There comes a point where a chronic betrayal of the public trust begins to earn grudging admiration.
Jay Lapeyre has received and richly deserved the scornful attention of just about every newspaper scribe in Louisiana, but that hardly makes him special.
He has refused to take the honorable course and resign his official post, or even to recuse himself when votes are taken on matters in which he has a glaring conflict of interest, but shameless political hacks are a dime a dozen around here.
You might regard such behavior as arrogance, but who the hell are you to say? You just wish you had the devil-may-care style that makes Lapeyre the beau ideal of unethical officialdom. With his nerve, you could go places in any walk of life.
Not that Lapeyre needed any unusual gifts to make it. He was born to millions, having taken over a company founded by his father and uncles with clients that “include some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world,” its website boasts.
Tycoons who accept a public role on the side generally say they are eager to “give something back,” but Lapeyre seems more inclined to take as much as he can. As chairman of the nominating committee for a flood protection authority, he does all he can to advance his commercial interests.
So, you will say, what else is new? You can stop the presses when an altruistic appointee surfaces; this looks like standard operating procedure.
Here is where the chutzpah comes in. Lapeyre does not skulk or dissemble, but he is more than simply blatant. He rubs our noses in his self-serving corruption of public service for when he calls a meeting of his nominating committee, its members are summoned to his corporate headquarters in Harahan.
There Lapeyre does his best to ensure that the flood protection authority is taken over by appointees wanting to ditch the lawsuit it filed seeking compensation from 97 oil and gas companies for destroying the wetlands with their canals and pipelines. Since those companies include several clients of Lapeyre’s company, the most rudimentary sense of propriety would compel him to step aside, but it evidently hasn’t occurred to him to do so.
When the lawsuit was filed last year, all nine of the flood protection authority board members voted in favor, much to the horror of a political establishment that has been in thrall to oil and gas for a century. Gov. Bobby Jindal let it be known that he wanted authority members, at the expiration of their terms, to be replaced by his loyalists, and must have been delighted that the interests of the nominating committee chairman coincided with his own. So far, four of the old authority members have gotten the heave-ho.
However, the crucial fifth vote has yet to be lined up. The committee, over Lapeyre’s strong objection, just voted 7-3 to renominate G. Paul Kemp, who, as a coastal geologist, was well qualified to assess the liability of oil and gas when the lawsuit was under consideration. Jindal is by no means sure to acquiesce in Kemp’s reappointment, however. A Jindal flack responded to the renomination by promising that “we will continue to use the full authority of the governor’s office to stop” the lawsuit, and the quickest way to do that is clearly to put the kibosh on Kemp.
Certainly the law enacted last year to derail the suit will not have the desired effect any time soon if, indeed, it does so at all. The flood authority’s lawyers claim it is unconstitutional because Jindal’s legislative lackeys tacked the bill onto another that was unrelated to it and shifted it to a compliant committee without providing the requisite public notice.
It is also alleged that, while the law forbids a “local government entity” to file suit, flood protection authorities do not meet the official definition of that term. Apparently we have legislators who cannot even write a bill that matches their intent.
Lapeyre is with them to the end, however. Flood protection authorities, purportedly created as apolitical and technically savvy replacements for the do-nothing levee boards of old, risk losing their independence if they get involved in litigation, Lapeyre warned at the meeting to consider Kemp’s renomination. Thanks in large measure to Lapeyre’s efforts, it is a bit late to worry about that.
“My view,” Lapeyre told committee members as they sat around the table at his company’s HQ, “is based on the idea that this lawsuit is not part of what this authority should properly be doing.”
When it comes to brass neck, this is a giant among men.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.