Council member caught in email dispute

Chauna Banks-Daniel
Chauna Banks-Daniel

Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel is in the midst of yet another fight related to the director of the district community center she oversees in north Baton Rouge, accused of subjecting her employees to an overbearing management style that includes sending emails chastising them to submit to her “earthly authority.”

This spat centers on Loretta Robillard, whose attorney says she was briefly hired by Banks-Daniel to run the Jewel J. Newman Community Center, working there from May 1 until May 12.

Banks-Daniel said she never officially hired Robillard, rather she only indicated that she was interested in selecting her for the director position. She said after subsequent communication, she realized Robillard’s “argumentative” temperament was a bad fit for the job, so she informed Robillard that she would not receive a firm offer.

But she acknowledged writing an April 28 email to Robillard that spelled out what she would expect of center employees.

“People work for me understand submitting to my earthly authority has nothing to do with me, but has everything to do with God honoring everything we do with success,” Banks-Daniel wrote, according to a letter written to Mayor-President Kip Holden by Robillard’s attorney. “In this position, everything is about public image. I am particular, but not to a fault. Nevertheless, my wants and desires trumps everyone else’s and they understand that.”

In the email, Banks-Daniel also said, “I am the only one allowed to get mad about anything. You must examine yourself to see if you can handle that. Everybody can’t. My staff never leave me working, even if I take over or don’t show up, everything is done if though they are an extinction (sic) of me. My staff can never disrespect me, the clients, or each other. No one gets a second chance to do this ... because this is a character flaw and not easily changed.”

Jill Craft, a lawyer who represents both Robillard and Carl Slaughter, who served as the community center’s director for more than 30 years until he was fired by Banks-Daniel in 2012, said the councilwoman’s language is illustrative of an unreasonable level of control she wants to wield over the center.

“It’s particularly troubling that she is likening herself to God, and saying her employees must bend to her will as they would to God,” Craft said in an interview.

Craft quoted the email in a June 6 letter to Holden that also includes a public record request, asking for the original job posting, documents that outline who has firing and hiring authority for community center employees, and résumés of the other director applicants.

Banks-Daniel confirmed that the quotes in Craft’s letter were accurate, but said she was merely trying to explain the reason she had decided not to hire Robillard. In retrospect, she said she should have rephrased her statements.

But she said the email doesn’t include comments from Robillard that she described as argumentative and passive aggressive.

“My whole point was a result of the way she was like, ‘My way or no way,’ and I was just trying to say that that just cannot be,” Banks-Daniel said. “I guess in hindsight I should have just said, right then, there’s no way we can work this out.”

Craft said her client grew up at the community center and considered the job opportunity “a tremendous honor.”

Banks-Daniel has not filled the center’s permanent director position since terminating Slaughter. He attempted to appeal his termination to the civil service board, claiming that he couldn’t be fired as a classified civil service employee.

Craft said the matter was resolved ahead of the civil service board meeting and Slaughter is no longer seeking reinstatement.

But after Banks-Daniel fired Slaughter, residents in her district rallied to his defense, accusing Banks-Daniel of firing him out of spite because his brother ran against her in the 2012 election.

Banks-Daniel has since pointed to critical audits of the community center, which identified mismanagement and missing property, as support for her interference.

In October, residents launched a recall effort to remove Banks-Daniel from office; however, the group missed its petition deadline to collect more than 7,000 signatures.

Banks-Daniel said she doesn’t consider herself a micromanager or difficult to work for, but she said she does demand excellence and loyalty.

She said Craft’s letter confirms she made the right choice not to hire Robillard.

“It shows her character,” Banks-Daniel said. “It points straight to her character.”

The parish has five community centers, which serve low-income areas. For years, the community centers were overseen by the Mayor’s Office, but in 2011 the Metro Council shifted that responsibility to the members who had the centers in their districts. The centers offer services and meeting spaces for the area.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.