Saturday, March 23, 2019

Tensions high as Port, "embattled" director meet Tuesday

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2018 | Views: 1823

Tensions high as Port, "embattled" director meet Tuesday
Tensions were high Tuesday as the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission members met in public for the first time with their executive director Pat Dufresne following a Sunday editorial in which the director claimed his job was in jeopardy.

In an editorial published Sunday, Dufresne told veteran writer Don Ellzey that he was concerned about his job at least in part for his stance to oppose the Village at Port Manchac project which was proposed earlier this year for the longtime port property. The article prompted a response which appeared in Tuesday’s paper, and appeared to be responsible for much of the tension leading up to and throughout the Port meeting at noon Tuesday.

The only specific reference to the article came at the close of Tuesday’s nearly hour-long business meeting, at which time Commission Chairman Daryl Ferrara told Dufresne directly that he did not have to worry as long as he did his job.

“I don’t want you to fear for your job, but if you have any concerns, you should come to us,” Ferrara told Dufresne.

In what may have been the most uncommon of occurrences in a public meeting, Dufresne responded that he did not “go to the newspaper,” adding that the reporter came to him for a story. Ellzey, who was present at the meeting, confirmed that fact verbally during the closing moments of the open meeting.

It was an unusual tone for the traditionally amiable board, who are typically led through the paces of their business by Dufresne. On Tuesday, Ferrara directed Dufresne and his assistant to sit in the audience instead of their typical perch on the dais with the board. The seating arrangement was not lost on board members like attorney Ernie Drake III, who specifically asked why Dufresne was not allowed to sit in his usual place.

Ferrara rationalized that the board should be seated apart from staff, and he cited trouble seeing around people to look Dufresne in the face while he addressed the board. Under the new seating arrangement, Ferrara said he can see the port director and address him without obstruction.

Ferrara also challenged port administration on various professional service contracts for the group. Specifically, Ferrara asked Dufresne about having the port’s bookkeeper attend meetings to explain the monthly financials, and he asked for earlier access to the financial statements and marketing reports so the board can review them a couple days in advance of the monthly meetings. He said currently the board is given paperwork the same day as the meeting—sometimes only minutes before the meeting convenes.

Ferrara said he finds it tough “discussing stuff that’s just been handed to us.” Dufresne said he would try to make those adjustments.

In other business, commissioners learned that their request for an Attorney General’s opinion on the Village of Port Manchac project has been assigned to another assistant AG. Drake said that’s a relatively common occurrence; however, Dufresne said his office only received a short notice of the change in personnel and nothing as to why or when a response can be anticipated.

The board also set a Dec. 11 public hearing on their proposed 2019 budget.