President steamed about missing numbers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 25, 2001

PHOTO: St. Charles Parish Public Works Director Steven Fall’s assigned parish vehicle is well-traveled, having been driven on an unauthorized trip to Florida. Officials are now raising questions of Fall as to the vehicle’s missing identification numbers, required by parish law, which until recently were attached to the SUV’s front driver’s side near the parish seal decal. (Staff Photo by Leonard Gray) HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish Public Works Director Steven Fall is finding himself more and more under the microscope, especially from his boss, Parish President Albert Laque. Fall most recently is trying to explain how identification numbers on his parish-owned Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle were reportedly washed off by a brush-style carwash. “You couldn’t wash those off in a hurricane,” Laque said. Fall responded by saying his vehicle is instantly identifiable, being the only parish-owned Ford Expedition and bearing a parish seal on the driver’s side. Parish ordinance requires identification numbers on every parish vehicle. Also, as numerous parish officials headed to the recently held National Association of Counties convention in Philadelphia, including Laque and assistant public works director Palmer “Poochie” Cheramie and administrative officer Timothy Vial, Fall traveled to casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This out-of-state trip came at a time when Laque normally expects his remaining directors to stay close to home, in case of emergency. Laque learned of the trip as he was departing for his own, and Fall did not get prior authorization for the weekend trip. This is not the first time for Fall to come under scrutiny, however, as an unauthorized use of two parish vehicles landed the public works director in hot water. On May 5-6, Fall and an employee, along with their respective families, took a pair of parish vehicles on a vacation to Pensacola Beach, Fla. Fall explained his use of the vehicles, saying when he worked for the City of Slidell, he could use government vehicles in his custody, just so long as he accounted for their use by filing a monthly report. This use, however, did not meet with Laque’s way of thinking. “I was as teed off as I’ve ever been,” the parish president said. Laque added in Fall’s official reprimand: “Your decision to use your parish vehicle was one of very poor judgement and is unacceptable to my administration. You are also hereby notified that any further misuse of a parish vehicle will result in either forfeiture of the vehicle and/or termination. “I trust that this type of incident will NOT reoccur.” Fall said he justified taking the vehicles as he was on call and would not want to return home, if called, and leave his family without a vehicle. Therefore, besides the parish vehicles taken, the two families also took three personal vehicles. “I didn’t want to lose the $800 I had invested in the condo,” Fall explained. Laque “hit the roof” when he learned of the unauthorized use of parish vehicles and called his director on the carpet, ordering him to pay mileage, based on .345 cents per mile for the 451-mile trip, which came to $155.59. The reimbursement was made by Fall, by check, on May 24. “I didn’t tell Albert first; that’s my mistake,” Fall commented. “To me, it’s over and done with.”