Cover Story


by Leslie Turk

It’s a moniker that commands respect. Why Joey Durel’s biggest hiring decision — to make a veteran broadcaster his second in command — may have been his smartest move yet.

It was December 2003. Dee Stanley was on his way home from his news director’s job at KLFY-TV10 when his cell phone rang. On the other end of the phone was Joey Durel, who had just been elected president of Lafayette Consolidated Government in November. Durel asked if Stanley would meet him Saturday morning for breakfast at a la carte, saying only he had something he wanted to discuss.

The new city-parish president was a month away from taking office; though a bit apprehensive about the nature of the meeting, Stanley agreed to it. “I had no clue whatsoever [what Durel wanted],” Stanley says, recalling that he told Durel an off-the-record conversation would be difficult. “I said, ‘Mayor, I’m a little uncomfortable being here. You don’t have a CAO appointed, you don’t have a city attorney appointed, other directors. It’s my job to do stories on stuff like that.”

Durel told him to do whatever story he had to do and proceeded to talk with him for more than two hours. The two did not know each other, having only met briefly a couple of times. They talked about various issues related to local government and more personal matters of family before the conversation started to sound like a job interview. Stanley was confounded. Standing outside of the restaurant as they were about to leave, Durel posed the question: “You ever thought about changing your life?”

“Is this a job offer?” Stanley wanted to know.

“Not yet,” Durel said, without even hinting that the longtime broadcaster was in the running to be his second-in-command, chief administrative officer.

So green in the political process was newcomer Durel that he desperately needed an experienced CAO to show him the ropes. Because of the gargantuan learning curve Durel faced, this paper even called on him to hire former CAO Glenn Weber, whom he’d just defeated in the election 52 percent to 48 percent to become only the second Republican to serve as mayor.

Durel was gathering feedback, and Councilman Bruce Conque didn’t favor Stanley. “Dee and I have had a long relationship, all of it career-related,” Conque says. “Prior to our serving in government, Dee and I worked last together at KLFY, he as news director and I as production manager. The very nature of the operations placed us at odds on many occasions and I, quite naturally, factored some of that contentiousness into my thought process,” Conque says.

Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret saw it very differently from Conque. He says Stanley knew local government inside and out and also knew the inner workings of the council. In addition to his two decades of experience at KLFY — 10 years as an investigative reporter — Stanley had served as city clerk (also commonly referred to as council clerk) from 1990 to 1994, two years each under former mayors Dud Lastrapes and Kenny Bowen. “A lot of people forget that he served as clerk,” Perret says. So while Weber may have known where the bodies were buried because of his lengthy tenure in local government, Stanley himself knew where a few were stashed as well. The big plus in Durel’s mind was that Stanley had been away from the political establishment for a decade.

“I told him you got to get somebody who understands the political process and how to get things accomplished. I knew Dee knew City Hall because he’d been there,” continues Perret, noting he was the first to recommend Stanley. “I was very, very concerned that Joey had zero political experience, and going into a position where you have 2,000 civil service employees — the bureaucracy can overwhelm you if you don’t have any experience.”

Though both spend countless hours on their Blackberries every day, Joey Durel is cracking down on his CAO’s Blackberry abuse. “I’ve gotten an e-mail from Joey on my Blackberry [during a meeting Durel is also attending] telling me I shouldn’t be looking at this,” Dee Stanley says.

Photo by Robin May

Five days after their Saturday meeting, Durel called Stanley back: “It’s time to talk.”

The two met at Don’s downtown, and Durel asked him take the CAO’s post. Durel never asked his party affiliation; Stanley’s a lifelong registered Democrat. Never asked if he supported him in the election.

“He said ‘I’m looking for someone who can get the job done,’” Stanley recalls and offered to give him the weekend to consider the offer.

“I said, ‘Mayor, you don’t have four days. I’ll get back to you in four hours.’”

Stanley returned to the TV station and talked to his wife, KLFY’s Blue Rolfes, and then met with his bosses Maria Placer and Mike Barras (both of whom knew the offer might come because Durel had asked for permission to meet with Stanley).

That afternoon Stanley accepted the job.

It’s Thursday morning, Feb. 5, and Dee Stanley’s secretary cracks open the door to let him know Joey Durel wants to see him. The stocky Stanley hops from seat. “No problem,” he says to her. “Be right back,” he says, making a quick exit.

Watching Stanley and Durel interact later that morning, it’s clear the two share a mutual respect and trust that goes beyond their professional relationship. They are friends.

“If there is a day [in the past five years] that Joey and I have not seen each other, talked to each other or communicated by e-mail, I can’t remember it,” Stanley says.

Stanley’s come to appreciate the common-sense approach of his boss. “‘Because government’s always done it that way’ doesn’t fly with Joey,” Stanley says. He also quickly embraced Durel’s “do the right thing, not the safe thing” and “there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing” philosophies — even though they are typically not the most politically astute approaches.

Durel’s a big-picture guy, a dreamer of sorts, Stanley says. He points to the ambitious fiber-to-the-home initiative, which Durel fought for relentlessly in his first term and is now on the verge of launching, as well as the embarrassing defeat of the tax measures in 2006 (1 cent sales tax for infrastructure and property tax increase for a new courthouse), a bold step for the Republican mayor in his first term. “Political naïveté?” Stanley says. “He doesn’t care. It’s hard to find that in a person.”

Without a doubt, Durel got this one right in believing that a new taxing mechanism is the most viable solution to our community’s infrastructure needs. “I truly thought [the sales tax] was going to pass in a landslide,” Durel says. He also says he wishes he’d done more, like raise private funds for a campaign effort that would have “told people how miserable their lives would be” without the improvements. “I have no regret going for a sales tax. I worked harder on it than fiber, but I don’t think I worked very smart,” he says.

In retrospect, Stanley, who was opposed to Durel pushing for the tax as a first term mayor, now maintains that the timing could not have been better. It will be much harder, if not impossible, to pass a tax measure in the current economic environment.

Stanley is the process guy, the enforcer. Not much gets by him, and Durel knows it. He’s also comfortable that Dee’s covering his operational backside and is there for him on the political strategy as well.

The CAO’s also been a smooth operator when working with the council. “I’ve learned people come into this with various motives. I don’t really understand all of the motives, but Dee understands the dynamics of the council and how to do the politicking,” Durel says.

Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux says Stanley keeps council members on their toes and is an effective liaison. “There may be some times where he cannot deliver either because it’s truly beyond his control, or he will make you believe it’s beyond his control. I refer to Dee as the spin master,” Boudreaux says. “He won’t hesitate to be critical of one of his directors. At least that’s what he portrays. That’s part of the spin master. Whether he’s sincere you’ll have to ask him that.”

Stanley winds down at the Cigar Merchant in the Oil Center with Wallace Granger (left), Glenn Ahava and Todd Trahan.

Photo by Robin May

Boudreaux says it’s unlikely a council member will ever pull the wool over Stanley’s eyes. “I depend heavily on my skills to deal with Dee. He has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge, and if you’re not prepared, there is a risk he may know something and may not share it with you. The who, what, when, why and how — he’s going to identify them. He’ll come over-prepared and almost make you feel like this thing you thought you needed so bad you really don’t need at all.”

“I can remember the occasion where I ate my words,” says Conque, who has since left local government for a job in marketing and governmental relations with the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. It was only a few months into the administration when Conque had a complete change of heart. “I told Joey at the Building Community Conference at Cypress Bend, and I told him in front of Dee, that I was mistaken. It was just an observation [at the conference] of how he and Joey put together a really outstanding team. Certainly Dee knows the politics. I saw Dee working with the council, effective at the political level as well as an administrative level.

“While Dee and I continued to butt heads while I served on the council,” continues Conque, “for the most part we were able to work together for what we considered the best interests of the community.”

Not all of Durel’s picks, however, have gone over so well. The black eye on Durel’s administration was his successful push to waive the requirement that Lafayette’s police chief have a bachelor’s degree in order to appoint his boyhood friend, Randy Hundley, to the post.

The appointment was made over Stanley’s strong objections. Because he served two years as city clerk under Bowen, Stanley had intimate knowledge of Hundley’s undistinguished career and reputation in the police department as former Mayor Kenny Bowen’s henchman. Stanley favored then-Maj. Jim Craft, who eventually got the job.

Durel did not heed the warning, and he paid dearly for it. Hundley was eventually accused of setting an illegal bugging device in his secretary’s office, and shortly after the accusations surfaced, the havoc Hundley had been wreaking on the department also came to light (“The Rise and Fall of Randy Hundley,” The Independent Weekly, June 28, 2006). Hundley pleaded guilty to one count of attempted malfeasance and was placed on probation.

“If you’re looking for an ‘I told you so,’ that’s not my relationship with Joey,” Stanley says.

It’s by far Durel’s most regrettable blunder, but there have been a few other missteps along the way. Some have been downright funny. When it comes to their public personas, Stanley knows what to say in public, and more important, what not to say. His boss is not nearly as savvy.

“He makes you cringe sometimes,” says Public Works Director Tom Carroll, a reference to Durel’s propensity for saying what’s on his mind. In one of Durel’s first radio programs after taking office — for the past five years he’s hosted a weekly call-in radio show on KPEL called Lafayette Live with Joey Durel — a female caller complained about the sound wall that had just been erected on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, saying she did not like it and was especially put off by its gray color. “Will it always be that color?” she asked Durel. “No, ma’am,” he responded. Listening in, Stanley says he “almost ran off the road,” hoping the mayor would not promise to paint it. “It’s going to get dirty,” Durel told the caller.

Though he was taken aback by his boss’ candid remark, Stanley has come to expect — and appreciate — the brutal honesty. When Stanley got a phone call from a listener of the program a couple of years ago who commented that his boss was not very politically correct, the CAO started to explain, but the woman cut him off. “Thank goodness,” she said. “It’s refreshing.”

“I wasn’t hired to spin Joey, to take the edges off, to make him politically correct,” Stanley says. “Maybe I try to temper him around the edges a bit, but he made it clear early on. He said, ‘I am who I am.’ He’s not going to let you can him and wrap him up in a tidy little bow. And that’s what makes him a great, honest, sincere person.”

“He had not made the decision, and [then-Councilman] Dale Bourgeois and I both said ‘no’ to Dee,” Conque recalls. The CAO is critical to the success of the administration. He is the direct supervisor of all departmental directors, ensures the administration’s position is followed, works closely with the finance department to make sure the budget is balanced and helps foster effective communication with the council. It’s the second hardest job in city-parish government, and Conque had a strong preference for one of Durel’s other candidates, though he declined to identify the contender. (Durel says the only candidate that made it to serious consideration was Cajundome Director Greg Davis, who later removed his name from contention.)

Stanley’s office is filled with sports paraphernalia and mementosfrom his days in TV journalism, like this image with CBS’ Mike Wallace.

Photo by Wilbert Rideau

Dee Stanley’s office is a snapshot of his life and interests: numerous family photos, LSU, UL and other sports paraphernalia, an image of him with 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace at Angola when both were doing stories on the execution of Dalton Prejean, a framed note from former Gov. Edwin Edwards congratulating him on his engagement to Rolfes (“you lucky SOB,” Edwards wrote, before telling him the marriage would never last because Blue’s way too good looking and smart for him). There are also about a dozen cigar boxes.

On this morning in February he’s on the phone with state Rep. Fred Mills, president of Breaux Bridge’s Farmers-Merchants Bank & Trust, which has just expanded to Lafayette. He hangs up, calls Rebekke Raines of LCG’s planning department, and jumps back on the phone with Mills. Mills’ bank helped finance the Miramar development in an unincorporated area near Milton, where the developer neglected to construct a water and sewer plant, leaving the couple who purchased the first home without running water. Stanley tells Mills the builder of the two new homes in the subdivision can get a temporary certificate of occupancy to finish the homes but not a permanent one until the water and sewer system are in place.

Mills is satisfied. “I think between government and business we’re going to make this thing happen,” Mills tells The Independent Weekly.

Dee Stanley knows how to make things happen, his mind incessantly processing, analyzing situations. Phone calls, e-mails and meetings are constant; he visits regularly with all of the directors he oversees, some on a daily basis. “He pretty much lets his directors run their departments,” Conque says. “He doesn’t micromanage, but he gives direction.”

The meetings can get heated at times, but they are always civil. “[Dee] is really good at cutting through the fog to get to the point,” says Lafayette Utilities Director Terry Huval, one of the first directors Durel retained who also answers directly to the mayor. Huval ought to know. In the first meeting of LUS employees under the Durel administration, Huval was ribbing the new CAO, and Stanley wasn’t about to pass on the opportunity to get his own jab in. “Terry was hitting me a pretty good lick,” Stanley recalls. “I told him, ‘I may not have voted for Joey, but at least I wasn’t in an ad campaign for his opponent.’” The employees exploded in laughter, but it was Durel who laughed the hardest.

It set the tone for a great working relationship.

“We laugh a lot about some of our discussions,” Huval says, “because they can get a little heated. But the best part of it all is that we always come out of it with a good decision, and we always come out together.”

The respect Stanley commands is largely attributable to the knowledge he gleaned from his years as a reporter and news director, experience that made him exceptionally well-rounded. “Dee knows a lot of people in this community, and he understands government and human behavior,” Huval says.

“The guy just knows so damn much,” Conque says. “He’s got an awesome memory. He can go back to news he covered 20 years ago, and he’s got a great mind for numbers.”

Durel says Stanley’s only known Achilles heels are his Blackberry and inability to make meetings on time, as he’s quite the talker. Durel recently came down hard on him to practice better phone etiquette — like not e-mailing or texting during meetings — and for the life of him, the mayor can’t understand how someone who spent two decades hitting TV deadlines can’t make a meeting on time.

“As efficient as Blackberries have made us, they have made us incredibly rude,” Stanley acknowledges. “I’ve gotten an e-mail from Joey on my Blackberry [during a meeting Durel is also attending] telling me I shouldn’t be looking at this.” Stanley’s rule is that every call is returned the same day, every e-mail answered promptly.

“I hate to use the cliché of a dedicated public servant, but he really is always working,” says Trey Hill, director of public affairs for Atmos Energy and a close friend of Stanley’s. “Even at an [LSU] football game, I’ve pulled the binoculars out and I’ve seen him with his Blackberry.”

Stanley has always immersed himself in his work — a trait he inherited from his father, also a broadcaster in radio and TV in New Orleans. “He didn’t miss a day of work in 30 years,” Stanley says of his father, Bill, who died while on vacation with the family in 2001. “I grew up in a newsroom.”

Stanley, who turns 50 this December, earned a degree in journalism from LSU in 1981, the same year he joined KLFY as an investigative reporter. Despite that his first boss, Jim Baronet, told him he had a face for radio, Stanley made a name for himself in local TV, quickly earning a reputation as a respected journalist with a penchant for big stories. At 24 he broke the story of Gilbert Gauthe, the former Catholic priest who molested hundreds of young parishioners in Acadiana. “It was a horrible burden for a young reporter,” he says. Stanley also loved politics, covering two of Edwin Edwards’ trials. He wanted to understand the story from every perspective, a devotion that eventually led him to witness an execution. “I felt like if I was going to cover [capital cases], I should see one,” he says.

Stanley, who had left the station for the city clerk’s position, returned to KLFY after two years in the controversial Bowen administration — working as news director and anchoring until Durel came calling. “There were some real stressful times under Kenny,” he says. “He was 24-7, 365. He would call at 3 o’clock in the morning Christmas Day. To say he was engaged is an understatement.”

“Dee really doesn’t have much time for a social life,” Hill says. Stanley’s time away from the office is spent with his family — his friends say he’s an excellent cook with a smoked corn grits recipe that puts Zea’s version to shame — and at the Cigar Merchant. “He does enjoy cigars as a form of relaxation,” says real estate developer Todd Trahan, who regularly joins Stanley at the Oil Center cigar shop Trahan’s family once owned. “He’s always upbeat,” Trahan says. “He likes to needle people, his friends.”

Durel sailed back into office in 2007 without opposition. And while some may disagree with the administration’s priorities, few doubt its sincerity. The days of an administration more concerned about taking care of its friends than moving the community forward have been swept out by Durel’s team.

The directors do their jobs, and their staffs are quick to resolve issues. In particular, it’s difficult to find anyone who’s had a bad experience with — or negative comment about — Dee Stanley. The man doesn’t seem to have a single skeleton in his closet. “Dee has been a master of keeping his nose clean,” says Angela Simoneaux, a former longtime Advocate reporter. “And it’s not even like a Teflon issue, where nothing sticks.”

Watching Stanley and Durel grow together has been sweet satisfaction for believers like Perret. The clerk of court, however, says he’s continually frustrated by the sentiment that honest people don’t enter politics or can’t maintain their integrity if they do. “I think Joey is a classic example of someone who’s grown in the position politically and become very astute in the machinations of getting government moving, and a lot of that is attributable to Dee’s help.”

With Stanley’s guidance, Durel immediately pushed for open and accessible government, creating an environment that is more responsive to local media and to the community at large than ever before. Durel credits Stanley for his crash course in public records, saying one of his first duties as CAO was to explain the need for transparency. “There was no learning curve [for me],” Durel says. “Now there’s got to be a certain amount of balance [on matters of personnel, property negotiations], but he obviously has a perspective that somebody outside of media might not have had. From my private business days I might have said, ‘That’s none of your business.’”

Spend any time around Durel and Stanley and your first observation will be how much they enjoy what they’re doing. “I don’t think we take ourselves seriously as much as we take the job seriously,” Durel says. “We laugh together as much as anything.”

Entering the second year of his second term, Durel is already planning to seek a third.

There’s been much speculation that if Durel had decided against running for a final term, Stanley would have been a contender. Durel jokes that his CAO, the higher paid of the two making $112,000 (plus a $6,000 vehicle subsidy) may not want to give up his salary. “I’ve heard him talk about running, but more recently I heard him tell someone he likes his position more than the position I’m in,” Durel says.

“Is interest there? Absolutely,” Stanley says. “But campaigns are tough; raising money is tough. I would rather work for somebody like Joey.”

Besides, he points out, seven years is a long time.

In politics, it’s an eternity.