A Qualifying Question

by Leslie Turk

Two years after a qualifying change led to the appointment of disgraced police chief Randy Hundley, new qualification questions muddy the search for his replacement.

The Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service board's interpretation of the qualifications for Lafayette Police Chief candidates may have two unqualified men sitting for the civil service exam this Wednesday, Dec. 13.

At its Nov. 14 meeting, the civil service board decided that five candidates ' interim Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft, Lafayette PD Maj. George "Jackie" Alfred, former Lafayette Maj. Les Jones, Toby Jean Aguillard of the state Attorney General's office and former UL Police Chief Joey Sturm ' met the requirements to take the exam.

The requirements state that the applicant must have attained at least a bachelor's degree or, in lieu of a bachelor's degree, he or she must have been employed with the Lafayette Police Department as a commissioned officer prior to Oct. 18, 1979, and still be employed with the department, with no disruption of employment. (The latter requirement was added to pave the way for embattled former chief Randy Hundley's appointment.) And while all of the candidates meet that requirement ' only Alfred gets to sit for the test based on the "Hundley" rule ' the second qualification appears to be the sticking point. The qualifications read: "Must have ten (10) years of law enforcement work with a law enforcement agency or police department that is similar or larger than the Lafayette Police Department."

Board chairman Jason Boudreaux, a captain with the Lafayette Fire Department, says the board interpreted this to mean a candidate needs 10 years with a law enforcement agency of any size. He also says the candidate would not need 10 years of police department work if that department is equal or larger than Lafayette's. "I'm not denying that we took a liberal approach," Boudreaux says. He maintains the board did not favor a particular candidate nor did it get any pressure whatsoever from City-Parish President Joey Durel's administration to qualify a candidate. "We have nothing to do with the selection process," he says.

In a Dec. 6 letter to the civil service board, Lt. Dwayne Arceneaux of the Lafayette Police Department urged the board to re-evaluate the qualifications of the candidates at its Dec. 12 meeting but did not mention anyone by name. Arceneaux, who did not attend the November meeting, tells The Independent Weekly he sent the letter after fellow officers brought the issue of Sturm's and Aguillard's qualifications to his attention.

Arceneaux says that the requirement appears to indicate that candidates need a decade of experience with either a law enforcement agency or police department, both of which must be equal to or larger than Lafayette's. Had that been the interpretation, Sturm, who has worked for the Iberia Parish Sheriff's department for almost three years, would need his UL experience to get to that threshold ' and the university department is nowhere near the size of the Lafayette Police Department.

Likewise, Arceneaux says in order to have a decade of such experience, Aguillard, who has a law degree, has to count his tenure as a part-time reserve deputy sheriff. However, the qualification does not require full-time employment, an apparent oversight.

Boudreaux questions the 11th-hour objections. "What will we do, a day before the test tell this guy he's disqualified because somebody did not like our interpretation?" Boudreaux says the Nov. 14 agenda was posted for almost a month, and any resident who wanted to question the qualifications could have done so at that meeting. "[It was] an open forum," he says.

Sturm defends his work experience. "I think I exceed the qualifications," says Sturm, who is best known for his handling of the 1999 murder of UL student Jill Tompkins while he was chief at the university. Sturm says he will answer any questions the selection committee has but won't discuss his work experience with the media. "This is not an election. I'm interviewing for an appointed position," he says.

For his part, Durel says when he heard Sturm would sit for the test, he also questioned how his background at UL would qualify him. "That was the first thing that went through my mind," Durel says. The city-parish president says he has never talked to Sturm about the job, which pays $87,500. Sturm, however, did speak with Durel's chief administrative officer Dee Stanley, about the position in September. "He called me and I met with him as a courtesy," says Stanley. "He did raise the issue of the qualifications, specifically the 10-year law enforcement requirement, and I informed him of the process. I told him the board would meet to determine who is qualified to take the exam and the state examiner takes it from there."

Both Boudreaux and the board's attorney, Candice Hattan, say the qualifications should be rewritten for clarity. "I probably would not have interpreted it the way the board did," Hattan says.