Leslie Turk

Bus driver charged with off-duty OWI still behind the wheel

by Leslie Turk

[UPDATE: School system spokeswoman Angela Simoneaux confirmed Tuesday, Oct. 6,  that Mire took personal leave Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, after driving his bus that morning. He did not drive Monday or Tuesday.]

Even if tenured Lafayette Parish School bus driver Kenny Joseph Mire is convicted of OWI, the school board would not likely be able to fire him under current policy and state law. It’s understandable that parents whose children ride in Mire’s bus are outraged that he continued to drive their children after being arrested for drunken driving while off duty last week. And it’s totally unacceptable that no state or local policy for dealing with suspected off-duty OWI bus drivers is in place. Despite his Sept. 9 arrest, Mire was driving his route the following day and has continued to do so; he wasn’t even required to report the arrest to school officials.

Current school board policy stipulates that a bus driver convicted of second offense OWI while on duty shall be terminated, but there is no such policy for addressing alleged off-duty behavior. Mire was arrested on an OWI charge in 2004, two years after he was hired as a bus driver, according to The Daily Advertiser, but the charge was dismissed when the police officer failed to show up in court. It’s a shame that we don’t know more about those circumstances. The Advertiser also reported in its May 2007 investigation “Who’s at the Wheel?” that Mire was arrested in May 2002 for simple battery/domestic violence and pled no contest. He was arrested again that same month for simple burglary, again in March 2003 for simple criminal damage to property, and as recent as February 2006 for theft under $300, the paper reported.

State Rep. Rickey Hardy, a former member of the Lafayette Parish School Board, told the Advertiser Mire could be fired for violation of the school system’s morality clause, which reads: “Acts of nature which are deemed violations of law or deemed socially unacceptable and/or deemed morally intolerable as related to the proper conduct expected of individuals who work with the youth of the school system.”

A proposed policy change, which the school board is scheduled to take up Wednesday, would better address situations like this, requiring any employee who drives an LPSS owned vehicle to immediately report a drunk driving charge or arrest to human resources and the employee’s  supervisor before resuming operation of an LPSS vehicle. The requirement would apply regardless of what vehicle the employee was driving at the time of arrest and covers both on and off duty employees. A provision in the proposal requires that the employee be referred to a substance abuse professional for assessment of his or her fitness to return to driving a commercial vehicle under federal regulations. He would also have to be declared fit to return to duty by the school system’s director of transportation and the director of risk management. The proposed policy does not call for dismissal unless a driver refuses an alcohol (or drug) test. No dismissal even if convicted of off-duty OWI!

Without a policy in place, the school system’s hands, unfortunately, are tied for now in this matter. School Superintendent Burnell Lemoine is recommending a three-day suspension without pay, school system spokeswoman Angela Simoneaux tells The INDsider, and the school board will have to approve the recommendation Wednesday. “We can’t comment a lot on this because it’s a personnel matter,” Simoneaux says. “The public needs to know we do have to follow state tenure laws in handling teachers and bus drivers, and Mr. Mire is a tenured bus driver,” she continues. “We have talked to our attorneys about what we can do and what we can’t do.”