Lafayette Board Hires New Attorney In Superintendent Investigation
The Lafayette Parish School Board approved hiring a new attorney to handle its ongoing investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Gretna-based firm Grant & Barrow — citing other obligations acquired since being hired last summer — withdrew from the position after Cooper's office satisfied an open records request last month.
Sheldon Dennis Blunt of Baton Rouge law firm Phelps Dunbar will now take on the task. The board voted 6-2 at Wednesday's meeting to make the appointment, with board members Kermit Bouillion and Shelton Cobb dissenting. Mark Cockerham was absent.
Bouillion and Cobb said no board members came forward with specific allegations against Cooper, and they questioned the ambiguity of the investigation.
Board attorney Robert Hammonds said it will be Blunt's job to find evidence against Cooper that could lead to charges.
A school system that is at war with itself over administrative matters is unjustly turning its focus away from the kids and away from this district's educational goals
"The board reviews the report received from the special counsel to decide if charges should be brought and if a hearing should be conducted," Hammonds said.
Blunt is a former partner with Hammonds' Baton Rouge firm Hammonds, Sills, Adkins & Guice, which also represents the Louisiana School Boards Association.
"I just want to register a complaint here that I think this is pure politics, it's a waste of money, and it seems to me that we have no regards for putting the children first," Cooper said before the vote.
Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, also spoke against the investigation.
"A school system that is at war with itself over administrative matters is unjustly turning its focus away from the kids and away from this district's educational goals," El Koubi said.
"Most of all, we're concerned that this proposal would unnecessarily shift resources from kids and classrooms to lawyers," he later added. "I feel like you owe it to this community to clearly state why you're considering this before you go any further."
The Chamber has opposed the investigation since it was first presented last year.
Cobb also cast the sole dissenting vote on an action that again formally opposed several bills addressing board-related issues, including Lafayette Rep. Nancy Landry's bills concerning school board governance.
Landry withdrew the two bills Tuesday.
The board also listed opposition to Lafayette Rep. Vincent Pierre's House Bill 1208, which would require that free transportation be provided for charter schools in "any parish with a population in excess of 195,000 and less than 225,000" as of the most recent census.
Lafayettte Parish residents clocked in at 221,578 in 2010, when the last census was conducted, but that number is now up to 230,845 as of 2013.