Move over, “Real Housewives.” Prime-time reality TV could have a new contender — the Lafayette Parish School Board.
In a time when adults behaving badly begets viewers, the board’s meetings made for good TV in the past year. And if the Feb. 5 meeting is any indication, the new season, um, new year of meetings could turn out to be just as raucous and ridiculous as reality TV.
Toppled tables? Not yet.
Police called? Check.
At the board’s Feb. 5 meeting, board member Tehmi Chassion called the police after a closed-door discussion to file a complaint alleging Superintendent Pat Cooper yelled at him and grabbed his arm during talks about insurance consultant Tikia Consulting Group’s demand of payment of $200,000.
Chassion reported to police that Cooper grabbed him and yelled at him for requesting an email from school system risk management director Mona Bernard. Chassion said Cooper, at one point, grabbed his arm and spun him around in his swivel chair. Cooper told this reporter Chassion was the one yelling and denied grabbing Chassion, but said he did touch the board member’s arm when telling him not to make demands of Bernard, but rather, request information from the superintendent.
The initial police report only says, “during the course of a verbal altercation the suspect placed his hand on the victim. No arrest was made.”
The status of Chassion’s complaint is unknown. City Prosecutor Gary Haynes has not returned calls to his office or emails.
While the board’s performance — every first and third Wednesday of the month — is aired live on Acadiana Open Channel, the board’s shot at prime-time stardom could be at risk. No major disturbances have followed the Feb. 5 incident and since then, the board has met four times with no major fracas or unprofessional outbursts from the audience, board members or staff — a change from 2013.
In fact, the first meeting of 2014, held Jan. 15, ended before 9 p.m., a feat that some board members jokingly attributed to technical difficulties that prevented the live broadcast and an at-home audience.
But, it seems the insurance issue — as well as jibes between Cooper and Chassion — haven’t ended.
Now, it appears Cooper may be pointing the finger at Chassion. This salvo involves a Feb. 27 memo Cooper wrote notifying board members of another demand letter — this one for $93,000 from the two companies the insurance consultant recommended the board hire.
The board rejected the recommendation in September, only to approve the companies on Oct. 2, but later rescinded its decision. In the Feb. 27 memo, Cooper wrote: “(Tikia) was instructed by one board member to begin the next day even though there was no contract signed.”
In a phone interview with The Advocate, Cooper said it was Chassion who, during the Oct. 2 board meeting, told the companies to start right away.
Chassion said he did not address either company. The video of the Oct. 2 meeting doesn’t show any board member doling out directives. Later, Cooper said Chassion made the comment at an earlier meeting.
Cooper and Chassion both agreed on this: Regardless of whether a board member made comments that could be construed as a green light to start work, no single board member has the authority to tell a company to work without a contract.
Though it’s been a rocky road, that shared opinion provides some common ground — for now.
Marsha Sills covers the Lafayette Parish School Board for The Advocate. She can be reached at email@example.com.