St. John Admin, D.A.’s office at odds over CEA

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, June 6, 2018

LAPLACE — A dispute involving the St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney’s office and Parish President Natalie Robottom resulted in a member of the D.A.’s office claiming Robottom is in violation of the parish Home Rule Charter.

The controversy stems from Robottom not executing a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between the D.A.’s office and parish administration in a timely manner, which she was directed to do by the Parish Council on April 11. Robottom was ultimately given a May 24 deadline to sign the agreement, which did not happen.

However, in an email dated May 29, Robottom, responding to questions from L’OBSERVATEUR, said the document had been signed and “my signature qualified because of concerns (in the CEA) that were not addressed.”

The controversy swirls around a proposed “Second Amendment to the CEA” dated Jan. 31 referring to an ordinance adopted Oct. 17 amending the sale of adjudicated property. It allows legal counsel to be involved in the disposition of such matters because the D.A.’s office has “practical experience and working knowledge” of Title 47 of the Louisiana Revised Statues as it relates to the disposition of adjudicated properties.

Also in the Jan. 31 CEA was a temporary extension of the agreement involving the D.A.’s office and the administration until April 9, and then for a two-year extension until April 9, 2020.

Originally, a meeting involving both offices was scheduled Feb. 1 to execute the contract but in an email obtained by L’OBSERVATEUR, Robottom’s executive assistant Megan Collins advised assistant district attorney Keith Green that Robottom and her staff met and proposed changes to the original CEA, including a “Termination for Convenience” clause that should rest with the Council.

Also, the amendment included a clause that would require the D.A.’s office include administration in on emails sent to the Sheriff’s Office of recorded cash sales for each property sold.

There was also some confusion regarding the language of the extension. Robottom’s concern was the CEA should be broken into two documents to reflect the initial temporary extension approved Jan. 9 and the four-year extension.

A flurry of emails over the course of two months ensued, covering a spectrum of issues, but in an email dated April 3, Robottom’s executive assistant Deanna Schexnayder emailed Green to say the CEA “has been executed” by Robottom and was ready to be picked up by the D.A.’s office. Green responded later that day, saying someone from the D.A.’s office would pick up the executed CEA between 10 a.m. and noon April 4. But, apparently, no one was available so it was decided it would be put in the mail.

In an email dated April 9, Green told Robottom she did not execute the document and added, why you “insist on continuing to waste time and energy on an issue that should have been handled months ago is beyond me.”

He added the president’s “childish and immature antics are becoming less and less amusing.”

The Parish Council on April 10 passed a motion directing Robottom to execute the amendment to the CEA. On May 22, Green sent Robottom an email indicating she was to execute the CEA no later than noon on May 24. In that email Green said she was in “violation to the St. John the Baptist Parish Home Rule Charter” and that as legal advisor to the governing authority, “I, in no uncertain terms, strongly advise and urge you to fully comply” with the Council’s directive.

Robottom said she was not aware of Green’s email until she received questions from L’OBSERVATEUR because it had apparently gone into her electronic “Junk” file.

“As a practice, I do not sign contracts/CEAs or other agreements without the certified motion attached indicating approval by the Council,” she said in an email to L’OBSERVATEUR.

“In January when the CEA was first sent for signature, I expressed concerns that it was not consistent with the January 16 motion and excerpts of council meetings which reflected approval of only a four-month extension. Because a subsequent motion was passed on April 14, this validated my concerns about the contract term, but the recommendations generated through a meeting of all entities involved with the program were not addressed.

“Hopefully, program implementation improves and addresses problems identified by the Sheriff’s Office, Assessor and Director of Planning & Zoning.”

— By Richard Meek