[StBernard] St. Bernard President Craig Taffaro retracts 'backroom deal' remark

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri May 29 14:42:57 EDT 2009

St. Bernard President Craig Taffaro retracts 'backroom deal' remark
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Friday May 29, 2009, 6:48 AM
A day after three St. Bernard Parish Council members filed a temporary
restraining order barring two fellow councilmen from taking seats on the
parish's hospital board, Parish President Craig Taffaro publicly apologized
for rhetoric last week that accused the duo of engaging in "backroom deals"
to secure the appointments.

Councilmen George Cavignac and Wayne Landry were appointed by the council
last week to fill two vacancies on the parish's hospital service district
board, but three others have since argued in a court filing that the
appointments were not properly advertised on the council's agenda before the
meeting and that they had no knowledge of any vacancies on the board.

During last week's vote, Councilman Fred Everhardt nominated Cavignac and
Landry for the hospital board seats, and the three councilmen voted in
favor. That was a majority of the council at the time, because two members
were absent.

Councilmen Ray Lauga, Mike Ginart and Council Chairman Frank Auderer asked a
district court judge to issue a temporary restraining order on Wednesday
afternoon, barring Landry and Cavignac from being seated at the hospital
board's weekly meeting two hours later that night.

At the time of last week's heated debate over the hospital appointments,
Taffaro interjected that "you guys have made a travesty of the situation
that we have here."

"I think we have taken a major step backward here today in this issue,
because it smacks of pre-staged activities, it smacks of the backroom deals
that used to take part here, and it taints something that otherwise, if you
just go through the right process, could easily stand up to any scrutiny.
But you've taken that away, " he said last week.

At a council committee meeting Thursday, Taffaro said he shouldn't have used
those words.

"I want to publicly acknowledge that I let my emotions get the best of me on
that and I want to apologize for using that phraseology, " Taffaro said.
"Whether I agree or disagree with the process I should have restrained that
comment from public commentary."

At that point in the meeting, the only council members present were
Cavignac, Landry, Everhardt and Councilman Kenny Henderson, who was not
present at last week's vote but said he would have voted for the Cavignac
and Landry appointments.

Taffaro said after the meeting that he still disagrees with the process
used, but that "my comment of using a 'backroom deal' in a public meeting
was not fair to St. Bernard as a whole."

"I still think the same or a similar outcome certainly could have been
achieved even with a more public process, " he said.

Auderer, Ginart and Lauga allege in the court filing that the hospital board
had no known vacancies at the time of the council meeting last week, and
that "no resignations from the Hospital Service District had been publicly
announced prior to the meeting."

In addition, Auderer alleges in the filing that the "motion to discuss
appointments" to the hospital board was an "unauthorized addition" after he
approved the agenda as chairman. Agendas e-mailed to various media outlets
and others in the public clearly had the item listed, and earlier versions
of the agenda show that the hospital district item was on the list prior to
Auderer giving final approval.

Auderer acknowledged after Wednesday's meeting that it may have been on the
agenda, but that the wording didn't imply that votes would take place on the

"How do you list an item for positions that weren't vacant?" Auderer asked.
"There were no openings when that item appeared on the agenda. I think it
was misleading in the wording."

Auderer said he would be willing to abandon the court injunction if Landry
and Cavignac would give up the seats and allow the appointment process to
start over again.

"The ball's in their court, and if they say they'll wait, I wouldn't go
forward with the injunction, " he said.

Landry and Cavignac are sticking to their positions.

"I wanted to send a message to the public that we're going to do everything
within our power to expedite it, " Landry said. "I believe at the end of the
day that the judge is going to see that our actions were totally
appropriate, totally within state law, and that we can move on to build our

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