After a heated debate that included personal attacks made on both sides of the argument, the St. Charles Parish Council overturned Parish President V.J. St. Pierre’s veto of a contract with lobbying firm Tauzin Consultants.
Council members Larry Cochran, Mary Tastet, Julia Fisher-Perrier, Terrell Wilson, Clayton “Snookie” Faucheux and Wendy Benedetto all voted to overturn the veto while Carolyn Schexnaydre, Paul Hogan and Traci Fletcher voted in favor of it.
At the heart of the debate was language in the Home Rule Charter that concerns the council’s ability to enter into contracts. The charter says that the council may “enter into contracts with other governmental units within or outside the boundaries of the Parish for joint performance or performance by one unit in behalf of the other of any authorized function or activity.” St. Pierre said that means that the council can enter into contracts with entities such as the Lafourche Basin Levee District but prohibits the council from entering into a contract with Tauzin Consultants.
To St. Pierre, the council crosses the boundaries of the checks and balances system if they enter into professional services contracts. Hogan agreed.
“It’s a separation of powers issue,” Hogan said. “The parish administrator brings the contracts to us and we are to provide the money and approve it. Otherwise, why have a parish president? Why don’t we just get rid of the parish president and we sit up here and we make who we want to hire and approve the funding.
“That’s no separation of powers.”
During the meeting that led the St. Pierre’s veto, the council introduced an ordinance to hire Tauzin Consultants without St. Pierre’s support.
Tauzin has represented the parish for the last two years at a base salary of $10,000 a month plus $750 a month in expenses. The new contract awarded by the council on March 25 was for 33 months at the same rate, which was an increase of $96,750 above the prior two-year contract.
At a recent council meeting, Tom Tauzin said that his firm was instrumental in securing $2 million in mitigation reimbursement from the state. The lobbying firm also assisted the parish with efforts to obtain FEMA assistance following Hurricane Isaac and is currently helping the parish lobby against new FEMA flood maps that could take affect next year. The maps would drastically increase flood insurance cost for many on the West Bank.
While St. Pierre interpreted the charter one way, several council members said there is nothing in the charter that prevents them from entering into professional services contracts, such as the one with Tauzin. In fact, Cochran said the council did just that when Tauzin was hired two years ago.
“This very contract was done like this last time,” Cochran said. “The council put it up, we approved it and (St. Pierre) signed it and it went into effect. I view our job as giving the administration the tools to do their job.”
In order to help prove his point, St. Pierre brought in Dr. John Lambert, who helped draft the Home Rule Charter.
“I beg you to set aside political differences, follow your charter, be legislators,” Lambert said. “Give the power to the administration where it is in the charter to the parish president.”
But when council members asked what rule they were breaking in the charter, Lambert said they weren’t specifically breaking a rule but were heading towards doing so.
“The president has the ability to take care of the administration of the parish,” Lambert said.
After Lambert spoke, Cochran asked him if he was being paid to speak on St. Pierre’s behalf and whether he currently has contracts with the parish. Lambert answered no to both questions and St. Pierre called Cochran’s move a “sleazy” one.
Several council members lauded the job Tauzin has done for the parish so far and said that the firm will be important as the parish tackles new FEMA flood maps. The parish has also secured all permits for the West Bank levee and Cochran said it is important to have someone in Washington, D.C. to help get the parish much-needed funding.
Wilson said he has personally seen the good work that Tauzin was doing and said that losing the momentum the firm has gained would be detrimental to the parish. Tastet agreed, saying that to change lobbyist at this time would be “awful.”
However, St. Pierre was far from impressed with Tauzin’s work, saying that when he would speak to officials in Washington, D.C., they didn’t know anything about parish projects. St. Pierre also said that Tauzin reported that he had talked to some officials, but when St. Pierre spoke to those same officials they told him they hadn’t heard from Tauzin in months.
St. Pierre added that Tauzin had nothing to do with $2 million the parish recently received from the state in mitigation funding.
When pressed further on where he got specific information about Tauzin’s lack of production, St. Pierre declined to answer. He also said that he doesn't beleive anything Cochran and Faucheux say.
Faucheux said that St. Pierre doesn’t want to continue working with Tauzin because of his ego and Cochran called St. Pierre a liar.
Though the council overrode the veto, St. Pierre has insinuated that he won’t sign the contract.