herein lies the rub
So the latest installment of Whitmergate appeared in the Times Picayune today, and this quote by Louis Congemi was the most disturbing, and the most insightful of the recent problems out in da parish
“It’s very hard because there’s a lot of stuff you can’t talk about.We really can’t talk to Tim Whitmer. So you’ve got a guy you’ve known for years, and we can’t talk to him now. It’s very difficult to deal with a guy who has been your friend all these years and then you have to make this determination.”
I think the council needs to throw the book, err pink slip, at Whitmer on Wednesday. Congemi and plenty others over in the Yenni building forgot the old adage, don’t shit where you eat. Plus I don’t buy the blind support of Whitmer by Broussard, everyone is replaceable. And Whitmer’s wife is obviously capable of supporting them, therefore his retirement must remain in the pockets of JP taxpayers.
Jeff council to take judicial role
Members feeling heat over Whitmer
Sunday, January 03, 2010
By Richard Rainey
East Jefferson bureau
Having scheduled a rare special meeting outside its regular calendar, the Jefferson Parish Council will put down its lawmaking mantle this week to take up that of judge and jury.
For the first time in 30 years, the council has invoked its investigative authority under the Parish Charter, and council members are talking as if they will decide the fate of Tim Whitmer, the embattled chief administrative officer to Parish President Aaron Broussard. Broussard has refused to fire Whitmer, so council members — under extraordinary pressure from an outraged public — are moving to take matters into their own hands.
Exactly how the hearing will unfold and how it will affect Whitmer’s employment, however, is unclear, owing in part to the novelty of the process and the opacity of the laws governing it.
“We’re plowing new ground here,” Councilman Elton Lagasse said.
What is clear, from news media reports in the past two months, is that Whitmer and his wife, Dawn, own a private insurance brokerage, Lagniappe Industries, that has done extensive business with government agencies and with contractors whose work he indirectly oversees as the No. 2 executive in the Broussard administration. Such a position is fraught with the potential for ethical conflicts if not outright criminal activity, and the FBI is now poring over thousands of documents and e-mail messages that parish officials began delivering under subpoena Dec. 4 to the U.S. District Courthouse in New Orleans.
Equally obvious is the public’s hue and cry for Broussard to fire Whitmer or, absent that, for the council to move more forcefully to have his employment terminated. Whitmer has announced plans to retire Feb. 1, the earliest date he would be eligible to begin collecting a $172,000 annual pension. If he were to resign or be fired before then, he would have to wait five years for retirement pay.
Broussard, who has said he did legal work for Lagniappe Industries and referred business to the brokerage, cautioned against a rush to judgment. He said neither his own administration nor other agencies have gathered all the facts. But on Dec. 16, he suspended Whitmer from work, albeit with pay.
That was a week after the council decided to investigate Whitmer and to ask the Louisiana attorney general’s office to act as its adviser.
A three-page petition served on Whitmer by Assistant Attorneys General Billy Belsom Jr. and Richard McGimsey focuses on a single insurance deal letting Lagniappe Industries share commissions on policies that B&A Insurance sold to employees of the parish-owned West Jefferson Medical Center. The hospital’s contract with B&A forbade commission splitting, and the Parish Charter states no employees may “participate in any financial transaction” of Jefferson government agencies “if he has any direct or indirect financial interest in such transaction.”
The attorney general’s petition also states the council need not find that Whitmer violated the charter to fire him, because he is an “at will” employee not shielded by civil service or other protections.
And yet the charter provision that the council invoked to call Wednesday’s hearing at the Joseph S. Yenni Building in Elmwood says nothing about firing administration employees. The section, 2.01(A)(4), says the council may “make investigations of parish affairs,” subpoena witnesses, take sworn testimony and demand records, but it is silent on what action the council may take beyond investigation.
Another section of the charter, 3.03(B) gives “the power to appoint and remove ” all administrative officers” to the parish president.
The parish Code of Ordinances has an investigations section that alludes to “decrees, rulings or judgements” of the Parish Council but doesn’t otherwise define them. It says any appeal of a council investigative decision may be taken to state 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna within 10 days.
Parish law suggests the hearing will be conducted somewhat like a civil trial, following the same rules for evidence, testimony and the right to cross-examination as in state court.
Whether it will be open to the public is another question no one seems to have a solid answer to. Council members said the attorney general’s office has recommended a closed hearing because it is a personnel matter, but that they have the authority to open or close it.
“They’re not going to make decisions for us,” Councilman Chris Roberts said.
Lagasse, a former public Jefferson Parish school superintendent, said the laws governing tenure hearings for teachers let the subjects of the hearing determine whether it should be open or closed. If that serves as a precedent, it could be up to Whitmer himself to decide whether the Parish Council does the business in public or in private.
Donald Hyatt II, a new attorney on Whitmer’s team, wouldn’t state his client’s preferences or even whether they will mount a defense.
“This case seems to change about every 10 minutes,” Hyatt said. “We will show up because we are under subpoena. Beyond that, it’s premature to say much of anything.”
Beyond the public controversy, the Whitmer case has created a fractious political clime within the council itself about voicing opinions in public before the legal proceeding begins. Some members preach caution, warning that any evidence that they have made up their minds in advance will doom chances to terminate Whitmer. And one member, John Young, has gone on a solo crusade for Broussard to fire Whitmer or for Whitmer to resign.
“Some people have chosen to politicize the issue, and especially in John’s case he has chosen to capitalize politically,” said Roberts, who described Young’s declarations as “grandstanding.”
Young said his comments reflected the options facing Broussard and Whitmer, rather than what his decision will be when the council convenes.
McGimsey, the assistant attorney general, advised council members not to talk about Whitmer or the investigation. That, plus their past reliance on Whitmer to get things done for constituents, has made the whole case awkward for council members.
“It’s very hard because there’s a lot of stuff you can’t talk about,” Councilman Louis Congemi said. “We really can’t talk to Tim Whitmer. So you’ve got a guy you’ve known for years, and we can’t talk to him now. It’s very difficult to deal with a guy who has been your friend all these years and then you have to make this determination.”