are not a part of, or covered by, LCG Parks & Recreation,” meaning the intergovernmental agreement cited by Chassion never existed.
And Chassion’s at it again, according to sources with direct knowledge of recent events who spoke on the condition of anonymity. According to our sources, Voorhies’ successor at Northside, Julia Williams, is facing the same issues with the District 4 LPSB member as her predecessor. With Cooper and Voorhies out of the picture, Chassion, our sources say, is once again making a move to reassert his authority over Northside, starting with the school’s grand master key.
Williams, according to our sources, was approached by Chassion last week demanding a copy of the key. She refused and immediately contacted her direct supervisor at the school system, Joe Craig, who advised her to stick to her guns, that giving out a master key to a school board member would not only be an issue of ethics, but also a legal liability to the school system.
According to the state ethics laws, an elected school board member cannot receive anything of value that an ordinary citizen wouldn’t be given; i.e., an all-access key to a school system facility.
There's also Louisiana R.S. 42:1116 - Abuse of Office, which reads:
No public servant shall use the authority of his office or position, directly or indirectly, in a manner intended to compel or coerce any person or other public servant to provide himself, any other public servant, or other person with any thing of economic value. This Subsection shall not be construed to limit that authority authorized by law, statute, ordinance, or legislative rule in carrying out official duties.
And then there's the criminal statute, Louisiana R.S. 14:134.3 - Abuse of Office:
A. No public officer or public employee shall knowingly and intentionally use the authority of his office or position, directly or indirectly, to compel or coerce any person to provide the public officer, public employee or any other person with anything of apparent present or prospective value when the public officer or employee is not entitled by the nature of his office to the services sought or the object of his demand.
B.(1) Whoever violates the provisions of this Section shall be fined up to five thousand dollars, or be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not less than one year nor more than five years.
(2) In addition to the penalty provided for in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection, a person convicted of the provisions of this Section may be ordered to pay restitution to the state if the state suffered a loss as a result of the offense. Restitution shall include the payment of legal interest at the rate provided in R.S. 13:4202.
C. The provisions of this Section shall not apply to benefits or services rendered to a person who is entitled to such benefits or services from the state or any political subdivision of the state or any governmental entity when the public officer or public employee is performing his duties as authorized by law. Nothing in this Section shall prohibit or limit the ability of a public officer or public employee from performing his duties as authorized by law or as a condition of his employment or office.
And our story doesn’t end here. According to our sources, Williams received a call Monday morning from the school system’s newly hired Superintendent Don Aguillard, who advised the Northside principal that this wasn’t a fight she wanted to get into and that it would be best to fork over the key to the board member.
“I did advise her,” Aguillard tells The Independent in a phone call Monday morning.
Aguillard points to LPSB’s “Use of Facilities” policy for determining who gets keys to school system facilities.
The policy reads:
The Principal shall determine if keys to school facilities, excluding School Food Service areas, will be issued to individuals for their use. If keys are issued to a lessee, the Principal will be held responsible for any damages that occur during the event. Principals must document to whom keys are issued. Principals must verify the key(s) issued to a lessee are still in the possession of that individual on a semester (fall, spring, summer) basis. When key(s) are returned, they must be returned to the Principal or his/her designee. Principals have the right to collect issued key(s) at anytime and for any reason.
“The principal is responsible for determining how to issue keys,” explains Aguillard. “So ultimately it’s the principal’s decision who to give out keys to.”
Aguillard adds that he’s aware of our previous coverage on this issue, and stresses that if Chassion were to be given a key, he’d be expected to follow all the rules this time around, like taking out the necessary liability insurance coverage for using the school facility, which wasn’t the case last time around.
“He definitely shouldn’t be in there unless he has proof of liability coverage,” says Aguillard. “We don’t generally want people using our buildings and gyms unless they have liability insurance. So Mr. Chassion needs to provide proof of liability so Julia [Williams] can keep that on file. We just can’t have people playing or exercising or conducting activities in our facilities without some proof of liability coverage.”
Aguillard tells us it's the principal's decision, and whatever decision she makes, whether to stand her ground or to give in to Chassion’s demands for another key, he’ll back her 100 percent.
“Ultimately, it’s up to her,” he adds.
Williams did not return a phone call placed to her at the school Monday morning.
We do hope that's the case because Northside's already lost one good principal this year and can't afford to lose another, especially because of the personally driven desires of a board member whose actions over the last few years have mostly revealed a board member focused on his own desires for power.
Northside deserves to be freed from the political clutches of Tehmi Chassion. The only way this can happen — aside from his constituents finally saying enough is enough and electing someone who truly cares about the educational futures of the district's kids when the next election rolls around in five long years — is for Aguillard to put his money where his mouth is and give Northside's principal all the backing she'll need in what has boiled down into a fight over control of the school system's historically most neglected high school.
Shouldn't Northside's new principal be free to focus on what's best for her students, undistracted by Chassion's antics?