WASHINGTON — A recall election scheduled in this small historic town of about 1,000 on Saturday is seeking to remove a police chief who some citizens claim is failing to perform his duties because of a prolonged absence from work.
Jackie Matt, who initiated the recall of chief Ronelle “Bruce” Broussard, said many in the town, which was established after construction of a Catholic church there in the 1770s, want a police chief who reports to work daily.
“It’s a matter of (Broussard) not showing up, and there’s no one in charge,” Matt said. “The main thing people want is an active chief. Citizens in this town want protection and we want our town back, and that means having someone in charge of the Police Department.”
Broussard said he has not been to work in more than a year due to injuries suffered from an accident in the police station.
Matt said she helped form the Concerned Citizens of Washington last year and, using that group, she began organizing a recall effort against Broussard, who was first elected in 2010.
She said the committee appointed recall representatives for each of the town’s five districts and coordinated their efforts on a weekly basis.
“We kept (the recall) low key,” Matt said. “We wanted to do it quietly, without much fanfare. We didn’t want to publicize what we were doing on television or anything.”
By August, the recall effort, which required organizers to obtain a minimum of 322 signatures, was launched.
St. Landry Parish Registrar of Voters Cheryl Milburn said that by Nov. 5, the committee brought in the names of 369 residents who signed up to recall Broussard.
There are 807 registered voters in Washington, Milburn said.
“After we checked the signatures for valid addresses, there were 356, which meant the requirement of 40 percent of the registered voters in the town signing the recall petition had been met. We rejected 13 of the original 369 because we could not validate an address,” Milburn said.
Milburn said the Louisiana secretary of state set the election for Saturday after officials verified there was a sufficient number of authentic signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Some residents in Washington had discussed recalling Broussard earlier during his first term in office, but the effort failed to generate sufficient momentum, she said.
Broussard has been embroiled in a longstanding dispute with the town’s mayor, Joseph Pitre. He claims the mayor pressured him to keep issuing more tickets on a small section of Interstate 49 that passes through the town, which has a reputation as one of Louisiana’s most notorious speed traps.
Pitre has denied setting any kind of ticket quota for the Police Department to meet, saying the real issue is a troubling legislative audit critical of Broussard’s bail and cash bond deposit policies.
If Saturday’s recall election is successful, then another police chief election would be held in the town later this year, Milburn said.
Broussard, who was elected again in 2014, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he is still under doctor’s orders not to return to work.
“In fact, I’m going to have another back surgery on Thursday, two days before the recall. The doctor has stated that I am still in a no work status. The surgery coming up is on my lower back this time. As far as working, there’s not much I can do about it,” Broussard said.
The police chief said he sustained injuries inside the police department in February 2015, but he did not specifically indicate the extent of his injuries.
“I really can’t answer what injuries I had due to that incident. If you want to know more about my injuries, you need to contact my attorney,” Broussard said.
Broussard said, however, that the injuries and the multiple surgeries to correct them have been frustrating for him.
“I’ve had eight surgeries. That includes eye surgery, neck and back. Due to those surgeries, I have been unable to go to work. I feel sorry that I am not able to go back. I’ve just been trying to get well,” he said.
Broussard said he won’t criticize the recall effort.
“I feel it would be unfair for me to talk about the concerned citizens. They are doing what they want to do.
“Before all these surgeries, I was a perfectly healthy person, not a sick person. I can’t wait until I am well enough to go back to work,” Broussard said.