Impeach Will Langlinais

It's been nearly two weeks since a state audit of financial transactions by Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais has been released to the public. Langlinais has served Iberia Parish since 1977 as a police juror and councilman for District 5, and was elected parish president in 1993.

The audit shows that it's time for Langlinais' reign to come to an end.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot's report found that Langlinais directed public funds to improve private property; was inappropriately reimbursed for meals already paid for with parish and state monies; entered into contracts in violation of the parish charter; used public funds for charitable donations and to pay for employee meals and social events; and pressured parish employees to solicit donations and work on his campaign fund-raising golf tournament during parish work hours.

That's quite a list.

It's not the first time Langlinais has abused the power of his office. This audit was sparked by previous charter violations and questionable financial dealings between Langlinais and a number of parish contractors.

The parish council requested the state audit after discovering an oral contract for legal services between Langlinais and attorney Shane Romero, made without the knowledge of the council and in violation of the parish charter. This revelation came as the council was investigating another illegal contract between Langlinais and Mosquito Control Contractors Inc. President Glenn Stokes.

The contract for mosquito spraying and source reduction between Iberia Parish government and MCCI began in 1982 and lasted until 2004 ' the longest continual contractual arrangement in the parish's history. In 22 years, it only went out for bid once. In 2002, as the parish council was beginning discussions prior to the 2003 renewal of the MCCI contract, allegations of inconsistencies between work billed and performed by MCCI prompted the council to hire an auditor and monitor for the contract. The parish renewed the contract but built in a clause that if improprieties were found, they had the right to cancel the agreement. A subsequent audit and reports from the monitor confirmed billing problems, and the council canceled the contract with MCCI in September 2004.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney filed suit against MCCI. The case was settled in August 2005, before it went to court. But within the discovery period of the investigation, a one-page contract signed by Langlinais and Stokes surfaced. The contract, signed in 2000 without council knowledge, gave Stokes a potential 10-year extension that would have guaranteed an annual $1 million contract through 2008 and possibly until 2013. Neither Langlinais nor Stokes could explain why the contract was executed three years before a renewal was due.

In a March 4, 2005, letter to the parish council, Assistant District Attorney Wayne Landry pinpointed the guidelines for the parish president on expenditures of government funds. He cited section 5-06(A) of the parish charter as "the section which limits the power and authority of the Parish President from entering into contracts for which funding has not been approved by appropriate resolution of the council." Landry stated that he did not believe the parish charter gave Langlinais the authority to extend contracts without parish council approval or that the contract was even a legal document.

Upon discovery of what was dubbed "the phantom contract," parish council members passed a resolution requesting that Langlinais provide a list of all Iberia Parish Government contracts. Langlinais provided a list of 14 contracts ' several of which were only oral and unknown to the council ' in autumn 2005.

One contract Langlinais failed to include on the list was another oral contract ' this one a $750 monthly retainer for legal services with Shane Romero that dated back to October 2001. According to Romero's statement to the auditors, Langlinais contacted him and offered to put him on retainer for issues of right-of-way, servitude, on-the-job injuries, employee misconduct and threatened litigation.

That was already Phil Haney's job. According to the Parish Home Rule Charter, the district attorney serves as the legal adviser to the council, parish president and all parish departments, offices and agencies.

In April 2006, Haney issued a written opinion concerning the retainer contract and stated that there was no written agreement or council approval of the contract. The opinion also stated that "the contract was awarded contrary to and in violation of the Parish Home Rule Charter." Section 5-06(A) of the charter states, "authorization of payment or incurring of obligation in violation of the provisions of this charter shall be void and payment also made illegal; such actions shall be cause for removal of any official, officer or such obligation or who caused such payment to be authorized."

Langlinais' explanation of the Romero contract is cited in the audit:

"Mr. Langlinais stated that he placed Mr. Romero on retainer contract for threatened litigation and consulting. He also stated that he inadvertently left out Mr. Romero's retainer on the contract list requested by the council. He stated that the council approves the budget, and it should have questioned the legal fee line item under the professional fee category in the general fund budget."

The audit continued:

"Mr. Haney stated that when questioned about the contractual arrangement with Mr. Romero, Mr. Langlinais told the council he did not know it was against the Parish Home Rule Charter. Mr. Langlinais stated that he terminated the retainer contract as soon as the district attorney informed him the contract was in violation of the Home Rule Charter. He believes the retainer was a good savings to the Parish and he did it in good faith."

This was the second discovery in consecutive years where Parish President Langlinais committed public funds to private contractors without public knowledge or counsel ratification. Once the contracts were uncovered, Langlinais apologized for forgetting about them and said he also didn't realize they were illegal. Langlinais also said the council should have caught the line item buried in the budget.

That prompted four Iberia Parish councilmen to launch the state audit. It took Theriot 10 months to complete his findings, and the results clearly show a disturbing pattern of Langlinais' ethics violations. The parish council has now directed Haney to "seek monetary recovery from the responsible party for unauthorized expenditure of parish funds and to investigate possible abuses of the resources of the Parish President's office for private political purposes and possible ethics violations." Haney is subpoenaing the legislative auditor's office for all records of interviews and information gathered during the audit. After all files are reviewed, Haney has the authority to convene a grand jury to see if there are criminal charges to be brought against Langlinais.

Langlinais shrugs off the audit's findings, claiming the whole thing is a political move by councilman Bernard Broussard, who's rumored to be eyeing Langlinais' seat in the October election. Maybe that's partially true. State auditor Theriot, however, has no political ax to grind and simply fulfilled his obligation to "determine the propriety of certain financial transactions" involving Langlinais.

Let's review, one more time, what Theriot's audit found:

Langlinais directed public funds to improve private property.

Langlinais was inappropriately reimbursed for meals already paid for with parish and state monies.

Langlinais entered into contracts in violation of the parish charter.

Langlinais used public funds for charitable donations and to pay for employee meals and social events.

Langlinais pressured parish employees to solicit donations and work on his campaign fund-raising golf tournament during parish work hours.

With our post-hurricane political environment demanding governmental and ethics reform more than ever, Langlinais' actions are an embarrassment not just to Iberia Parish, but to the whole state of Louisiana. We urge the Iberia Parish Council to commence impeachment proceedings against Will Langlinais for violating the Iberia Parish charter.