NEW IBERIA — The Iberia Parish Council has launched an investigation of Parish President Errol “Romo” Romero in a dispute between Romero and 16th Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney.
The council on Wednesday passed a resolution 8-3 authorizing an investigation into whether Romero might have been out of line by alleging wrongdoing by Haney’s office.
Council Chairman Bernard Broussard said the resolution sets the investigation into motion and requests that council members submit the names of those to be subpoenaed in the investigation.
The list of names is to be presented at the May 2 council meeting for review, Broussard said.
The council has no law enforcement power, but the council does have the authority to subpoena witnesses and take testimony as part of an investigation into the affairs of parish government.
Broussard said the council could later choose to call in State Police or the state Attorney General’s Office to investigation the allegations.
At issue are complaints made by Romero about parish government’s practice of paying health insurance premiums for employees of the District Attorney’s Office and complaints about alleged voter coercion by Haney’s staff.
Romero’s complaints were investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office.
In a letter issued earlier this month on the outcome of that investigation, the Attorney General’s Office stated that Haney and his staff were cleared of all wrongdoing.
The Attorney General’s Office also cited a state law against false reports of a crime and warned Romero and others about “careless or unsubstantiated allegations.”
The council’s investigation could look further into the details of Romero’s allegations.
The council in particular questioned affidavits the parish president’s office secured from parish residents who alleged that Haney’s staff tried to coerce them to vote against Romero in last year’s election.
The state Attorney General’s Office letter stated that the affidavits were misleading and that there was no evidence that Haney or his staff tried to improperly influence voters.
The Attorney General’s Office also dismissed allegations by Romero that it was a violation of state law for Iberia Parish government to pay health insurance premiums for employees of the District Attorney’s Office.
The practice is not only legal but common throughout the state, according to the letter from the Attorney General’s Office.
Romero had characterized the insurance payments as possible public payroll fraud.
Romero wrote in a statement last week that he “couldn’t disagree more with the Attorney General’s findings and his failure to see, or acknowledge, the improper acts being committed by DA Haney and his office.”
Romero said at Wednesday’s meeting that he believes he is well within his rights to make the allegations.
Concerning the insurance payments to the District Attorney’s Office, Romero argued that the constitution-like parish charter states that payments to the District Attorney’s Office can be made if there is a need.
He said there is no need because Haney’s office has a $7.5 million surplus.
Councilman Thomas Landry questioned Romero about a statement from the Attorney General’s Office that some of the voters alleging coercion had refused to sign an initial affidavit that had been presented to them.
The specific language of the initial affidavit was not revealed, but Romero said one witness had a question about the wording of the affidavit, so they took new ones.
Landry also questioned whether the lawyer used to record the affidavits had been approved by the council, which Landry said is required under the parish’s charter.
Romero responded that he did not have to discuss the details about the lawyer involved because the information falls under attorney-client privilege.
Council members Broussard, Landry, Roger Duncan, Ricky J. Gonsoulin, Jerome Fitch, Aquicline Arnold, Marty Trahan and David Wayne Romero voted for the resolution for the investigation.
Council members Maggie Daniels, Curtis Baudoin and Lloyd Brown voted against the resolution.
David Ditch, Troy Comeaux, and Glenn Romero were absent.
Daniels said that the council seems to be attacking Errol “Romo” Romero but past parish presidents have not come under scrutiny for similar accusations.
Baudoin said he has known Errol “Romo” Romero for 50 years and believes him to be an honest man who has been treated unfairly since he took office in January.