LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board voted 5-4 late Wednesday to hire a Gretna law firm to investigate alleged “complaints” against Superintendent Pat Cooper about an hour after giving him a favorable evaluation for his first 18 months on the job .
Board member Rae Trahan proposed the resolution to hire the Gretna law firm, Grant and Barrow, to investigate “complaints” and “major concerns” about Cooper.
Trahan said she recommended the resolution because “sometimes I feel like our board has been discussing, ranting, arguing, beating dead horses and each other into the wee hours of the night on things.” If issues are founded, then the board should deal with them, “ if not, put them to rest,” she said.
Before the board’s vote, Cooper said he was “surprised” by the resolution and questioned why any allegations or complaints against him weren’t brought to his attention, which is a requirement stated in his contract.
Prior to the vote, Cooper called the resolution a “witch hunt” since the board already employs a Baton Rouge-based law firm as its special counsel for personnel issues and it also has an assistant district attorney appointed to assist the board during meetings.
“It’s almost like we’re shopping around until we get the right answer,” Cooper said. “If we’re doing something wrong, we’ll change that.”
He said he viewed the resolution as a “chance to work together.”
“If you have issues, it seems like we should sit together and work it out. We haven’t tried that yet,” Cooper said.
Board members Trahan, Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion voted in support of the resolution, while Hunter Beasley, Kermit Bouillion, board President Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham voted against it.
Cockerham called the resolution a “mistake” and told his fellow board members that he would remind voters of their actions when qualifying time rolls around next year.
Chassion criticized Cockerham for making a “veiled threat” to board members and said the comment was “unnecessary.”
“If a do vote for this, I’ll make a T-shirt…I stand by all my votes,” Chassion said.
After the board’s business, Trahan said her intent was not to “impugn the superintendent, but clear any allegations that have been made against him.”
The law firm’s “job” is not to “get superintendents fired; that’s not the idea at all,” Trahan said.
The board approved the resolution with changes that were encouraged by Assistant District Attorney James Simon to remove statements referring to complaints against Cooper being received by the board and that required district employees to cooperate with the firm’s investigation or face disciplinary action.
Cooper asked Trahan how much the firm would cost.
Trahan she said she didn’t have a dollar amount but that the board would follow guidelines set by the attorney general for special counsel services.
The board has yet to approve its budget for the upcoming school year and has eliminated some capital projects to put more money into its general fund, which supports instructional costs.
Following the meeting, Cooper said he isn’t concerned about any investigation.
“I certainly don’t have anything to hide,” he said and added that he thinks the “best thing” is for the board and superintendent to “sit down together.”
Following the meeting, Cooper said his attorney, Lane Roy attended the meeting, however, Cooper said he doesn’t anticipate any lawsuits, but “I don’t want to be foolish either.”