Parish Council confirms directors Thymes, Bush

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 28, 1998

By Sandy Seal / L’Observateur / March 28, 1998

LAPLACE – After more than an hour-long discussion, when tempers flared and accusations flew, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council votedunanimously Tuesday night to confirm the appointment of Laurette Thymes as planning and zoning director.

At the same time the group unanimously confirmed Greg Bush as public works director, though discussion on that appointment lasted only 30 seconds.

“That’s a sad commentary when we debate this lady for an hour and this man for 30 seconds,” Council Chairman Duaine Duffy said following the vote.

The two parish directors were appointed by the council in August with an unusual six-month probationary period. After some councilmen apparentlyreceived complaints on Thymes’ style and job performance – though none stated publicly what the complaints were, her confirmation in the job was questionable when the item came up on the agenda.

In fact, Parish President Arnold Labat quickly recommended confirming Bush to the public works position but at first told councilmen he had no recommendation one way or the other on Thymes.

“I’ll leave that to the will of the council,” he said. “It will take six votesto confirm.”That drew ire from some councilmen, who said Labat was passing the buck, as well as most of those in the audience, all who agreed it was a racially motivated decision by the parish administrator since Thymes is black and a parish outsider.

“If I make a motion to confirm it still has to pass by six votes,” Labat said. “In that case, I make a recommendation to confirm.”Discussion raged on, with some councilmen scolding the administration and several members of the audience speaking on Thymes’ behalf.

Councilman Kevin Duhon, who spent the past few months working with Thymes on a telecommunications tower ordinance, said he has disagreements with her but is satisfied with the job she’s doing.

“As I’ve said before, if someone has a problem with Ms. Thymes or Mr.Bush, then give me something,” Duhon said.

Diane Ancker Broussard of LaPlace, who was a classmate of Thymes in graduate school at the University of New Orleans, said she believed Thymes should be confirmed for the betterment of the parish.

“You need someone like Ms. Thymes so you can go forward with sound andunbiased development,” she said.

Broussard, who is white, told councilmen some contractors may not like the idea of having planning.

“If she were a white male the probably never would have come up,” she said. “If she was a resident of St. John Parish with a power basepolitically this probably never would have come up.”Councilman Dale Wolfe said contractors have called council members and complained that Thymes has too much power.

“She’s in the position to say whether a contractor has his paperwork in order or not,” he said. “Planning and zoning has been a joke in the past. Butit’s a business now.”Councilman Steve Thornton said he has nothing but professional respect for Thymes but said he had received some complaints from “people I represent.”However, he said he wouldn’t be put in the position of making a decision that would affect her career if she hadn’t received any feedback from the administration.

“Do we have any documents of her being counseled?” he asked Labat.

The question went unanswered.

Thornton recommended extending the probationary period for 60 days to get more information, but that motion died.

No one who issued complaints against Thymes spoke up during the meeting.

“These people should be here tonight, get at this podium and tell me,” Wolfe said. “Give me some facts.”Through it all, Thymes sat quietly. Then she finally rose to defend herself,wracked with emotion.

She said she had asked in writing for the discussion to be held in executive session, though the council chose not to honor that request.

“I felt this was a private, personal matter,” she said, “and this has all gone beyond privacy. It’s been very invasive and has put my professionaland personal character at question.”Thymes said while she has not been given the necessary tools to do her job properly, she has done it to the best of her ability all the while “trying to stay objective through all the who’s-side-are-you-on shenanigans.”She said she had inspectors without vehicles to inspect jobs and a map so faded she can’t read some the street names and so antiquated that some of the street names have changed.

“I will not accept a demotion. You decide. This is your community,” shetold council members.

Thornton again made a motion to extend the probationary period 60 days for Thymes and Bush so they could submit in writing what their needs are and administration could submit written responses for the council’s review. Councilmen also wanted facts on complaints against Thymes andasked that a workshop be set up with both directors as early as possible.

This time Labat told the council he doesn’t want that kind of pressure put on either employee and asked that both be confirmed.

“I knew the council had mixed feelings, so I gave you the chance to decide,” Labat said. “You made me decide, and I said confirm. They cannotorganize a department under that kind of stress (60 day probation).

“Ms. Thymes has done a good job in planning and zoning,” he continued.”She has some rough points, and she mentioned that in her interview. ButI’ve seen some movements on her part. This young lady came into aposition and had to start from zero and has worked extremely hard.”Wolfe then moved to confirm both employees – on separate motions, and Duffy asked that a workshop be held within two weeks to discuss the needs of both departments.

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