Nick Tranchina, a candidate for St. Tammany Parish Sheriff, has filed an ethics complaint with the Louisiana Governmental Ethics Committee alleging the misuse of parish resources to promote the re-election campaign of incumbent Sheriff Randy Smith.
Tranchina outlines three specific ethics violations covered under the ethics code in his complaint (see ethics complaint attachment). The first of a four-part video series produced by the Sheriff’s Office on its “Crisis Intervention Team,” was uploaded February 5th to the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office YouTube page, and also posted on the “Re-Elect Smith Sheriff 2019” Facebook and Twitter pages the same day.
Sheriff Smith announced his bid for re-election February 11th and two of the videos were subsequently posted on the sheriffrandysmith.com re-election website and the remaining three videos were posted on the campaign Facebook page shortly afterwards.
“It is highly improper and inappropriate to use videos made and paid for by the Sheriff’s Office to promote the sheriff’s own re-election,” according to Tranchina, who is a first-time candidate for elected office. “Further, the timing of the production and release of the videos to coincide with Smith’s campaign announcement is highly suspect.”
He notes that the Sheriff’s Office during Smith’s tenure has not produced any other videos on department-wide programs or initiatives such as the four-part “Crisis Intervention Team” video which, coincidentally, was one of Smith’s campaign promises. The sheriff even references the issue in the second video, saying: “During my campaign for sheriff I realized that mental health was a very important issue and a hot topic not only here in St. Tammany but throughout our country and I wanted to create this crisis intervention team.”
Elected officials cannot use resources paid for by taxpayers for political purposes, explains Tranchina. “Other states and indeed Congress forbids lawmakers from using resources like House videos for political purposes.”
The Advocate reports a response from Smith’s campaign:
The complaint is a “baseless grievance by a fledgling candidate who is hoping to gain media attention since he doesn’t have the resources to deliver his message appropriately.”
The statement continues: “It is shameful for any candidate, much less a former lawman, to manipulate state rules to force a state agency to review such a thinly veiled, desperate complaint.”
Tim Lentz, former Covington Police Chief and third candidate for St. Tammany Parish Sheriff, has not released a statement about the Ethics Complaint, pending a decision by the LGEC.
Opinion: Ethics, Mud vs. Water-Slinging
While the social media trollers have already relegated the ethics complaint filed by St. Tammany Parish Sheriff candidate Nick Tranchina to political mud-slinging, it seems fairly clear to anyone with an objective viewpoint that the issue here is keeping public officials accountable.
The parish government is no stranger to skirting ethics laws, as Covington Weekly has reported in the past with legislation written by former Representative Tim Burns exempting parish council members from state ethics laws in place to prevent conflicts of interest.
In the situation of campaign ethics, it appears that the only manipulation of state rules is a public agency using public dollars to produce material for use by a candidate running for public office, but that is for the Louisiana Governmental Ethics Committee to decide. Further, the statement “he doesn’t have the resources to deliver his message properly” implies that it is fortuitous that one has access to high-quality production because of the position they are currently occupying.
In light of the recent track record of high-level parish officials, it is more appropriate for any parish agency to take issues involving ethical violations more seriously, rather than attacking the character of the individual bringing the information to light. Nick Tranchina is not involved in a mud-slinging campaign; he is involved in a water-slinging campaign. Water has the power to erode stone over time. Bringing an ethics violation to light is not a negative tactic, it is balancing out the playing field by ensuring that everyone is adhering to the same rules; that is the reason there is a code of ethics to follow.
The critical and belittling response for someone who is simply alleging that specific campaign rules in place are ignored is disappointing; a more appropriate response would be to acknowledge a commitment to performing one’s duties according to law, including running a re-election campaign. Our public officials are entrusted with the appropriate use of our tax dollars, and the public has a right to know how they are used.
If campaign videos were produced using public resources, then that is a clear violation of the ethics laws in place. We’ll see what the LGEC decides.
CW Correspondent Timothy Gates