Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal says he won’t answer questions about the new position he created to hire a defeated opponent now backing his re-election in the upcoming runoff, including what the man’s job duties will be and what he’ll be paid.
Ackal distributed a news release announcing the hiring of Spike Boudoin, an opponent in the Oct. 24 primary, as director of community relations at the same time Boudoin announced his endorsement of Ackal in the runoff.
After repeated attempts this week to reach Ackal, his spokesman on Friday said he will not answer those or any other questions from The Advocate.
“(Ackal’s) not answering anything from The Advocate,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Ryan Turner said on Friday, noting the sheriff considered the publication “persona non grata.”
Ackal said in an October interview that he took issue with the newspaper’s coverage of his administration, which has included ongoing coverage of problems at the jail, in-custody deaths, lawsuits and civil rights investigations lodged against the agency during his tenure.
The Advocate on Friday afternoon filed a request under the Louisiana Public Records Act to obtain records related to Boudoin’s new position, including his salary and a description of his job duties. No response was received as of the close of business Friday.
Boudoin also has been unreachable for information about his appointment.
Ackal will face former Iberia Parish Jail Warden Roberta Boudreaux in the Nov. 21 runoff after winning 47 percent of the vote in the primary.
Boudreaux captured 25 percent, and Boudoin came in third with 18 percent. Fourth- and fifth-place candidates Joe LeBlanc and Bobby Jackson took in 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
LeBlanc has since endorsed Boudreaux.
“My first decision was to unseat Mr. Ackal for the parish so we can better the parish as a whole, so that’s why I endorsed her — because she has the qualifications and everything we need to push this parish forward,” LeBlanc said on Friday.
But Jackson said he declined to make an endorsement in this year’s runoff election after he recalled being placed in a similar position as Boudoin in the 2007 race.
That year, Jackson ran for sheriff and came in third place with 11 percent of the vote against LeBlanc, who took in 5 percent, and Ackal and candidate David Landry, who tied at 42 percent in Ackal’s first bid for office.
Jackson said he endorsed Ackal and was thereafter hired to the agency as an intelligence analyst — a role he held in the U.S. Army — but was edged out after a little more than two months after being denied working space, equipment and direction on his duties, all while being paid a competitive salary.
“I decided I’m no longer going to take the taxpayers’ money and just walk around with my thumb in my rear,” Jackson said. “Now, I see history repeating itself.”
Boudreaux declined to give an opinion on Boudoin’s hiring and endorsement, saying it’s “for the Attorney General’s Office to decide” whether he violated state law or ethics code. But she said the announcement surprised her.
“Having run against (Boudoin), who ran in an effort to effect change, I found it extremely interesting that he would in turn decide that (Ackal) was the best candidate to endorse for the runoff election,” Boudreaux said.
Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, said Ackal’s parallel hiring and endorsement raises questions about whether taxpayer money is playing a role in the election’s outcome.
“If it’s the case that public funds are being used to hire somebody, then a reasonable person might ask whether or not those public funds were being used to secure an endorsement in votes,” Scott said.
The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics states that public servants are barred from using their positions to “compel or coerce any person or other public servant to engage in political activity,” with political activity further defined as “an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office in an election.”
State law also prohibits anyone from giving money or anything of value “to any person who has withdrawn or who was eliminated prior or subsequent to the primary election as a candidate for public office, for the purpose of securing or giving his political support to any remaining candidate or candidates for public office in the primary or general election.”
In Ackal’s Oct. 30 news release announcing Boudoin’s endorsement, Boudoin — who worked at the Sheriff’s Office for two decades before moving to the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in 2004 — also took the opportunity to talk about his new job.
“During my campaign, I learned there is a need for better communication between the Sheriff’s Office and the community,” Boudoin said in the release. “I believe I’m the right person to bridge that gap. After much thought and prayer, I have accepted a position as director of community relations with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. This will give me the opportunity to be a voice for the citizens.”
He also stated that Ackal’s “experience and leadership make him the most qualified candidate to continue his role as sheriff and keep the citizens safe at home.”
Ackal and Boudreaux will face off in the Nov. 21 runoff election after Boudreaux received a little more than half the votes of the incumbent sheriff. She got 5,096 to Ackal’s 9,683.
Boudoin won 3,723 votes while running his campaign on a promise to bring values, morals and ethical standards to the department and to reinstate trust with the community and boost the morale of deputies. LeBlanc and Jackson took in 1,492 and 595, respectively.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.