The state’s disaster response leader announced Tuesday that he is leaving his post to take a job with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Mark Cooper’s departure as head of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness comes a month into hurricane season.
“I just decided, in talking with my wife, this was in the best interest of our family,” Cooper, 47, said Tuesday afternoon.
Cooper said he plans to be in Bentonville, Ark., by the beginning of August to lead the discount chain’s international emergency management program.
Deputy Director Pat Santos will replace Cooper as interim director until the Nov. 30 end of hurricane season.
Santos, 52, joined the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in 2006. He is a retired colonel with the Louisiana Army National Guard.
The governor’s press secretary, Kyle Plotkin, said Santos will make $165,000 a year in his new role, the same salary that Cooper received.
Cooper joined the Jindal administration three years ago after working for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
He once lived in Bossier City.
In accepting a new job, Cooper joins the ranks of key aides who have left the Jindal administration since the governor took office in 2008. The governor’s budget chief, health secretary, transportation secretary and executive counsels have resigned in the past three years.
Cooper said he pursued the job with Wal-Mart Stores because he feared a similar opportunity would not be available in four years when Jindal likely leaves office. The governor is up for re-election this year for a second term.
Cooper said he spoke to Jindal Monday night after telling the governor’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, about his decision earlier in the day. He said he accepted the job on Friday.
In a prepared statement, Jindal praised Cooper’s leadership during hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the oil spill, the Mississippi River flooding and other disasters.
“Mark is a strong, proven leader, and our state benefited greatly from his wealth of experience in disaster management. We have no doubt Mark’s expertise and strong work ethic will serve him just as well in his next position,” the governor said.
Cooper said the state is in good shape to respond to future storms.
He told the governor in his resignation letter that he hopes to continue “to support Louisiana and other states in emergency management through private sector partnerships.”
Cooper also noted in his letter that political appointments like his usually are for a limited period of time.
“The decision to leave your Cabinet and the GOHSEP is not an easy one,” he wrote, addressing the governor.
“I understand that these appointments are temporary; and whether four months or four years at some point I knew I would have to look for another opportunity that would be in the best interest of my family. That opportunity recently presented itself.”