PORT ALLEN — The City Council’s vote to approve Mayor Roger Bergeron’s new public works director choice sparked a heated debate Wednesday night between city leaders and residents who accused some elected officials of being racists.
One speaker even questioned the city’s hiring practices in the wake of the administration’s recent appointment of Andre Genre as chief administrative officer.
Cenceria Dalcourt, the city’s former assistant chief administrative officer, confronted the mayor about her ouster from city employment.
Dalcourt said she was “devastated” over her firing before giving the audience, and the council, a chronological timeline of her dealings with the mayor following Genre’s appointment.
“I thought you were going to keep me on as the assistant simply because in January, when you came on as mayor, I brought you to my office and we had a heart-to-heart talk and I said I heard there was a rumor Adrian Genre was going to be the CAO,” Dalcourt told Bergeron.
“You told me (I) clearly had the upper hand on this job ... but yes it was true Adrian Genre was interested. I told you my job was important to me because I’m the breadwinner of my family.
“I asked you to let me know ahead of time so I could find employment. I didn’t come to you cowardly. I came to you as a woman. As a peer. As a supervisor, and you ignored me,” Dalcourt said.
In a meeting frequently erupting with passionate outbursts from residents who packed the council chamber, the mayor addressed the accusations of racism against him by listing of some of his past actions.
“Would a racist sponsor the first black man in an organization — prior to that time — that had only white members?” Bergeron asked the audience. “Would a racist knock on doors for a black candidate in a white neighborhood? Would a racist donate $1,500 of his own money to an all-black choir because he was not sure that the city could legally make a donation? Does that sound the actions of a racist?”
Bergeron said being called a racist was an insult to him and his parents.
“Whether I’m re-elected or not, I’m going to continue to try to do the best things for the city,” the mayor said. “If the people choose not to re-elect me, I could live with that, too.”
The appointment of Genre as CAO was controversial because he is a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to perjury in a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city and the Police Department when he was city police chief.
Genre admitted to lying in a deposition about the department’s hiring practices. The lawsuit said only black people were given a written test during the Police Department’s interview process.
Genre was forced to resign the police chief job in August 2000. He was hired as Port Allen CAO on July 2.
Port Allen resident Nekiesha Joseph told the council she feels the administration uses nepotism and officials’ personal relationships with job candidates to make job recommendations.
Joseph also said the city isn’t properly soliciting qualified applicants for top administrative positions.
Joseph’s comments came after Mayor Bergeron announced he was recommending Terry Vincent as new director of public works.
Bergeron said the decision was made easier because Vincent was the only candidate who applied.
Vincent, who is currently on paid medical leave, has been serving in the newly created job, but in an interim capacity, Bergeron said.
Joseph suggested the city’s inability to attract more candidates might be based on the fact that job advertisements are posted only in the town’s local newspaper instead of publications with wider readerships.
“We have a small community and limited people here that sees it,” Joseph said of the city’s job advertisements. “We’re limiting our choices. If you limit your choices, you’re not going to end up with the best.”
Vincent ended up being approved as public works director by a 3-2 vote. Council members Irvrie Johnson and Ray Helen Lawrence voted against the appointment.
The mayor told Dalcourt he would “probably” respond to some of her claims at a later date.