HARAHAN — A federal lawsuit filed by a Louisiana political
consultant is set for trial in early February after members of the
Jefferson Parish Council rejected a settlement proposal.
According to a report
by The Advocate, council members voted 5-2 against repealing a 2015
ordinance that prohibits the parish from awarding contracts to any
company that is in any way owned by a consultant who represented an
elected official during the previous election cycle.
The proposed settlement called for the state to reimburse Greg
Buisson up to $120,000 in legal costs stemming from the all the legal
machinations. The measure was supported by sponsor Ben Zahn and
fellow Councilman Paul Johnston, both of whom have previously had
ethics complaints lodged against them.
Zahn once hired Buisson to work on one of his campaigns, and
insisted he only supported the settlement as a means of saving
taxpayers "a significant amount of money" stemming from any
ongoing litigation, according to the report.
Recently having resigned from the council to become mayor of
nearby Kenner, Zahn also pointed to a recent parish attorney's
office's opinion that cast doubt on the legality of the ordinance
based on the way it arguably targets those in certain positions and
lines of work.
The way longtime civic community activist and former Waggaman
board member George Peterson sees it, that is the only way the
community can protect itself from itself.
“No one man should have that much power in any one parish,”
Peterson told the Louisiana Record of Buisson. “We once had
a Citizens from Good Government Foundation organization in place that
made sure reforms in parish government were being enforced, we need
to go back to those days.”
Buisson’s list of clients or contributors have also included
Jefferson County President Mike Yenni and Councilman Mark Spears. He
that he is ready and willing to "go the distance" in his
legal battle with the parish and could ultimately seek to recoup
damages in excess of $500,000.
His suit also accused Councilman Chris Roberts of targeting him by
pushing the restrictive legislation as a way of retaliating against
him for working for a former opponent to one his re-election
campaigns. Buisson has also insisted Roberts’ action prevented
him from getting other high-profile clients, including a potential
job with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser during 2015 primary season.
“All this business with Buisson shows that the government is out
of control,” Peterson said. “We need to re-empower the citizens
of Jefferson Parish.”
A recent Ethics Administration complaint found Zahn was one of the
state leaders who voted to grant Buisson's company a contract to
provide services for the parish's annual Carnival parades, despite
having also employed his firm to work on his mayoral campaign.
“We the people of Jefferson Parish would hope that the courts
would see that a political consultant who has a relationship with
both the government and parish council has an unfair advantage,”
Peterson said. “For him, it’s just a big payoff. He’s in a
position now where he pulls the strings on almost everything that
goes down in Jefferson Parish.”