LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School Board members eased into their new terms Wednesday with a brief agenda that saw the board approve a few staff changes and pay a large chunk of a former school board member’s legal bill.
The meeting was the start of a five-year term for the nine-member board. Only two board members returned for a second term: Tommy Angelle and Tehmi Chassion.
The board unanimously elected Angelle as its president and Dawn Morris as its vice president.
The new members will serve a five-year term, rather than the traditional four years, due to legislation passed in 2014 that aligns school board elections to the gubernatorial election cycle.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted 4-3 to pay $945.50 of former board member Kermit Bouillion’s request that the board cover the $1,078 in legal expenses he incurred in March when board members were questioned by the FBI about the board’s business with an insurance consulting firm.
Bouillion was the only board member who hired an attorney. The attorney, Lester Gauthier, accompanied Bouillion to the two-hour interview with an FBI agent, charging him $200 an hour for that meeting, another three-hour meeting with Bouillion and research time.
Some board members questioned whether the fee exceeded the maximum allowed by the Attorney General’s Office, which in March was $175 an hour.
The board’s attorney, Bob Hammonds, told the board the Attorney General’s guidelines are for the hiring of special counsel, and individual public officials are allowed to hire attorneys at a reasonable rate.
Hammonds advised the board that typically a board member may be reimbursed in cases where he or she is acquitted of any civil, ethics or criminal charges. Bouillion’s circumstances were a bit different, Hammonds said.
“In this particular situation, at the time of this interview, the board member did not know if he was the subject or the witness and did not find out until the interrogation had been done,” Hammonds said. “I’m not aware that there were any criminal charges brought against anyone to my knowledge.”
Board member Justin Centanni proposed the board pay the bill, but at $175 an hour.
Centanni, Mary Morrison, Erick Knezek and Britt Latiolais supported paying the legal bill. Voting no were Morris, Angelle and Elroy Broussard. Board member Jeremy Hidalgo abstained.
Also Wednesday, the board unanimously approved the appointment of facilities and planning director Kyle Bordelon as acting chief operations officer. The appointment comes with a pay increase of roughly $720 a month for the supervisory duties of maintenance and custodial departments that Bordelon took on last month following the termination of Thad Welch on Nov. 26. Interim superintendent Burnell LeJeune told the board that Bordelon will hold the position and the raise until the planned reorganization of the maintenance and custodial departments.
The board also approved a job description for a new assistant sales tax director position. The job was included in the 2014-15 budget, and the school system will cover about 48 percent of the estimated $85,000 salary while other tax collection authorities cover the rest, chief financial officer Billy Guidry said.
Bordelon’s move to the acting chief operations officer position and the new assistant sales tax director position were on the agenda as introduction items. However, the board voted to move both items to the action items. Typically, introductory items move to the action agenda at the next meeting, usually two weeks later. Prior to the vote, Lafayette Parish Association of Educators President Rodolfo Espinoza told the board that while he didn’t oppose either recommendation, he’d prefer the board not “to make a habit” of moving items to the action agenda at the same meeting they are introduced.
“I think ideally we want to give the public as much time to comment on matters of importance, and that’s what the two-week period is about,” he said. “It gives the public an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.