Appeals court rules against former SMILE board president

by Walter Pierce

The 3rd Circuit ruling against Kendall Wiltz merely scratches the surface of long-running squabbles and dysfunction within the nonprofit.

The former president of the board for the St. Martin-Iberia-Lafayette Community Action Agency, better known by its acronym, SMILE, will have to pay court costs and attorney fees to the man who replaced him on the board following the former’s lawsuit challenging the board’s refusal to seat him, according to an opinion released Wednesday by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.

According to the opinion, John A. Billiot Jr. was appointed to the board in March of last year by Lafayette Mayor Joel Robideaux to serve as Robideaux’s representative on the board per SMILE’s bylaws. However, when Billiot presented the letter from Robideaux memorializing the appointment, then-SMILE CEO Royal Hill refused to seat Billiot “because that board membership was currently being held by Kendall Wiltz, the current President of the SMILE Board,” the opinion reads. Wiltz had been appointed to the board by Robideaux’s predecessor, Joey Durel, and his term on the board was supposed to end on Jan. 4, 2016 — the day Robideaux was sworn in as mayor of Lafayette.

This is where it gets fishy: 10 days after Hill’s refusal to seat Billiot, the SMILE board held a meeting, but Billiot’s appointment wasn’t addressed. “According to Wiltz, it was not addressed because it was not placed on the agenda by Hill, and Wiltz failed to obtain unanimous consent to amend the agenda to include Billiot’s appointment,” the opinion states. “Wiltz was still acting as President of the SMILE Board despite his term ending the preceding January.”

John A. Billiot Jr.

In April of 2016, Billiot filed a petition for writ of quo warranto against Wiltz in his role as SMILE board president. (A writ of quo warranto is a legal term that means a writ requiring the person to whom it is directed to demonstrate what authority they have for exercising a right or power.)

District Judge Kristian Earles sided with Billiot, awarding him attorney’s fees and costs — at Wiltz’s expense — and orderied Billiot be seated on the SMILE board. Wiltz appealed, citing four errors by the trial court, each of which were shot down by the three-judge 3rd Circuit panel.

Since then, SMILE, which among other things administers local Head Start programs, has been embroiled in controversy including other lawsuits and questions by District Attorney Keith Stutes whether the board has followed state law in its conduct.

The Advertiser’s Claire Taylor has done some fine reporting over the last several months on problems within the nonprofit including a questionable junket to a conference in the Caribbean, in-fighting among agency staff and board members, and the questionable hire of a polarizing figure as its chief executive. Get started catching up here.