St. John Parish engineer faces ethics charges

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

LAPLACE — The attorney for St. John the Baptist Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie II has denied his client has participated in any illegal behavior in the wake of a series of complaints from the Louisiana Board of Ethics accusing Savoie of accepting Parish contract work while serving as a Parish official.

Savoie, on behalf of his company C.J. Savoie Engineers, is said, by the Board, to be in violation of two ethics laws by entering into construction projects or competing for projects with the Parish through Savoie Engineers while acting as the Parish Engineer.

The Ethics Board said Savoie violated ethic laws by working on numerous projects including the 2009 Bond Issue improvement projects, the Lions Water Plant Expansion project, rehabilitation of main sewer lift stations projects, and sewer force main three extensions.

When reaching out to Savoie for comment, a member of his office differed questions to attorney Gray Sexton, who represents Savoie and Savoie Engineers.

Sexton said The Ethics Board is laboring under the misconception that Savoie is a public servant.

“Mr. Savoie is not, has never been and has never sought to be a public employee of St. John the Baptist Parish,” Sexton said. “Therefore, he is not under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Board. Even assuming he was a public servant, which he’s not, his contract specifically calls out that the Parish has the right to have him perform additional engineering services.”

Sexton said all of Savoie’s conduct has been in strict compliance with the previsions of the ethics code.

“Once the Ethics Board responds to our overdue discovery motion, we intend to file a motion to dismiss the charges based on the lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” Sexton said, adding he is not sure when the complaint was made or who made it because the Board redacted the information from its public findings.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said Savoie has been the Parish Engineer since at least 2000.

In December 2014, St. John Government renewed the Parish Engineer Contract with Savoie, where he agreed to perform professional engineering services, through his company, for $136,089 per year from 2015 through 2018.

Robottom said Savoie assists with project descriptions and scopes, assists with drafting specifications in the bid process, reviews proposed buildings and structures for the planning and zoning department for permitting purposes and helps draft specifications for the road improvement program.

Robottom said her office was made aware of the charges against Savoie Jan. 28. She said the Parish forwarded the complaints to the St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney’s Office for guidance.

“It appears there are some very specific concerns about some of the billing practices,” Robottom said.

“Although these are charges, they have not been proven. We definitely want to consider the way we operate and make sure that it is ethical and in line for what the contract calls for, as well as in line with the law.”

Robottom said the ethics charges are not against the Parish.

“As the organization with which the agreement was signed, we obviously want to make sure that what we are doing is appropriate,” Robottom said.