ACA.davidcheramie.01.112221

David Cheramie, CEO of the Bayou Vermilion District which includes the Vermilionville living history museum and bayou operations.

For a second time in three months, the board of Bayou Vermilion District, which operates the Vermilionville living natural history museum in Lafayette, attempted last week to fire its chief executive officer.

A special meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, allegedly to take another shot at firing David Cheramie, who has been CEO for 10 years.

Cheramie became a target after Vermilionville staff released a public statement condemning systemic racisim after the May 2020 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Four board members resigned in protest, including Calvin Leger, who was quickly re-appointed to the board and led the effort last week to fire Cheramie. 

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Two board members — David Eaton, appointed by Mayor-Preisdent Josh Guillory in October 2020, and Mark Wiltz, who is on the staff of Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and appointed  to the BVD board by the City Council in October 2020 — are affiliated with Citizens for a New Louisiana, a conservative group that Executive Director Michael Lunsford of Breaux Bridge calls a local government watchdog group.

Lunsford, amid the chaos on the BVD board, on Nov. 16, 2020, posted a video and statement alleging Vermilionville staff is "pilfering MILLIONS" intended for bayou operations like erosion control and littler cleanup, and have "reappropriated nearly an entire agency to cultural manipulation and political engagement.”

The board has been scrutinizing Cheramie's work and leadership and the cost of operating Vermilionville, which is supported by revenue from a property tax, but operates at a deficit. At a special board meeting in August called by Leger, three board members — Eaton, Wiltz and Holden Hoggatt, who was appointed by the Parish Council in 2019 — abstained from a vote to fire Cheramie.

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A human resources attorney investigated 24 allegations against Cheramie, some dating as far back as 2015, 10 by an employee who refused to speak with the attorney or provide details. None of the complaints were of a sexual nature.

The board instead outlined improvements and training for Cheramie, and reorganized the BVD operations. Cheramie lost an ally when board Chairman Tommy Michot's term on the board expired at the end of October.

At a meeting Nov. 17, board members expressed dissatisfaction that Chermie waited so late to provide them with the proposed 2022 budget. Leger complained that the finance committee was told the accounting firm submitted changes to Cheramie the night of Nov. 14 but the board did not receive the changes until the Nov. 17 meeting.

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As CEO, Hoggatt said, Chermie is responsible for providing the board with financial planning documents in an understandable and correct format. Ramming the budget through without board oversight at the end of the year is not the way to run the organization, he said.

Leger then offered a motion to terminate Cheramie as CEO so the Bayou Vermilion District can "move in a different direction."  

Cheramie said he knows the board has been trying to fire him for a while, adding, "I feel very betrayed" because he made changes the board wanted and is working with the board, despite the challenges.

The board's attorney advised the motion may be out of order because there was no agenda item specific to terminating Cheramie, so the board attempted to add it to the agenda. The motion, which needed unanimous approval to be added to the agenda, failed when board member Phyllis Mouton abstained. Leger, Eaton, Wiltz, Hoggatt and newly-appointed board member Karen Hail voted to add the item to the agenda.


Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.