St. Landry panel, parish president in records dispute
OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council is asking a state judge to order Parish President Bill Fontenot to copy parish financial records related to his predecessor’s administration for Council Attorney Andrea West following numerous written requests by West.
According to the petition filed Tuesday, West has since June 22 formally requested that Fontenot furnish copies of 2011 credit card usage, vendor receipts, equipment inventories, capital outlay project bids and other financial documents under former Parish President Don Menard as part of a council investigation.
An internal audit of parish government’s 2011 finances presented at a June meeting by Steven Moosa of the Darnall, Gardes, Sikes and Frederick accounting firm indicated that there are no receipts from an American Express credit card used by Menard.
In addition, Moosa said, another $3,000 on the same credit card Menard used in 2010 was also undocumented. Moosa’s audit report also indicated that a $57,000 hangar project that began in 2011 at the St. Landry Parish airport was apparently completed earlier this year without council approval.
On May 16, the petition says, the council authorized West to initiate an investigation “by any and all appropriate agencies into any wrongdoing by any St. Landry Government employee and request that any and all restitution that may be forthcoming as a result of (the) investigation.”
The petition also seeks an injunction that prohibits Fontenot’s alleged refusal to comply with Louisiana law in allowing any council member “reasonable access to any public records,” as required in St. Landry’s home rule charter form of government.
Fontenot, in a telephone interview Tuesday night, said he was not aware that the petition — also known as a writ of mandamus — had been filed earlier during the day.
“I still feel like I have been complying with the law in this matter and I am looking forward to defending my position,” he said.
“This (petition) to me is a waste of time and money that could be used instead to address more important issues that are facing this parish,” the parish president said.
At a July 18 council meeting, West said Fontenot, who took office in January, is not the target of any investigation. The council also hired Rick Lucas, a Baton Rouge private investigator, to assist West in her investigation.
At a July 12 meeting, the council gave Fontenot 72 hours to comply with West’s request or face a court petition. At a council meeting in June, Fontenot said he “welcomed the investigation,” according to the petition, but an affidavit accompanying it said Fontenot had not complied with West’s request.
Fontenot responded by letter to West’s request, saying he was refusing to furnish copies of the records she requested, the petition says. Instead, Fontenot said West could visit his office where the documents would be made available, but she would have to make her own copies, the petition says.
The petition also said that at a July 3 Administrative and Finance Committee meeting, Fontenot told West that his compliance with her requests for records had been impeded due to the volume of information that she had requested.
Following a July 12 special council meeting, the petition said, some council members left the meeting, went to the airport and examined the condition of the parish records that are stored in a hangar at the facility.
The following day, the petition alleges, council member Pam Gautreau went to the parish records hangar to take pictures of the records’ condition but was told by two parish employees there that she would have to leave due to an order by Jessie Bellard, Fontenot’s executive assistant.