ST. FRANCISVILLE — West Feliciana Parish voters will have to return to the polls later this year to elect a new parishwide constable after the man who served in the position since 1994 was barred from seeking re-election because he lied on his qualifying forms about owing more than $6,000 in fines to the Louisiana Ethics Board.
Dennis Neal was one of 15 people targeted last year to be disqualified from seeking public office after the state accused them in lawsuits of lying to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office about owing fines to the Ethics Administration.
While this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said Wednesday she’s never seen the Ethics Board target so many candidates in one election cycle.
The Ethics Board found Neal in violation of the Ethics Code on Feb. 20, for failing to file on time a required financial disclosure form. That vote come almost a year after Neal had been notified of the pending violation, on March 18, 2013. Those forms are due on May 15 of each year in office for certain public officials.
Neal qualified to run for re-election on Aug. 21. He listed no party affiliation. He was disqualified on Sept. 15, well beyond the end of the qualifying period.
“The fact that he was an incumbent and the only candidate in that race made it a unique situation,” Casper said.
Neal, whose term expired Dec. 31, shrugged off the matter Wednesday, saying the position’s annual salary wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to set the matter straight.
Neal said he earned only $4,000 a year as constable in West Feliciana Parish.
“I was late filing a report,” Neal said of his ethics fines. “I knew I got a letter from them but I didn’t know I had to pay the fee before qualifying.”
As of Wednesday, Neal owed $6,400 in outstanding late fees to the state, said Kathleen Allen, spokeswoman with the Ethics Administration.
Neal was among the seven candidates disqualified from running in the Nov. 4 primary; four other targeted candidates simply withdrew from their respective races. Efforts to disqualify the remaining four individuals were unsuccessful because the state missed the seven-day deadline to file the lawsuits against the candidates once they had qualified to run for office, Allen said in an email.
Neal was the only person targeted by the Ethics Board in this election cycle whose disqualification left a vacancy, forcing the West Feliciana Parish Council on Tuesday night to appoint an interim constable and set a special election to permanently fill the spot.
The Parish Council appointed Ronnie Bourgeois and called for a special election on the Oct. 24 primary, with a Nov. 21 runoff if necessary. Qualifying is in September.
Bourgeois, meanwhile, will have to resign his post as a charter member of the West Feliciana Parish Fire Protection District 1 Board of Commissioners, where he has served for 26 years. He is also a retired state trooper with 21 years of service and has been a federal court security officer, a safety specialist with Entergy’s River Bend Station, code enforcement officer with the State Fire Marshal’s office, and, for the past 13 years, a part-time employee with the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office. He has a degree in criminal justice from LSU-Eunice.
“I look forward to serving the people of the parish, and it’s a good opportunity for me,” said Bourgeois, 68.
When asked if he’ll run for the position in October, Bourgeois demurred: “I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter. Howard Arceneaux is a freelance writer for The Advocate.