Wednesday, December 19, 2012

JEDCO Director Retiring On A Scandalous Note

Earlier this year, Lucien Gunter, the Executive Director of JEDCO (Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission), announced that he was retiring at the end of this year. Since Mr. Gunter is 85 years old, I didn’t really think his announcement was a surprise.

Now, little by little, we’re learning the rest of the story.
First, there was the revelation that Mr. Gunter used his JEDCO email account to promote political candidates specifically those that JEDCO was supporting for the Jefferson Parish School Board.

Now, the story goes even deeper.
A Times-Picayune article (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/12/ethics_investigation_urged_for.html#incart_more_business) revealed that a JP Internal Auditor is claiming that since 2007 when he was hired, Mr. Gunter has violated the residency rule requiring him to reside in Jefferson Parish. The audit also uncovered the fact that Mr. Gunter used a deeply discounted apartment as a cover for his St. Tammany Parish residency. Mr. Gunter paid $300 per month for an apartment that would normally rent for $1,100 – 1,200 per month. This deep discount was courtesy of real estate magnate Henry Shane and his First Lake Properties.

In addition, Mr. Gunter is alleged to have been reimbursed over $11,000 for meals at local restaurants. While this is not against JEDCO policy, since JEDCO conveniently doesn’t have a policy, it is against Jefferson Parish policies.
 Gunter also received a $750 monthly car allowance and received almost $2,000 in reimbursements for mileage and parking.

While I have met Mr. Gunter several times during his tenure at JEDCO, it wasn’t until January of 2011 that I had a really significant conversation with him.
In the previous incarnation of ClickJefferson.com, I wrote an editorial criticizing JEDCO for a controversial billboard advertising campaign. You remember the billboards all over Jefferson Parish asking ridiculous questions like “Who’s Reinventing A City?”, “Who Lowered Crime Rates?, and, my personal favorite, “Who Built Better Levess?”.

On the morning that the editorial was published, I received a phone call from a JEDCO representative. The JEDCO rep had a message for me: “Mr. Gunter would like to meet with you today. Can you make it here at 2?” Sure, I said, I’d love to. What’s the worst that could happen? I get chewed out for 15 minutes? For the opportunity to get some questions answered, I’d put up with it.

Well, 15 minutes turned into over 2 hours as Mr. Gunter extolled the virtues of JEDCO, their importance to Jefferson Parish, the help that JEDCO could give me as a business owner, and how my thinking about JEDCO was wrong and I just didn’t understand.
That’s how it always works when I criticize the actions of someone who thinks they are powerful or the organization that they represent: I don’t understand.

When I criticized Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni regarding his plan to double property taxes in Kenner, the Mayor called me into his office (again, for over 2 hours) to tell me that I didn’t understand how government worked. When I’ve criticized Jefferson or Orleans Parish Councilmembers, or other elected officials, it was the same story: I didn’t understand.
I really can't count the number of times that I've been told by some elected or appointed official that I don't understand.

In fact, that’s a pretty popular deflection tactic employed by many: don’t talk about the issues and blame the other person because they clearly don’t understand.
So, after 2 hours of listening respectfully to Mr. Gunter tell me that I don’t understand, he threw me another familiar line. Noting my strong support of Jefferson Parish and Jefferson Parish businesses, Mr. Gunter talked about the similarities between he and I and JEDCO and ClickJefferson.com.

“After all, we’re both on the same team,” Mr. Gunter said.
“No, we’re not,” I replied. And that was how our conversation abruptly ended.

It was true then and it’s true now: Mr. Gunter and I aren’t on the same team. Never have been. Never will be.

1 comment:

  1. Walt please look into whether another prominent St.Tammany resident, Jefferson Parish Attorney Debra Forshee, is actually living in Jefferson Parish or does she also have a ghost apt. via another favorite politico friend.

    ReplyDelete