News Briefs

Thibodeaux sentenced, Blanco's dream team and more


Four years after a contentious city council election in St. Martinville that ended with the winner, Pam Thibodeaux, pleading guilty to voter fraud, a federal court has sentenced the councilwoman to three years probation, eight months of home confinement with electronic monitoring, a $2,000 fine and $1,500 restitution for the cost of the hearing.

Thibodeaux, who is white, defeated opponent Mary Francois, who is black, by 13 votes for a St. Martinville council seat in April 2002. Francois challenged the outcome of the election, contending that people who lived outside the district, in collusion with Thibodeaux, had filed voter registration cards with false addresses in order to be able to vote for Thibodeaux. In May 2002, a judge ruled that 12 voters were registered illegally, one vote short of overturning the election. The allegations of voter fraud were raised at a particularly sensitive time for St. Martinville, which had not had a city council election between 1990 and 2002, because of a redistricting battle with the voting rights division of the U.S. Justice Department over the racial makeup of District 3, the seat won by Thibodeaux.

Although Francois lost her state challenge, she filed a federal suit that resulted in an FBI civil rights investigation. Thibodeaux and co-conspirators pled guilty in April 2005 of altering voter cards. Thibodeaux resigned, and St. Martinville musician and artist Dennis Paul Williams was appointed by Mayor Eric Martin to serve out Thibodeaux's term.

Thibodeaux will also lose her license to sell insurance and the right to vote in future elections. Her husband has also resigned his position as an electrical foreman for the city of St. Martinville. ' Mary Tutwiler


Gov. Kathleen Blanco has hired what she dubbed a "dream team" of nationally acclaimed planners ' Peter Calthorpe, Andrés Duany, and Ray Gindroz, all proponents of "New Urbanism" ' to design the recovery. Working under the auspices of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which will finance the effort privately, planning recently began at 31 "open houses" inside and outside the state, where input from Louisiana residents and evacuees was the first step toward rebuilding communities. ' MT


After a successful campaign with the Mississippi Legislature, the American Heart Association has set its sights on the Bayou State. "We are exploring the possibility of a tobacco tax increase campaign in Louisiana," says Terri R. Broussard, the group's local advocacy director. She was mum, however, on who the AHA has been meeting with in Louisiana, as well as what form the proposal might take.

The tax recently passed by lawmakers in Mississippi was a swap ' a tobacco tax increase for a grocery tax decrease. Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried to institute her own tobacco tax increase last year, without the AHA taking the lead, and it failed miserably. The issue was so embroiled in controversy that it never managed to garner a floor vote. Such a tax could not be introduced during the March regular session, but it could be debated during the 12-day special session that begins Feb. 6. Blanco says her official call for that gathering will be released no later than Jan. 31. ' Jeremy Alford


The winds of the hurricanes not only ravaged physical sites, but they have also taken their toll on every aspect of culture in south Louisiana, and French culture is at risk, according to Council for the Development of French in Louisiana President Warren Perrin. Faced with severe budget cuts that will hamper its ability to promote French in Louisiana, CODOFIL will hold a public meeting hosted by Pierre Lebovics, Consul General of France, at the New Orleans Historic Collection (533 Royal Street, New Orleans) on Jan. 28 at 10 a.m. ' MT


State Treasurer John Kennedy is publicly urging the governor to add an authorization of new money for local governments to her agenda for the special session. Since the hurricanes made landfall last year, parish governments and municipalities in south Louisiana have been struggling to find ways to replace their destroyed tax bases.

Kennedy has long warned that without sufficient cash, local governments would be forced to miss scheduled payments on bills or make other fiscal mistakes. "Just one local default could have a detrimental impact on all levels of government in the state," Kennedy says. He wants the Legislature to authorize the issuance of $200 million in Gulf Tax Credit Bonds to help locals make debt service payments. The state would essentially pay the principal on the bonds, and the feds would pick up the interest.

But to use the federal bonds, the state would also have to match the staggering amount, which Kennedy says can be done without raising taxes. One recommendation he offers is to sell off the remaining 40 percent of the state's multi-million dollar tobacco settlement, and then pay off state debt to free up cash. This, however, would require statutory as well as constitutional changes, a decision that would ultimately be up to voters. ' JA


If you love Louisiana shrimp, then you know domestic prices have increased dramatically over the past two decades. To make matters worse for local shrimpers, the price hikes occurred while the U.S. marketplace was being flooded with cheaper imported shrimp. Now, roughly 90 percent of the shrimp consumed nationwide come from overseas. Louisiana's shrimpers won a trade battle last year to level the playing field via a tariff on imported shrimp, but the tariff has not been uniformly collected ' nor have shrimpers realized the subsidies they expected from tariff collections. In addition, local shrimp have not captured more of the market.

Why so many troubles for domestic shrimpers?, a widely-read Internet magazine, blames Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits. In a recent article, Slate reports that farmed shrimp from overseas have gained in popularity because they're available year-round, and low-priced eateries have organized entire menus around them. "The real watershed, however, came in 1985, when the fast-food chain Popeye's introduced Cajun Popcorn Shrimp, a deep-fried dish meant to compete with McDonald's Chicken McNuggets," the report states, recalling a time when the staple was still under Louisiana ownership. "Suddenly, shrimp was an everyday food, rather than a special treat." ' JA


The Marine Survival Training Center at the UL Lafayette recently opened a 12,000-square-foot facility that offers unparalleled training for offshore and maritime workers. The center now includes two swimming pools and an additional Modular Egress Training Simulator, which mirrors underwater emergencies, like a crashed helicopter. The new equipment could help the university better target the petroleum and aviation industries as well, thus opening new economic channels. It's a set-up that cannot be found anywhere else in the South. "Prior to this, only military personnel could obtain this level of training," says MSTC Director Jim Gunter. The center is housed on a 60-acre lake site located near Lafayette Regional Airport. Since 1989, MSTC has brought more than 50,000 offshore workers up-to-date in water safety and survival techniques. ' JA