It seems the Advocate just can’t leave success alone. Regular readers will remember that a year and a half ago, Citizens for a New Louisiana began to look into the interworking (or lack thereof) of the Bayou Vermilion District (BVD). Since then, they’ve gone from extreme deficits to a $173,960 budget surplus for 2022. Last year would have ended in deficit had it not been for a one-time COVID related SVOG grant injection of $400,273.65 and an unexpected $71,550 increase in ad valorem (property) tax revenue. Without those two surprises, BVD would have lost $117,430 in 2021.
However, the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Claire Taylor, and others, are so fixated on distracting the public from this tremendous success that they’re causing the organization harm. Instead of talking about how Vermilionville has been turned around, they’re suggesting that something is wrong! Even in a relatively positive article, Baton Rouge Advocate’s Claire Taylor gets dangerously close to the truth before quickly changing the subject.
At the BVD board’s Dec. 15 meeting, Melanie Harrington who resigned recently after working six years as an educator at BVD, accused many of the current BVD board members who are affiliated with the conservative self-described government watchdog group Citizens for a New Louisiana of targeting Vermilionville because employees issued a statement condemning systemic racism after the May 2020 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
So many employees have quit recently, from artisans to museum curators, that Harrington said she fears Vermilionville will lose its American Alliance of Museums accreditation.
Why are employees quitting?
We’ve heard from multiple sources that it’s not the new board that’s responsible for employees quitting. Those sources tell me it’s the complete fabrications by Jolie Johnson (who is decamping to Baton Rouge), Melanie Harrington of Breaux Bridge (St. Martin Parish), Deborah Simeral of Arnaudville (St. Landry Parish), and constant badgering by the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Claire Taylor that’s driving the exodus. The negative attention manufactured by these off-putting, angry people has created enormous pressure that these employees simply did not sign up for. Incessant phone calls at work, emails, and chat platforms demanding that questions be answered or comments be issued creates immense emotional strain.
As Taylor’s article alludes, most of these questions are about that now infamous political statement issued over a year ago by former Vermilionville employees. How is that relevant to today’s success? It’s not. Sources also tell me that Millicent Norbett, Vermilionville’s only black director, quit just the other day over this constant harassment. She was simply tired of having to deal with calls and questions on matters that have nothing to do with her job.
That year-old political statement is not news anymore, and yet it comes up in every single news article Claire Taylor puts out about Vermilionville or the Bayou Vermilion District. What is news is BVD is in the best position anyone has seen for years. They are finally poised to fulfill their core mission of cleaning and improving the flow of the Vermilion river.
That’s the work taxpayers expected they were funding with the approval of that property tax millage over twenty years ago. Instead, a lack of fiscal attention in recent years has dwindled their fund balance and put the entire operation at risk of bankruptcy. In fact, page 12 of their 2020 financial statement (the latest available) shows an incredible annual loss of $894,213. Before anyone is tempted to call that an anomaly, they would do well to review a few previous financial statements. 2019 reflects a loss of $470,337 and 2018 reflects a loss of $510,586.
Her new target? The board’s only black man
Success notwithstanding, Ms. Taylor appears to be on a crusade to destroy diversity at BVD. Having accomplished her goal of removing the only black director from Vermilionville, she’s now turned her attention to the only black man on the board. Earlier this week, she started to bombard Markaylen “Mark” Wiltz with a series of demands, thrust upon him through various mediums. In her article, Claire Taylor says she’s been hounding him with emails and has even been calling and making demands of his employer! Could it be that she wants Mr. Wiltz off of the board so badly she’s trying to get him fired from his job in the United States Senate?
Taylor said, “[Wiltz’s] resumé listed a home address in Youngsville, a mobile home owned by another Wiltz.” Why has Ms. Taylor been snooping around his home in Youngsville? Could she be trying to prove he’s at work (where he’s supposed to be) during the work week? Her article title, “Does Bayou Vermilion board member who works for senator in Washington ‘reside’ in Lafayette Parish?” implies an answer. Because he works in our nation’s capitol, she suggests that he is somehow disqualified from residency in his home parish. That kind of fallacious, silly reasoning would also preclude every Congressman and Senator from serving in our nation’s capitol who spends more time in DC than in their home state. More on that in a minute.
What is residency?
Ms. Taylor goes on:
A Bayou Vermilion District board member who works in the Washington, D.C., office of Louisiana Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy may not meet the residency requirement to serve on the board.
When Markaylen “Mark” T. Wiltz was appointed to the board by the Lafayette City Council Aug. 4, 2020, his resumé listed a home address in Youngsville, a mobile home owned by another Wiltz. The resumé listed his job as legislative assistant to Republican state Sen. Michael Fesi of Houma.
State legislation that created the Bayou Vermilion District states the nine board members “shall be citizens of the United States residing within the limits of the district during their term of office.”
Is Ms. Taylor suggesting that Mr. Wiltz does not reside in Lafayette Parish and therefore should be removed from the BVD board? We will argue the point itself in a moment. However, even if it were as she suggests, the law doesn’t say reside during the entire term of office. It only says “during their term of office.” Even a single day would meet that measure.
Considering her animus toward this black board member, it really is no surprise that she hasn’t shared the legal definition of ‘resides’ with her readers. Louisiana Civil Code Article 39 succinctly defines and contrasts the difference between domicile and residence. “A natural person may reside in several places but may not have more than one domicile.”
This civil code makes it clear that someone (like a Congressman or Senator) who stays in Washington DC for purposes of their job can reside in Louisiana. If this was really a valid issue then why hasn’t Claire Taylor suggested that Congressman Higgins be removed from office for not residing in Louisiana? It’s because she’d be laughed out of the news media. And yet, her editor lends credibility to this erroneous idea by allowing it to be published.
Taylor admits that Mr. Wiltz has been a model board member
If you can choke through her article to the midpoint, she eventually admits that Mr. Wiltz regularly attends and participates in BVD board meetings. That participation really is the only requirement to remain on the board. She hasn’t cited anything to show he’s not been a model member of both the board and the Lafayette community. All by itself, the fact that he has even volunteered to serve on a local board puts him in a category of only one-percent (1%) of Lafayette citizens who care enough to get involved.
From her own writing, any reasonable person would conclude that it is none other than Claire Taylor herself who is on the very short list of individuals who “are trying to shut down Vermilionville.” To complete the list, simply add in Jolie Johnson, Melanie Harrington, and Deborah Simeral. These are the only people I’m aware of that are actively working to discredit BVD’s success and chase away its employees. Add to this, none of these activists ‘reside’ in Lafayette Parish, which is the same (albeit erroneous) excuse that they’re hurling at Mr. Wiltz.
With your help, we can make Louisiana transparent!
Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?
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