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 recently reaffirmed 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.”