Politics 07.02.2008

Perret resigns from ethics board and more ethics reform chaos abounds

LAFAYETTE’S PERRET RESIGNS FROM ETHICS BOARD In an unsurprising move, Lafayette attorney Hank Perret has resigned as chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The well-respected Perret, who was courted by the Jindal administration to be its chief council before Jindal hired Jimmy Faircloth, told The Advocate: “The board has been charged with enforcing the ethics code. That changes in August, so I think this is an ideal time to get those new members of the board who can support the new law as it goes forward.”

Perret did not return calls for comment, so we ran his statement through The Independent Weekly’s high-powered talking-points-and-prepared-statements translator, and here’s the result:

“The Jindal administration has so badly bungled its vaunted ethics reform that I want no part of it, and I’m not gonna waste countless hours of my time. Jindal and his cohorts have discouraged whistleblowers by not allowing anonymous ethics-violation complaints. They’ve neutered the ethics board by handing off oversight of ethics complaints to administrative law judges. And most important, they’ve made the inexplicable decision to change the existing standard of “reliable and substantial” evidence of ethics violations to “clear and convincing,” making it virtually impossible to prosecute and prove ethics wrongdoings. So I’m outta here, and I feel sorry for my successor, who’ll have the thankless task of presiding over nothing more than a glorified dog-and-pony show.”

Perret wasn’t alone. Eight additional ethics board members resigned last weekend in a mass exodus, leaving the board paralyzed until the positions can be filled. The presidents of Louisiana’s private colleges have 60 days to come up with nominees; from there, the Legislature and governor have another 60 days to ratify the choices. That means the board could be non-operational until October, unless the process is streamlined.

Adding to the mess is the exit of Ethics Administrator Richard Sherburne Jr., whose final day at work was Monday. As he prepared to leave the board and return to his private legal practice in Baton Rouge — and even while the board was powerless — the workload wasn’t slowing down.

“We’ve received another dozen or two dozen requests” for advisory opinions and official action from the board, Sherburne said Friday afternoon.

MORE ETHICS-RELATED CHAOS Last Friday, Lafayette Consolidated Government City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger sent out a memorandum outlining the new state ethics laws requirements for local board and commission members. Monday, June 1, was the deadline for any board member to resign before being required to comply with the new laws. Senate Bill 718, now Act No. 472, applies to all local boards and commissions that have “the authority to expend, disburse or invest ten thousand dollars or more of funds in a fiscal year.” Locally, Act 472 will apply to more than 30 committees. The new law requires members and their spouses to file information on their employer, business interests, range of income and information about potential conflicts of interest. At press time, LCG had received more than 15 resignations, which included members of the Emergency Medical Services board, the Cajundome Commission, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, the Lafayette Regional Airport Commission and the Lafayette Metropolitan Expressway Commission.

LEGISLATURE HONORS LOUISIANA’S MILITARY Communities around the state are looking for various ways to further honor Louisiana’s soldiers. The town of Franklin, for one, was fortunate enough to land $15,000 in the state’s operating budget for the next fiscal year to update its war monument. Every dollar of that earmark serves as a sober reminder that Louisiana has lost at least 111 soldiers to conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere since the 9/11 attacks.

Earlier this month, the Senate closed its doors to maintain a solemn decorum as 13 fallen servicemen were honored. Sen. Rob Marionneaux, a Democrat from Grosse Tete, has led the annual “Military Family Day” since 2005, reading from the floor individual resolutions that honor the lives and accomplishments of those lost. Army Sgt. Joseph A. Richard III, a UL public affairs student from Ville Platte, was among the names. At the age of 27, he died on April 14 in Baghdad after his unit’s vehicle was hit by a roadside explosive device. His story is told in detail in Senate Resolution 60 by Sen. Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat, and will remain a record of the Louisiana Legislature for future generations.

Lawmakers, however, didn’t confine themselves to condolence resolutions this session when it came to addressing war veterans. GOP Rep. Jane Smith of Bossier City pushed through House Concurrent Resolution 105, which possibly sets the Legislature up to adopt a bonus-pay program for veterans in 2009. It requests the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Affairs Commission study and make recommendations regarding an “Afghanistan, Iraq, Global War on Terror Bonus.”  The state of Louisiana has a long, honored tradition of establishing bonus payments to veterans for honorable service to the United States during wartime, dating back to World War II, and Smith wants to re-establish such a fund next year.

Contributors: Scott Jordan, Jeremy Alford and Nathan Stubbs