Mayor Cravins' illegitimate hires 'home watching soap operas'

by Patrick Flanagan

"These were typical campaign workers who were promised employment and he just put them anywhere he wanted."

When Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins took office six years ago, he kept what appears to have been one of his first campaign promises by appointing more than two dozen friends and political backers as "unclassified" city employees.

Photo by Robin May

Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins

As unclassified city employees, they weren't under the jurisdiction of the city's Civil Service Commission, answering only to the mayor or one of his appointed department heads. Most of Cravins' new employees were hired as "heads of a principle executive department," with many working in the city's Office of Tourism and Culture.

The purpose of a civil service commission, according to the state constitution, is to weed out political favors by elected officials, requiring public workers to prove their qualifications by taking a civil service examination.

Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with a December 2013 opinion from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal upholding the original district court's ruling that 17 of Cravins' 29 unclassified employees were improperly hired.

"The fact is, the mayor, when he came into office, he indiscriminately started hiring people for no reason other than they were political workers and cronies of his and that's what precipitated the original lawsuit," says Richard Hollier Jr., chairman of the Opelousas Civil Service Commission, which originally filed suit in 2011 against Cravins, the city's Board of Aldermen and the 29 unclassified employees.

When the case went before 27th Judicial District Judge James Doherty, the trial lasted two days, with many of Cravins' hires unable to give adequate descriptions of their actual job duties, says Hollier, who has served as a civil service commissioner for more than 20 years.

"Seriously, many of these people didn't know their job descriptions," maintains Hollier. "These were typical campaign workers who were promised employment, and he just put them anywhere he wanted."

While eight of Cravins' unclassified employees were determined to be legitimate hires, 17 of the original 29 included in the lawsuit have since been terminated after being deemed ineligible by the district court. The remainder, according to court documents, had stopped working for the city at the time of the suit's original filing in district court.

"There's no jobs for 'em anymore, but if they want to apply for a civil service job, they'll have to meet the application requirements like any other citizen," says Hollier. "But most of these folks weren't interested in working; they just wanted a check at the end of the month. I guess they're at home watching soap operas now."

The IND left a message Tuesday morning for Cravins; we'll let you know if we hear back from him.