Correction: The Advocate on April 22 quoted Neftalie Danier, assistant director of alumni relations for Bernard M. Baruch College, as saying Troy Bell — at the time the newly named chief administrative officer for East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome — did not have a master of public administration degree from that school. Danier said Bell owed money and hadn't completed the necessary coursework. Asked for comment at the time, Bell said that while he had not requested the diploma, he had completed the coursework required for the degree. Bell recently provided The Advocate with a diploma dated 2012 showing he was granted the degree by Baruch. When asked Nov. 29 about the issue, Suzanne Bronski, director of public relations of Baruch College, said Bell did receive the degree, but refused to answer more questions. Bronski said that under federal law, "we are only permitted to release the degree held and the date of the degree awarded."
After her first choice of chief administrative officer was forced to resign by the end of his first week, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome pivoted on Monday, installing — at least for now — a familiar leader to oversee Baton Rouge’s daily operations.
Broome tapped longtime local political figure James Llorens as her interim chief administrative officer, acknowledging she made a mistake by hiring short-lived CAO Troy Bell.
Metro Council members from both parties on Monday called the Bell blip disappointing, and a few asked for more input when it comes time to pick the next person to fill this crucial city-parish government job. Meanwhile, human resources professionals said the fiasco might have been avoided if Broome searched for and vetted candidates differently.
Bell resigned Friday after The Advocate reported that he did not hold the master's in public administration he claimed on his resume. Bell also had been fired from at least three previous government jobs, although he maintained in interviews that he resigned from two of them.
His offer letter dated April 13 and made public Monday said he would have been paid $144,019 annually — more than $4,000 above the 2016 salary for former Mayor-President Kip Holden’s longtime CAO William Daniel.
Broome said in a statement Monday that it became obvious in the days after she hired Bell that he needed more vetting.
"I made a mistake with this important hire and I accept full responsibility," Broome said in her statement. "Mr. Bell was not the person that this city and parish deserved. I immediately accepted his resignation before the close of business on April 21. This action was taken so that my administration could put this completely behind us, and continue to serve our fellow residents and move our city-parish forward.”
The Advocate has requested but not yet received city-parish records outlining the process for hiring and examining the backgrounds of new employees.
LSU Business Professor Jeremy Beus described an ideal hiring process for a top executive that appears to differ from the course Broome took when she hired Bell.
Beus first recommended that the city-parish outsource the work to a headhunting firm, whose consultants are already familiar with qualified job-seekers and can make fair recommendations because they “don’t have skin in the game.” If it’s too expensive, the city could opt to form a search committee, which one Metro Councilman has already called for in the wake of Bell’s resignation.
Llorens is more of a known quantity than Bell, whose resume didn't include any previous work in Louisiana. Llorens previously worked in multiple roles in Baton Rouge government, including running the human resources department under former Mayor-President Pat Screen in the 1980s. More recently, he was an assistant chief administrative officer early in former Mayor-President Kip Holden's administration.
Llorens started as Southern's chancellor in 2011, but in 2014 the Southern University board of supervisors narrowly voted against renewing his three-year contract as chancellor while the university struggled to manage budget cuts from the state government. At the time, some students and supporters organized a rally, circulated a petition and staged a sit-in to support Llorens remaining as chancellor.
More recently, he was the president of the new Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School after he led a feasibility study in 2014 to see if the Catholic school could thrive in Baton Rouge. He oversaw the school's start-up period, but announced in the fall of 2016, four months after the school opened, that he was stepping down "in favor of family and personal interests."
Speaking Monday less than 24 hours after his appointment, Llorens said that he still needed to learn more about Broome’s priorities as mayor-president and how he needs to steer her administration. But Llorens also said he already has relationships with most of the Metro Council members, which should help build trust with them. Metro Council members LaMont Cole and Chandler Loupe cheered Llorens' appointment, as did Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer.
Llorens said he is not sure how long he will fill the interim role, guessing possibly a month or two. He has offered his assistance to Broome as she searches for another permanent chief administrative officer, he said.
“I want to fully support the mayor and do anything that I can,” he said.
Cole, a Democrat, called for the mayor to form a search committee of council members and city-parish department heads to interview candidates and offer advice, though Broome would still have final say.
“You make it public, you let everyone know who applied … who we’re going to interview,” Cole said. “It’s a transparent process.”
Republican Councilman Buddy Amoroso said he would be interested in a change to the plan of government that allowed the Metro Council to hold a confirmation vote on the CAO after the mayor’s appointment.
Multiple council members said during the first few months of Broome's tenure they have been able to turn to others, such as Assistant Chief Administrative Officers Rowdy Gaudet and James Gilmore, when they have questions or concerns. Still, they said they still count on the mayor's CAO as a go-to person who oversees all departments and is a key resource for council members.
A day after announcing her chief administrative officer, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broom…
Amoroso likened it to a football team without a quarterback and Republican Councilman Dwight Hudson compared it to a company without a chief executive officer. Loupe said he used to talk to Holden once or twice a week but has not spoken to Broome since her January inauguration and tries to handle his district’s problems himself.
Keeping up with city-parish daily operations has not been a problem yet, said Republican Councilman Matt Watson. However, he noted that Broome’s administration is still working to finish up programs initially spearheaded by Holden.
A CAO will become more necessary when Broome’s administration wants to advance its own initiatives — to do more surgery rather than applying Band-Aids — he said.
Loupe and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson, both Republicans, said city-parish government does not seem to be doing as much since Broome took office.
“People are going to start looking,” Wilson said. “Not a lot has happened in the first 100 days. … People are going to start questioning.”
Not all the council members were as critical. Democrat Chauna Banks said she’s had two meetings with Broome to discuss important business since the inauguration, though she declined to elaborate. She attributed Bell’s short tenure to “a lack of character on his part” but said she hopes a new appointment will come swiftly. Councilwoman Tara Wicker, also a Democrat, agreed that Bell’s problematic resume was purely his responsibility and not Broome’s.
One setback in not having a chief administrative officer is the lapse in communication between Metro Council members and the mayor’s office, said Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, a Republican. She pointed out that council members found out about Bell’s hiring and subsequent resignation from the media, and said she would have preferred to receive advance notice.
"It's very disappointing that we're four months into her term and we still don't have a permanent person in that position," Freiberg said.
Political consultant and pollster Bernie Pinsonat predicted people will quickly forget about the Bell flub as long as Broome does not repeat her mistake.
"It's a lesson learned,” he said.