Either it was a bare-knuckles act of retaliation against a consultant who worked for a rival politician, or it was an honest attempt to prevent conflicts of interest.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts insists that his latest ordnance, which the council approved this week, is entirely about the latter. It bars people who work for election campaigns in Jefferson — either council or parish president races — from also getting contracts from the parish government or groups receiving parish funds.
Ben Zahn, a frequent opponent of Roberts on the council, suspects otherwise, arguing the measure approved by a 5-2 vote on Wednesday was aimed squarely at Greg Buisson, a political consultant and media relations expert.
Buisson recently worked for Louis Congemi, who unsuccessfully challenged Roberts for his seat in the October primary election.
Buisson also happens to hold a contract to supply Carnival reviewing stands to the parish and works with groups that accept parish money to stage public events like Family Gras. Under the ordinance drawn up by Roberts, Buisson won’t be able to do both in the future.
Roberts argues that’s as it should be — money the parish spends on events should not end up inadvertently aiding a political campaign.
He said the idea for the ordinance came to him after the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau said it was planning a forum for candidates running for parish president, even though the JCVB, which gets tax-dollar funding, also contracts with Buisson, who was working with one of the candidates, election winner Mike Yenni.
“This avoids that conflict,” Roberts said.
Zahn isn’t buying it.
“Curious his contracts haven’t been questioned (until now)” by Roberts, Zahn said.
Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee also expressed some concern about the new ordinance in a council memo, saying it might infringe on rights to free expression or equal protection under the law. Roberts countered that it shouldn’t be a problem, given that government workers subject to civil service protections face restrictions on their political activity as well.
Buisson said he plans on challenging the new rules in court: “I hope he at least enjoyed a chuckle from his unconstitutional ordinance because he won’t have the last laugh.”
Note: This post was updated to include more comments from Roberts after it was initially published.