"No clue."

Those were the words Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle used to describe what he knows about taxpayers footing the bill for more than $2,000 in damage Cantrelle caused in a May 23 crash.

But the parish did pay. And Cantrelle's signature is at the bottom of the check. And, Cantrelle's signature is at the bottom of a memo explaining how to pay for the expense.

Cantrelle's claim that he has no knowledge about the parish's payments in this case strains the limits of credibility. And that's without taking into account his prior lack of honesty on the whole matter.

When the topic originally came up, during the Parish Council's July 25 meeting, Cantrelle was asked a few simple questions, such as why he waited a day to report the crash to the parish's Risk Management Office, why he waited weeks to report it to law enforcement and why he never took a drug test. All three, according to parish police, are required immediately after a wreck in a public vehicle.

Even more troubling than his ignoring and violating parish policy, though, is Cantrelle's persistent dishonesty.

The parish president, after waiting weeks to report the crash, told the deputy who took his statement that he had paid for repairs to his parish truck out of his own pocket.

He later said he misspoke. In fact, the parish paid for the repairs to the truck, which was damaged when he backed into another vehicle while leaving his Raceland hunting camp.

And even this week, when Councilman Jerry Jones questioned Cantrelle about the parish's payment for damage to Jordan Lebouf's vehicle, Cantrelle couldn't bring himself to tell the truth.

Instead, he pleaded ignorance. "No clue."

Jones, though, pressed the matter.

"Mr. Cantrelle, I think you signed a check for that vehicle for $2,200," Jones said. "There's a check on the other vehicle for over $2,200. ... I wanted to know about it. I didn't want you to say you misspoke again."

Cantrelle responded that the Finance Department cut the check using a stamp to place his signature.

In the midst of not being able to remember anything about all these payments, though, Cantrelle has had time to research the matter extensively. He told the council Tuesday night that he has researched similar situations and that he isn't the only parish employee who has failed to immediately report a crash.

That maneuver brought a swift response from Councilman Michael Gros.

"The accident happened and you didn't get a drug test when you should have. Why are you wasting time trying to figure out who else didn't do something? Let's move forward and follow the policy. You made a mistake. Move on," Gros said.

Gros was right to question why Cantrelle is so interested in the actions of others while claiming he is incapable of tracking the actions of his own employees or himself. But let's not move on entirely from this troubling episode.

The public still deserves some answers about a scandal that has already cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

How can employees be expected to follow the rules when the guy at the top won't?

Meanwhile, the Parish Council is still trying to get Cantrelle to change the locks on the legislative office in Thibodaux. Numerous keys have been misplaced, possibly unauthorized people have gone into the office, and public records are missing. But Cantrelle has steadfastly refused to change the locks and improve security.

At Tuesday's meeting, the council voted to ask the district attorney whether it can take control of the matter itself and lock off the office from the executive office.

The lack of security is a serious concern. And so is Cantrelle's defiance of the council's wishes.

And so is his refusal to abide by the rules that apply to other parish employees.

Why do we have a parish president who can't keep his stories straight, won't keep the parish office safe and can't even keep his own department heads? (Nine have resigned or been fired in Cantrelle's short time in office.)

In his words, I have "no clue."

 

Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at mike.gorman@dailycomet.com.