AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council, on a split vote Monday, asked 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux to investigate whether there were any improprieties during a Library Board event last month when Parish President Gordon Burgess announced his support for a candidate for parish president.
The resolution seeking the investigation was proposed by Councilman Carlo Bruno, who reminded the council about Arden Wells’ complaint at its May 25 meeting that Burgess, who was the guest of honor at the library event, had publicly endorsed Robbie Miller for parish president. Burgess has chosen not to run for re-election.
Wells, who has run unsuccessfully over the years for a number of parish offices, also had complained that Hammond City Councilman Lamar Marshall and Hammond City Court Judge Grace Gassaway had been given free recognition by the library. Twice during Wells’ remarks, Council President David Vial warned him not to make negative remarks about elected officials in front of the council.
Wells had claimed that taxpayer money that supports the library had been used to host the screening and for refreshments at the event. His remarks were met with silence by the council last month.
Bruno said Monday that while he respects the right of the library’s board of directors and Director of Library Services Barry Bradford to host events that recognize the accomplishments of community leaders, he has serious concerns about the library spending more than $500 on refreshments at an event that apparently had political overtones.
Bruno said if the district attorney finds no wrongdoing, then the matter could be laid to rest. “Let’s clear the air on this. … We don’t need the public thinking that their taxpayer money is being misspent,” he said.
Councilman Louis Joseph said he attended the screening of the documentary, titled “The First Detroit,” and as far as he is concerned the Library Board and its director did not have anything to do with Burgess using the venue to announce his support of Miller. “How could the Library Board know what Gordon Burgess was going to say? His remarks were totally off the cuff and no one could have known what he was going to say. This was not a political rally,” Joseph said.
Councilman Lionel Wells said he, too, had attended the screening and in no way did it seem to him the event was a “political rally” for Miller.
Vial said that perhaps the event should not have taken place in the first place, but he said he could not find any fault with the Library Board for hosting the gathering, which focused on how Tangipahoa Parish was brought out of near-bankruptcy during the early years of the Burgess administration. Burgess, who has been in office since 1987, has been the only parish president since the council-president form of government was approved by parish voters.
Voting for the investigation request were Bruno, Vial, Nicky Muscarello, Trent Forrest, Greg Varnado, Ronnie Bankston and Harry Lavine. Voting no were Bobby Cortez, Wells and Joseph.
Bradford and some members of the Library Board present at the meeting did not comment. Burgess had left the meeting before Bruno brought up the matter.
Also on Monday, Parish Engineer Maurice Jordan announced that the parish will spend a little more than $4 million for road resurfacing and improvements under the current Phase 18 of the road overlay program. This new money is in addition to approximately $4 million now being spent on this fiscal year’s road improvements. Jordan said the additional money for road upgrades came from funds accrued from a sales tax that parish residents pay to maintain roads and bridges.