Youngsville council meetings have been interesting over the last few months. They’ve proven that nothing generates a crowd quite like a good public spectacle. Even without gladiator contests, wild animal hunts, or the chariot rides, as were features of the Roman era of bread and circus, the public has been showing up in droves to hold their elected officials accountable. But is it working?
At the most recent City of Youngsville Council meeting, on August 24, 2023, the Council agenda contained three items. Two of them related to the position of the elected Chief of Police:
- Appointment of an interim Chief of Police, to fill the unexpired term of Chief Rickey Boudreaux who resigned his position effective August 21, 2023.
- A Resolution ordering and calling a special election to fill the vacancy of Chief of Police of the City of Youngsville, State of Louisiana, and taking other matters in connection therewith.
No doubt it was these two measures which prompted people to flood into the council chambers. It appeared that no one even noticed that additional $100,000 general fund amendment for Christmas expenditures.
The room was tense. Many people were suggesting that the decision to select the next police Chief had been decided in advance of the meeting, was rushed, was part of a plot by the Sheriff to take over policing, and was unduly influenced by outsiders. They were questioning not only the decision but also the process by which it was made. Whether true or not, the very nature of the comments indicate a distrust in the Mayor and Council.
Civil Service Law Against Political Activities
One hot topic was the August 15, 2023, Petition to Grant Deputy Chief Gabe Thompson to Interim Police Chief. That petition was signed by thirty-three officers of the Youngsville Police Department. On August 21, 2023, Mayor Ritter responded by letter to members of the Youngsville Police Department. While the letter is generally upbeat and complimentary, the portion directly addressing the petition was ill received.
“… we received the petition from within the department advocating for the appointment of Deputy Chief Gabe Thompson as interim Chief of Police. It’s clear that Deputy Chief Thompson has earned your respect and admiration. I want to assure you that we respect your opinion and understand the significance of your endorsement.
However, it is within the context that I suggest caution regarding potential conflicts with civil service law as outlined in RS 33:2504, specifically concerning prohibited political activities should a member of the community call that into question. I respectfully recommend avoiding any appearance of using protected positions to influence political activities.”
The Louisiana Civil Service System is designed to protect employees who are part of the system from undue political influence. In exchange for such protection they surrender the ability to fully participate in political activities. Louisiana revised statute 33:2504, and alternatively 33:2564, talks about prohibited political activities. Specifically,
“no employee in the classified service shall (a) be a member of any national, state, or local committee of a political party, (b) be an officer or member of a committee of any factional, political club or organization, (c) be a candidate for nomination or election to public office, (d) make any political speech or public political statement in behalf of any candidate seeking to be elected to public office, or (e) take any part in the management or affairs of any political party or in the political campaign of any candidate for public office, except to privately express his opinion and to cast his vote.”
Members of the classified service retain all rights unless specifically outlined in the statute(s) as being prohibited conduct. However, the sides don’t agree that appointing a temporary Chief rose to the level of supporting a candidate for public office.
Sides clash on the rules
The statute then states that “the appointing authority shall conduct an investigation of any person alleged to have violated a provision of this Section.” Additionally, “the board may, upon its own initiative, or upon the request of the appointing authority, investigate any officer or employee in the classified service whom it reasonably believes guilty of violating any one or more of the provisions of this Part.” If members of the City of Youngsville believe a violation did occur, it is required that the appointing authority or the Civil Service Board investigate. So far that has not happened.
Speaking at the meeting on this very topic was former candidate for Lafayette Parish Sheriff, George Armbruster. Armbruster referenced his wife, Lydia Armbruster, as being an employee within the Youngsville Police Department. He is also himself a Reserve Officer for the City of Youngsville. Armbruster accused the Mayor of being in violation of the statute, specifically section (A)(6) which reads:
“No appointing authority, or agent or deputy thereof, shall directly or indirectly, demote, suspend, discharge, or otherwise discipline, or threaten to demote, suspend, discharge or otherwise discipline, or discriminate against any person in the classified service for the purpose of influencing his vote, support, or other political activity in any election or primary election. No appointing authority, or agent or deputy thereof, shall use his official authority or influence, by threats, promises or other means, directly or indirectly, to coerce the political action of any employee in the classified service.”
Regardless of whether Ritter’s actions violated the statute, Armbruster’s point, even if not completely sound, seemed to be well received by individuals on both sides of the issue. The bigger topic was on the selection of an Interim Chief.
Two vacancies, two very different processes
Some of the general concerns about the process involved how the candidates were selected. Months earlier when Kayla Reaux vacated her seat on the Council, an announcement was made that the City of Youngsville was seeking candidates interested in filling the vacant seat. Interested individuals were encouraged to submit a resume, and eleven did so.
At the April 20, 2023 Special Meeting two of the eleven were nominated to fill the open seat. Councilman Lindy Bolgiano (R 7/10) nominated LaSonja Dunbar, while Councilman Simone Champagne (R 7/10) nominated Logan Lanoo. A motion was brought by Councilman Matt Romero (R 8/10) and seconded by Councilman Ken Stansbury (R 6/10) to close the nominations. Three of the four council members then cast their votes for Logan Lannoo (R 5/10). That was it. There was no clamoring over the process being unfair or lacking in transparency. The decision was generally accepted and people went about their day to day business.
No Announcement seeking Candidates for Chief
However, the selection of the Chief of Police was handled much differently and likely unlawfully. There was no official announcement made that the City of Youngsville was soliciting nominations to fill the unexpired term of Rickey Boudreaux. Instead, the Council met in private with several individuals. How were those individuals selected? Well, at least five individuals submitted resumes for consideration – John Bourque, Jr., Cody Louviere, J.P. Broussard, Dale Broussard and Charles DeLaughter. An additional two individuals, Gabe Thompson and Nathan Merrithew, were interviewed even though they didn’t submit resumes for consideration. How exactly did the Council know they were interested in the position?
Lastly, Mayor Ritter indicated that two additional individuals expressed interest in the position. However, they were not interviewed due to not meeting the qualifications or having the experience necessary. Exactly who determined what are the qualifications and experience requirements? These questions were not answered. Some didn’t even get posed because it was made clear that they were not going to be answering any questions. Perhaps this is why so many openly questioned the process and selection of the next Chief of Police. But are there other factors?
No “play book”?
With the audience murmuring, Councilman Lindy Bolgiano (R 7/10) proclaimed there is no “play book” to follow for this situation. It was repeatedly stated that City officials did not have and did not want operational oversight of the Police Department. Mayor Ritter cited the legal grounds for such a process, staunchly rebuking the claims that it was unfair. Ritter explained that the City of Youngsville was up against a time crunch, only having twenty days to fill the vacancy before Governor John Bel Edwards would descend from heaven (or up from hell depending on your political point of view) and make the decision. Ritter was likely relying on his memory of the process used just months earlier in filling the seat vacated by Reaux.
The Louisiana election code (18:602) deals with vacancies in certain local and municipal offices. Section A reads:
“When a vacancy occurs in the office of… any other local or municipal office… and the office is filled by election wholly within the boundaries of a local governmental subdivision, the governing authority of the local governmental subdivision where the vacancy occurs shall within twenty days appoint a person to fill the vacancy who meets the qualifications of the office.”
The statute also states, “If a vacancy is not filled within the time specified in Subsection A, B, or C of this Section, the governor shall fill the vacancy.”
But that statute also includes exceptions!
Excepted from this legal requirement is the “marshal of a city.” The term “marshal” and “chief of police” are used synonymously in the Lawranson act. Louisiana revised statute 33:423 states:
“The marshal shall be the chief of police and shall be ex officio a constable. He shall have general responsibility for law enforcement in the municipality, and shall be charged with the enforcement of all ordinances within the municipality and all applicable state laws.”
Furthermore, the election code specifically addresses what is to occur when a vacancy in the position of marshal (Chief of Police) occurs.
Louisiana revised statute 18:604(B)(2)(a) states:
“When the unexpired term exceeds one year, the chief deputy shall assume such duties and position and shall serve until the successor is elected and takes office. If [AND ONLY IF] there is no such person to assume the duties when the vacancy occurs, the appropriate governing authority shall within twenty days appoint a person having the qualifications of the office to assume the duties of the office until the successor is elected and takes office.”
The Louisiana Attorney General has issued Opinion 03-0325 supporting the operation of law for filling a vacancy as outlined in Louisiana revised statute 18:604. As such, many people rightfully questioned why Deputy Chief Gabe Thompson was not appointed to fill the vacated office. It is quite clear that the Mayor and Council overlooked the fact that they lacked any authority to appoint an interim Chief when there is a Chief Deputy within the Youngsville Police Department. The position was automatically filled by operation of law. The duties of the Council were specifically limited to only calling for an election to determine the next Chief of Police.
Deputy Chief vs. Assistant Chief
The City of Youngsville Police Department has a Deputy Chief. His name is Gabe Thompson. He is the person many residents have credited with keeping the department afloat during the recent turbulent times. He is also the person who received overwhelming support from members of the police department and the community. And he is also the person who was likely illegally divested of his rightful succession to the position of interim Chief of Police.
While the City of Youngsville has a Deputy Chief position, which falls within the classified civil service, it also has an Assistant Chief of Police. During the 2012 Regular Session Senator Page Cortez (Rino 1/10) brought a bill which became Act 644. That act created the position of the Assistant Chief within the municipalities of Broussard, Carencro, Scott and Youngsville. According to the law (LARS 33:2571) “The right of selection, appointment, supervision, and discharge for the position shall be vested in the chief of police of the city.”
Assistant Chief in Hiding
Youngsville residents have not only been funding a Deputy Chief but also an Assistant Chief of Police position. Nick Latiolais is the Assistant Chief of Police for the City of Youngsville. Latiolais has held that position for many years, but allegedly had a falling out with Chief Rickey Boudreaux. Since then he has been quietly tucked away at the Sports Complex, where he remains to this day.
If Latiolais served “at will” and he had a disagreement with the Chief, why didn’t Boudreaux just remove him? It’s clearly within his statutory authority to do so without oversight from the Civil Service Board or the City Council. Could Latiolais be in a position to bring litigation against Boudreaux and the City of Youngsville for retaliation? If so, that may explain why both have been hiding him away at the Sports Complex while continuing to pay him an Assistant Chief’s salary.
In closing, it is a lack of transparency and questionable actions have resulted in the erosion of public trust. The same Youngsville City Council who have been saying they had no direct authority of the police department have interjected themselves into the Chief of Police selection process. If public trust is to be restored their course must be reversed. The Youngsville citizens and police officers are paying close attention.