It is a sad situation. A sad state of affairs as they say. It has been upsetting to the public, unpleasant for the elected officials and unfortunate for all. So where do we go from here? How do you restore public trust? How do you re-earn the respect of your constituents? Well, asking them to be silent about their opinions probably is not a good start.
Verboten is a term used to denote something that is forbidden, especially by an “authority.” It tends to raise an eyebrow very similar to that of Achmed in a Jeff Dunham show after he shouts “Silence!” Posing questions seems to now be strictly forbidden in the City of Youngsville. And not just during Council Meetings where public comment is allowed, but the two-way exchange of information through a conversation is prohibited. Asking questions and expressing opinions in any public forum which challenges the accepted beliefs of the authority is also frowned upon by city officials.
One week ago, we asked a question: [Was the] “Youngsville Interim Chief Unlawfully Removed?” While many were questioning the lack of transparency and trust in the process of selecting an Interim Chief, we began to question whether the Council possessed any authority to appoint an Interim Chief. After all, the Mayor and Council have consistently stated that they have no authority over the operations of the Police Department. But now, following the resignation of Chief Ricky Boudreaux, they believe they are the ones that get to choose who will run the department for the next year pending a special election.
Appointment of an interim Chief
Our first indication that the Council was actually looking into appointing an Interim Chief was around August 18, 2023. That’s when we learned of a Petition to Grant Deputy Chief Gabe Thompson to Interim Police Chief circulated by members of the Youngsville Police Department. Less than one week later the entire selection process had been completed. Then just twenty or so seconds after the agenda item to select an interim Chief of Police had been read at the August 24, 2023 meeting, a motion came forward from Councilman Simone Champagne (R 7/10) to nominate Cody Louviere.
There was no explanation of the process used by the Council in selecting an interim Chief. There was no mention of the names of any of the other candidates considered for the position. And there was no recital of the statutory authority the Council relied upon in initiating such a process. The Council was about to choose an Interim Chief and the entire process had been essentially concealed from public view. After much criticism from the meeting attendees the Council voted unanimously to select Cody Louviere. There was no motion or second to close nominations on the floor. Simply a call for the vote and that was that!
Was everything done on the up and up?
Many remarks at the meeting were about the process being illegitimate, but asking of questions is taboo. This is not just tactic used at Council meetings as a guise for “maintaining decorum.” It is also used when requesting public records and information. When responding to a request for public records the custodian is under no obligation to answer questions. The public’s right to participation apparently is nothing more that the privilege of being able to look at what the government allows you to see, while not being able to ask for clarification on what you are looking at. It is laughable!
So, we set out to research the process for ourselves. No, what they had done didn’t pass the smell test, nor was it transparent. But did the Council and/or Mayor do anything that was prohibited? Does the process include the local Council or are there fundamental changes to the laws of the state that needed to be enacted to clarify things?
Does the Youngsville City Council lack the authority to appoint an interim Chief?
In less time than the Council had to prepare for selecting an Interim Chief we discovered something in the law which seemed to indicate that in this situation they lacked the authority to make an Interim Chief appointment. So, we published an article expressing our opinions on the matter. As we always do, we provided the original source documents and links for the viewer to review and make their own determination. Well, that article wasn’t well received by the officials at the City of Youngsville.
Within hours of publishing we received a letter from the City Attorney stating that our opinions were “meritless and defamatory” and that a “retraction” of the article should be made. So not only is the City of Youngsville content with silencing its citizens and its police officers, it now wants to silence the free press! But don’t take our word for it… You can read the entire letter for yourself!
Is it any wonder that the allegations of corruption in the City of Youngsville go back several years? Public policy is to bury your head in the sand, request and accept personal favors, and then attempt to silence and/or intimidate anyone who dares to question what is going. All the while officials attempt to use their own political power and influence to oust other elected and appointed officials from their positions.
This is why we disagree with the City of Youngsville
We have our opinion and they have theirs. They are at liberty to hold their opinion, but we don’t agree with them and here’s why. The city is of the opinion that LARS 18:604 does not apply because it deals with “the marshal of a city or municipal court.” According to the letter from the City, “The City of Youngsville does not have a municipal or city court. Our court is classified as a Mayor’s court. By reviewing 18:602(A), it should be noted that exception exists for the marshal of a city or municipal court. This logically confirms that 18:604 proscribes the procedure for appointing a marshal for any city or municipal court.” That is the extent of the City’s argument as to why our opinion is incorrect.
Getting into the weeds
There are many types of courts in Louisiana. A review of the Louisiana Constitution, Article 5, provides the structure of our judicial branch. Section 1 states: “The judicial power is vested in a supreme court, court of appeal, district courts and other courts authorized by this Article. Section 15 references “district, family, juvenile, parish, city and magistrate courts.” While section 20 addresses “Mayor’s Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts.” There is no mention of municipal courts in the Constitution outside the context of New Orleans.
Explanations of City Courts (LARS 13:1870, et seq.), Parish Courts (LARS 13:1455) and Justice of the Peace Courts (LARS 13:2586), etc. are all found codified in our state statutes. But what constitutes a municipal court? We’ll get to that in a second, but it is important to point out that Youngsville itself seems to be confused over the type of court is has. Youngsville ordinances refer to it by several different terms. The ordinances for the City of Youngsville refer to it as a “City Court” (Section 12-145, Section 22-4); a “Magistrate Court” (Section 105-55; Section 142-6) and a “City Mayor’s Court” (Section 10-61). So, does Youngsville have a “City Court”, “Magistrate Court” and a “City Mayor’s Court’? So back to the question of what is a Municipal Court?
Youngsville is a municipality. A municipality is nothing more than an incorporated City, Town or Village. Youngsville has progressed, due to population growth, from a Village to a Town and now to a City. But at each stage it remained a municipality. In Louisiana all municipalities except those municipalities governed by a special legislative charter, home rule charter, or plan of government adopted pursuant to Article VI of the Constitution of Louisiana are governed by the Lawrason act (LARS 33:321, et seq.). Subpart G of the Lawrason Act is entitled “Municipal Courts” and starts off by addressing the form of Municipal Court common to Lawrason Act municipalities – Mayor’s Court. So in this context Mayor’s Courts, under the Lawrason Act, are “Municipal Courts.”
It is also in this subpart we find the Court for the municipality of Youngsville specifically addressed. When Youngsville was still designated a “town” legislation was enacted to allow for the municipality to appoint a Magistrate to oversee the Mayor’s Court. So, while the designation of Youngsville from a Town to a City has changed the type of Court operating within its jurisdiction has not changed. Youngsville remains a “municipality” operating a “municipal court” under Subpart G of the Lawrason Act. This form of municipal court is the largest category of Court of in the State of Louisiana, with approximately 250 in operation, compared to only 49 city courts, 3 parish courts and 43 district courts statewide.
Now back to the topic of City Marshal / Chief of Police
As we previously pointed out, Louisiana revised statute 33:423 states:
“The marshal shall be the chief of police and shall be ex officio a constable” and Louisiana revised statute 18:604 outlines the procedures to be followed “when a vacancy occurs in the office of constable or marshal of a city or municipal court.”
It is and remains our opinion that Chief Deputy should have assumed the position of Interim Chief of Police in accordance with 18:604 upon Chief Boudreaux’s resignation. The Attorney General confirmed our suspicion in an opinion which we previously cited.
That opinion involved another Lawrason act municipality which operates a Mayor’s Court: the Town of Abita Springs. When the Chief vacated office, the town proposed to change the position from an elected position to an appointed one. The Attorney General reached the conclusion that the Board of Alderman could appoint an Interim Chief, but ONLY because there was no Chief Deputy to fill the position that had been vacated.
This is far from “meritless or defamatory” as the City claims. However, they are entitled to their opinions and we ours.
Can they really have it both ways?
A mournful violin melody was the only thing missing from Mayor Ritter’s speech about helplessly ‘sitting witness to a litany of allegations’. City officials may not have had the authority to interject themselves into the day-to-day operations of the police department. However there was plenty that could have been and still can be done.
Where is the City Council with their fact-finding investigation? They were going to uncover details about what was going on in their Police Department. But now that Chief Boudreaux is gone, the investigation seems to have disappeared along with him. Isn’t Mayor Ritter obligated to complete the investigation that his legislative body commanded him to perform by unanimous resolution? And what about the plethora of other agencies that are now allegedly “investigating” Chief Boudreaux? Was the laundry list of complaints received over that several years ever brought to any of those agencies?
As for the claim of defamation, the article we previously published involved an issue public concern and interest. The tort of defamation involves the invasion of person’s interest in his “reputation and good name.” You are encouraged to listen and re-listen to the public comments at this meeting. There were no false statements made against anyone in the article. There was no reckless disregard for the truth. Finally, there certainly was no malice.
City of Youngsville, you are not the victim! And the public refuses to be the victim of government misdeeds and a lack of transparency. The only victim here is the trust the citizens once held for their government.