James Gill: Somewhere, Mark Twain is smiling

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 01:18:46 PM. Jefferson Parish remains intent on proving one of Mark Twain's best-known aphorisms.

Jefferson Parish remains intent on proving one of Mark Twain's best-known aphorisms.

According to Twain, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

God has really got the hang of it now. Jefferson school board members, having paid $26,000 for an investigator to warn they were in danger of being sued, did not bother to read his report. Now, two years later, they are being sued, and taxpayers seem certain to be stuck with a substantial bill for damages. The plaintiff, Sharon Hunter, quit her job as an executive assistant in 2015 after 12 years with the board, alleging constant abuse and harassment by Cedric Floyd, a board member who was its president at the time. If Floyd is not a bully and a loudmouth, countless people who have crossed his path over the years have conspired in a slander.

Indeed, the attorney representing Hunter, Michael Delesdernier, used to be a member of the board too and therefore can have needed no persuasion that Floyd is liable to go berserk at any moment. Delesdernier was always at loggerheads with Floyd and was once in sufficient fear of violence to take out a restraining order. And Floyd's ire was by no means limited to political opponents. There was, for instance, that time he broke the windshield on his wife's car when his grown son was trying to drive off in it.

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Floyd has been in government for many years — as CEO for Kenner before a couple of stints on the school board — without ever threatening to gain universal respect and trust. When she was superintendent of schools, Diane Roussel refused to talk to Floyd without a tape recorder or a witness. When Hunter filed a grievance with the board, attorney I. Harold Korestky was retained to investigate. He delivered his report in October 2015, a month after Hunter quit her job, unable, she says, to stand Floyd's maltreatment any longer. Three months passed before the board so much as entertained a motion on the report. First, the board declined to discuss the report in public, and then five of its nine members voted against taking it up even in executive session.

The Advocate sought a copy of the report but was turned down on grounds that “personnel” records were exempt from the public records act. Thus was a veil drawn over the alleged misdeeds of a politician cataloged in a report compiled at public expense. If that is what the law allows, then it surely needs amendment. The Advocate's curiosity about the contents of the report was not shared by most of the board members. Koretsky's work was cast aside unread, while Hunter complained to the federal Equal Opportunity Commission. The board's behavior is inexplicable without recourse to Twain's theory.

The attempt to keep the Koretsky report secret was doomed anyway, for it was clearly germane to the federal lawsuit Hunter filed in March. Now, it has been added to the court record — much to Delesdernier's satisfaction, no doubt — and the whole world can read Korestky's conclusion that Hunter's complaint “had merit.”

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Had board members been more interested in what they had gotten from Korestky for the taxpayer's money, they might have addressed her complaints long before she filed her suit. Now she has the board's own report to adduce against it. Korestky found that Floyd had not broken the board's rule against “harassment” largely because his unwanted attentions were not sexual, but they did constitute abuse “abuse of office.”

Although board members are supposed to keep their noses out of day-to-day administration and communicate with employees through the superintendent, Floyd acted as though Hunter was his personal assistant, calling her 1,000 times and texting her 400 times, over seven months, even though he had her work desk moved into his office. Other employees attested to Floyd's habit of making unreasonable demands and communicating with Hunter by yelling and screaming.

Korestky suggested the board might not allow Floyd to occupy an “officer position” until he had completed an anger management course. The board could be in trouble if Hunter filed a “suit seeking emotional damages,” Korestky reported.

Even an idiot should have seen that.

Email James Gill at Gill1407@bellsouth.net.

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Article James Gill: Somewhere, Mark Twain is smiling compiled by www.theadvocate.com