People follow our content because we aren’t afraid to point out when those with nefarious intent hijack the process for their own selfish gain. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to tell you about. It’s rare, though, that the Lafayette Republican Party rises to a level that you’d be interested in. However, the outermost positions where policy negotiations find their starting points can usually be traced back to a political party.
That’s exactly what happened a few months ago when the Lafayette Republican Party unanimously voted to oppose a fifty-percent (50%) tax increase on Lafayette’s downtown property owners. We told you about that vote on February 14th, 2022. However, the person running the Lafayette Republican Party Facebook page (who skipped that meeting) was none too pleased with that outcome. She absolutely refused to post opposition to this tax on the official Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee (LRPEC) Facebook page.
The affray begins!
That person was the LRPEC’s then treasurer, Denice Skinner. About six months prior, she had been appointed to the Lafayette Downtown Development Authority with an effective starting date of September 1, 2021. Her reputation, “nobody wants to be on Denice’s bad side,” ended up being well earned. Following the February 14th meeting, she called and badgered, browbeat, and otherwise threatened members of the LRPEC to support the tax increase or else. During this process, she levied personal attacks and otherwise tried to poison people against me and the Citizens for a New Louisiana organization.
Although she has been actively doing this with varying degrees of success for over a year now, numerous intelligent people began to call to tell me the crazy things she was saying. One, I found out later, was her standard smear: I am a stalker and had paid someone to park across the street from her office to “spy.” It was laughable. She also suggested to others that I hired private investigators to shadow her and Downtown employees. Denice even took and spread around a photo of a black pickup truck parked in a Church parking lot as “proof.”
At the LRPEC’s March 21st meeting, Denice and I were asked to present information about the downtown property tax. I spoke first, and brought a variety of documents as visual aids to my talking points. I could hardly get through single sentences without Denice yelling over me. When I finished going through the documents, Denice stood and began to berate me personally. Her reasons for voting for the tax were: I stalk women, hated babies, and was just lying about everything. She didn’t bring any documents to back up her opinions, or refute the documents I had provided. It was just an emotional rant.
Emotional ranting single-handedly flips the LRPEC
When the votes were counted, the outcome switched from unanimously opposing the tax increase to 8:5 in favor! The eight members who flipped to vote in favor included Tommy Angelle, Dustin Arnaud, Landon Boudreaux, John Bienvenu, Jason Cullins, Solange Noriega, Denice Skinner, and Tim Breaux. The five who withstood Skinner’s withering blows and remained consistent in their opposition were: Charlie Buckels, Ruth Gaspard, Joyce Linde, Patti Carter, and Jeremiah Supple. Secretary Betsy Arabie did not vote.
Tommy Angelle had other obligations and left a little early. On his way out, he leaned over and whispered an apology. He said Denice’s behavior was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. After the meeting, she continued her tirade against me. She yelled that all I do is stalk women, hate babies, and suggested that I should go read more porn at the library. With that, she stormed off to the parking lot. Later, I found out it was to intercept and castigate anyone who didn’t vote her way.
Potential conflicts of interest
Around all of this, Dustin Arnaud, Joe Castille, and Denice Skinner started up a new organization they named Metacom. Their Facebook page was established on March 1. However, I personally took this photo (click this link to see the photo) of their office space on March 7th, showing it was recently in use as a temporary leasing office for “the Municipal.” That’s the old federal courthouse building which was converted into apartments. The project was a huge effort being ramrodded by the Downtown Development Authority, the board on which Skinner was appointed. While Skinner renting space to a client of DDA could easily be explained away, the numerous people we spoke with about it said it had the appearance of a conflict of interest.
That photo of Dustin, Joe, and Denice was published on March 19th – just two days before the LRPEC meeting when Denice exploded. It was also on March 19th that someone registered the domain showupfordowntown.com, which is a marketing component to promote DDA’s 50% downtown tax increase. Both the metacom.la and showupfordowntown.com domains use the exact same domain registrar, website platform, and are even hosted on the exact same web server! That can’t all be a coincidence.
To add to the mystery, as of this writing, neither of Downtown Lafayette’s campaign finance disclosures tells us who built that website. Since it takes a position on the tax proposition, it should be listed as either something they paid for or recorded as an in-kind donation. Did downtown pay Denice’s Metacom organization to build that website? Was Denice or Metacom paid to get the Republican Party to change their position to favor DDA’s tax increase? We may never know…
Conflicts come back to bite Skinner
At the next LRPEC meeting, on April 11th, Metacom made a sales pitch to take over all of the party’s marketing efforts, including social media, for the low-low price of $1,000 per month. Members peppered the presenter with questions. Most wondered if the two LRPEC members (Arnaud and Skinner) were profiting from an agreement for which they were going to be voting. Was that a conflict of interest?
At some point during the contentious sales pitch, the presenter walked out. Moments later, Denice Skinner announced “he passes, he withdraws the proposal.” During the same meeting, a member reminded the gathering that it was about time to have biennial executive board elections. A motion was made to hold board elections at the next meeting. It carried with all but Denice Skinner in support.
Now would be a good time to explain that the executive board consisted of Chairman Tim Breaux, Vice Chairman Dustin Arnaud, Secretary Betsy Arabie, and Treasurer Denice Skinner. At the May 9th meeting of the LRPEC, all of those current board members were nominated along with Patti Carter for Vice Chairman and Charlie Buckels for Treasurer. When the votes were tallied, Carter replaced Arnaud 9:5, and Buckles unseated Skinner 8:6.
At the LRPEC’s June 13th meeting, Skinner refused to turn over to the organization control of their own Facebook page and its 6,400 followers. Instead, at about 8:01pm on the same day she “converted” the page to her own use and replaced all of the Republican Executive Committee branding.
Originally set up on July 12, 2019, the page had been used to promote Republican candidates for public office during the Lafayette City/Parish election cycle. According to reports submitted to the Louisiana Board of Ethics, the LRPEC raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $74,120 and spent about $72,494. Of that, the LRPEC directly reimbursed Denice Skinner for approximately $35,796.69 in Facebook advertising expenses.
It could easily be argued that a Facebook page named “Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee” that ran a tremendous number of ads in 2019, is the exact same organization that reported $35,796 in Facebook advertising expenses to the Louisiana Board of Ethics under the same name during the same year.
It’s Deja Vu all over again
Winston Churchill once said, “those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Perhaps more aptly, Yogi Berra said, “it’s Deja Vu all over again!” That’s because the LRPEC finds itself with an almost identical conundrum as eight years ago. Back then, an “unknown person” running the LRPEC Facebook page posted some weird 9/11 truther / conspiracy theory.
It was early December of 2016. Donald Trump had been elected, but hadn’t been inaugurated. Several people “in the know” told me that Trump himself had mentioned the post as a humorous ice breaker when he met Republicans from the Lafayette area.
At the time, then Chairman Nathan Broussard requested that the embarrassing post be removed from the page, but Skinner refused. Instead, she “converted” the page to her own use. She bolted on “District Six” to the end of then page name “Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee” and began to use the page as her own. Today, a few renaming iterations later, the page is now called “Lafayette Parish Republican Denice Comeaux Skinner.”
It’s just not professional
Of course, the difference between then and now is a $35,000 investment. In the marketing world it’s standard practice that an organizational page does not belong to the person posting to the page – but to the organization whose name it bears and whose emblem it prominently displays. When an organization changes vendors (which happens all the time) the right and customary thing to do is hand over all assets to the new vendor – and to do so without a fuss.
Everyone in the industry knows that success is defined by reputation. The absolute worst thing a marketing firm can do is hold a page hostage or, worse, convert it to their own use. Doing so would effectively ruin their reputation forever because they can not be trusted. Warren Buffett put it this way: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Out there in the real world, someone stealing $35,000 from the board they serve on would be arrested for grand larceny. However, Republicans are notorious for not holding their own accountable. The examples are endless: Bill Cassidy, Clay Schexnayder, Ronnie Johns… the list goes on.
However, here is an opportunity to restore some public confidence in the party. The broken trust and conversion of organizational assets to her own use demands an answer. The LRPEC should swiftly call a special meeting and go into executive session. The possible outcomes of such a session could include censure, removal from the committee, filing a police report, and pursuit of a legal remedy to recover their $35,000. Nothing should be off the table.
If we’re not watching them, who will?
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?Help us to achieve the vision of creating a new, propserous state by becoming a Citizen of a New Louisiana. Become a Citizen