by henri lejeune
Special to The Advocate
June 23, 2012
NEW IBERIA — An audit of personnel in Iberia Parish President Errol “Romo” Romero’s office has led the Parish Council to approve an ordinance that would fine or imprison anyone not cooperating with an internal investigation.
The law amends the parish home rule charter to penalize offenders up to a $500 fine or 90 days in jail who refuse to obey the “lawful order of the council” while it conducts an investigation of parish government operations.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance Wednesday.
Council Chairman Bernard Broussard said there are similar penalties for unlawful acts listed in other sections of the home rule charter, but there were not any in Section 2-08 of the charter, which addresses investigations.
Broussard said council members noticed the lack of penalties in the investigations section of the charter when they approved an audit of personnel in Romero’s office last month.
The audit investigation, which also started Wednesday, is looking into new hires the parish president has made since taking office.
The audit firm Kolder, Champagne, Slaven and Co. will review the job descriptions for the executive secretary, maintenance superintendent, and office assistant, personnel director, and director of permits, planning and zoning.
Staff members then will see if the employees meet the requirements and examine the benefits, time clock records and other information.
The audit is a result of allegations made to council members anonymously that some new employees are not qualified, some new employees are not doing their assigned work and some new hires also are conducting work not in their job descriptions while on the clock.
Broussard said if wrongdoing is discovered, the findings will be turned over to the State Police. He added there is no completion date for the investigation.
Parish resident Jerry Conrad said the ordinance and other actions the council has taken seemed to be an attack on Romero’s office.
He urged the council to work with the parish president to move the parish forward.
Councilman David Ditch said the blame should not be put on the council. He said the investigation was a way to settle the questions and allegations surrounding the parish president since he took office in January.
Romero said he feels he is within the bounds of the charter to hire and fire whom he wishes. He added that previous administrations have staffed their offices without similar questions.
Other items discussed during the meeting included:
VIDEO POKER: After the council meeting concluded, the executive committee voted 10-3 in favor of allowing the public to vote on video poker. Video poker machines are not allowed in the parish. The resolution moves discussion to the council’s June 27 meeting.
Councilman Thomas Landry said the public then would have a chance to vote on the issue, and should it pass, the state Legislature would have to pass legislation making the machines legal in the parish. Landry added all the video poker funds would be dedicated to roads.
Council members Ditch, Maggie Daniels, Curtis Baudoin, Lloyd Brown, Troy Comeaux, Thomas Landry, Ricky J. Gonsoulin, Jerome Fitch, Aquicline Arnold and David Wayne Romero voted for the resolution. Council members Broussard, Roger Duncan and Marty Trahan voted against the resolution. Glenn Romero was absent.