Lee Zurik Investigation: Jindal urged to veto Cedric Grant ethics exemption

File image of New Orleans Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant
File image of New Orleans Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant
Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau
Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau

A member of the Louisiana Board of Ethics wants Governor Bobby Jindal to veto a bill that would allow one of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's deputy mayors to head the Sewerage and Water Board.

Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau calls the bill bad policy and unconstitutional.

"It's a rare case where a member of the Ethics Board writes the governor to request that he veto a bill," says UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak.

But Bruneau did that this week, writing Gov. Jindal a letter and asking him to veto the Legislature's measure.

Mayor Landrieu has been trying to get Deputy Mayor of Facilities, Infrastructure and Community Development Cedric Grant to head the S&WB. But in April, the Ethics Board ruled he could not.

Landrieu has a seat on the Sewerage and Water Board. But for most of its meetings, he sent Grant in his place. The Ethics Board ruled Grant was essentially acting as a board member, taking the mayor's spot.

The current ethics law says any board member must wait "two years following termination" to "be employed" by that board. So Grant would have to stop going to meetings for the mayor, then wait two years to take over as S&WB's executive director.

Shortly after the board ruled Grant couldn't have the job, the state Senate amended a bill in the legislature. In his letter to the governor, Bruneau said the bill would exempt "someone in Mr. Grant's situation from the employment prohibitions."

Bruneau wrote, "This prohibition is to protect the public from undue influences in job placement by insiders. This type of example will substantially weaken the effect of these prohibitions."

Bruneau also thinks the bill is unconstitutional. Remember, this exception was tacked on to a Senate bill. The original bill dealt with personal financial disclosure cases. When it was amended, the focus of the bill changed to this exception. Bruneau wrote that the bill is "constitutionally defective."

"The point he's trying to make is that the amendment to give Cedric Grant that exception was not germane to the original language in the original bill," says Chervenak, "and that the amendment should at least be related to the language in the original bill, and that in this case it was not, that this was just a ruse to provide this exception for Cedric Grant."

Bruneau also wrote that the Senate bill was amended "to carve out an exception for Mr. Grant. In my opinion, this is wrong for both procedural and substantive reasons."

"They've kind of taken their eye off the ball, in terms of legislating for the state as a whole, taking care of the people," says Chervenak.

It's up to the governor to determine whether this bill and its exemption for Grant will become law. Since coming into office, Jindal has often touted the state's gold standard of ethics. But Chervenak warns, "If he does sign it, then it really kind of calls into question his commitment to ethics in the state's politics."

We requested a statement from Mayor Landrieu, and the mayor's office sent this statement:

Cedric Grant has demonstrated exceptional leadership and integrity as a public servant for over 40 years and the Sewerage and Water Board unanimously selected him as the strongest and most qualified candidate for the job. Senate Bill 303 clarifies the intent of the legislation we passed in 2011 that allowed the Mayor to designate an unclassified member of his administration to attend Sewerage and Water Board meetings in his absence. It was never our intent that this local bill would have the effect of making this staff designee a full-fledged, independent member of the board. Per the Charter and State law, the Mayor is the president of the Sewerage and Water Board.

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