While the public has called for better representation and more oversight of local government on the parish level, the current response is to provide more insulation from the public. Transparency rules the day once again.
With former ADA Julie Knight’s departure from the new administration at the St. Tammany Parish D.A.’s Office, Warren Montgomery is moving forward on outstanding cases. The Parish Council subsequently voted to remove the D.A.’s Office as legal counsel (for the Council). The only “No” vote was Councilman Jacob Groby.
This type of oversight is one of the necessary balances in local government and an action to remove it gives rise to conflicts of interest and favored contracts, such as certain situations observed during the D.A.’s race involving the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and the law firm of Talley, Anthony, Hughes and Knight.
The fact that the Parish Council is attempting to distance itself from the D.A.’s Office may be completely unrelated to Knight’s departure, regardless of timing. A poorly directed decision by Councilman Tanner, it does reveal little confidence in Montgomery’s administration.
Enter the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Foundation, which is confusing enough as it exists. The EDF is a private, not-for-profit foundation that works with the Parish Economic Development Office on projects in that regard. Some of the agreements managed by the EDF involve state and federal dollars, but the organization is not accountable to the public, or to the Parish Council for that matter.
One example is a lawyer who represents an organization (say, the EDF) in a legal capacity, and also sits on the board of that same organization. Rather than address the conflict, the solution is to draft legislation that provides specific exemption to State Ethics Laws.
A larger example would be the questions raised by District 7 representative Jake Groby with regard to the Folger’s Plant bond issue (involving the EDF), which to this writer’s knowledge have not been adequately addressed. CW’s involvement with that particular issue included a published response to a Tammany West article addressing the situation, which also lacked acknowledgment.
Recently, St. Tammany Parish Government announced that S. Michele Blanchard-Airey was appointed to fill the vacant District 13 Chair on the Parish Council. Blanchard is also a board member of the Economic Development Foundation. This presents a very clear conflict of interest as the Parish Council often votes on proposals presented to them by the Parish Economic Development Office, which represents the Economic Development Foundation in such proposals. In effect, Blanchard could potentially vote on matters concerning an organization of which she is a sitting board member. That the Parish would continue to pursue obvious conflicts such as this indicate a reluctance to present a proper representational government, much less an actual democratic process.
Perhaps this view is off-mark, and Blanchard is there to usher in a new era of accountability by presenting details of EDF activities to the public. Indeed, stranger things have happened. Councilwoman Blanchard will meet with her constituents August 31st in Slidell. (see stpgov.org)
Timothy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.