LIVINGSTON — Livingston Parish Councilman Randy Delatte says he was shoved by fellow councilman Garry “Frog” Talbert following Tuesday’s heated council meeting.
The meeting featured a heated exchange between the council and the public over the ousting of library board member Debbie Henson.
Following the meeting, Delatte, who is running for Livingston Parish president, said on Facebook, “Councilman Talbert shoved me with his chest as we were exiting the room.”
While council meetings are broadcast and streamed on YouTube, the alleged shove was not captured on camera.
Delatte says the shove was in retaliation over his criticism of “out-of-control” Talbert’s “political stunts” over the library board.
“I think you don’t give a damn about the library,” Delatte said during a separate debate over an ordinance consideration for the parish to ban the social media app TikTok. “I think this is a political stunt, and you’re going to continue to do political stunts to improve yourself to get elected. And that’s not what this board is for.”
Talbert responded to Delatte’s Facebook post saying, “We did chest bump. He then extended his arms to shove me, but the old guy went backward.”
“Randy (Delatte) was yelling (expletives) at me … so I turned around and stopped,” Talbert says of the post-meeting exchange. “Now, whether I bumped him or he bumped me, it’s kind of a moot point. He did extend his arms to push me, his ass just went backwards, I didn’t budge. I never laid a hand on him with my hands, and he can’t say that.”
“I felt it was time for a change”
The councilmen’s feud began after the council backed Talbert’s move to oust library board member Debbie Henson.
Henson, who was first appointed to the library board prior to Talbert’s election, was reappointed by him last year. Her removal in the middle of her term follows a decision by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry who said parish councils can remove members at will, Talbert told the council.
“I felt it was time for a change,” Talbert said. “I don’t want (Henson) to vote on the next (library) director.”
Talbert is referring to a future vote following the resignation of longtime Livingston Parish library director Giovanni Tairov. Tairov resigned Monday following months of heated debates with Talbert and the council over tightening restrictions on content in parish libraries.
Talbert tells UWK that he tried to speak with Henson on multiple occasions. But after several failed attempts to connect, he feels it’s because she doesn’t want to discuss his philosophy of the library system.
“Trying to fix something that isn’t broken”
There was emotional public debate over Henson’s ousting during Tuesday’s board meeting with several residents speaking to Henson’s qualifications.
“Debbie is the only board member person on the board who has a library degree,” one person said. “She’s done a really good job (as a board member).”
Talbert says there is no doubt and no questions over Henson’s qualifications.
“However, if the mindset of a librarian is that of the ALA (American Library Association), then I don’t want someone with a library science degree to run the library,” he told UWK. “If they feel that every child should have access to every book, then I disagree with that, and I’m not going to put someone with that philosophy (on the board).”
Still some at the meeting questioned Talbert’s motives for wanting to terminate Henson.
“The only reason I feel (Talbert doesn’t) want her on the board is because she’s not voting the way you want her to,” Marla Elsea said. “This is not what’s best for our libraries, or for our children or for our community. I feel this is a series of political moves designed to perpetuate homophobic censorship and attempts to gain favor among those who might fund your next campaign.”
Council chairman John Wascom cut off testimony because of the overwhelming number of people at the meeting who wanted to speak. He even stood up and yelled while shaking his gavel for everyone to take a seat.
In the end, Delatte and councilman Gerald McMorris were the only two to vote against Henson’s termination. While some council voted in favor of Talbert’s motion, many said it wasn’t a vote against Henson but rather a vote in favor of a councilmember being able to choose their appointments.
A replacement was not named. Talbert told the council he was ready to appoint someone, but that she backed out.
“I will continue to do diligent research within the community and look for a replacement,” he said.
Library director resigns
Giovanni Tairov, who has served as library director since 2010, abruptly resigned this week after escalated tensions between Talbert and the council.
During a February council meeting, Talbert announced that he hired a private investigator to test the ease of access to inappropriate content on library computers.
Library director Giovanni Tairov said in a public letter about the incident that the library’s content filtering system blocked the initial attempts, but that the investigator found a “backdoor to break through the library’s firewall and view inappropriate content.”
Tairov says Talbert’s actions are a violation of library Board of Control policy 3-328.
“The library’s electronic access policy is displayed to every patrol that accesses a computer and must be accepted before usage can begin,” Tairov said in the letter. “Specifically, the policy prohibits the sending, receiving or viewing of pornographic material.”
Talbert says the investigator did not use a backdoor to access the explicit material.
“He used Reddit, Twitter, TikTok and DuckDuckGo,” Talbert said in his Facebook post. “Any teenager, or adult, could use the same means with no sophistication. I understand the library director is frustrated that we exposed a fault in his system. Parents deserve to know. I won’t back down, and I won’t apologize.”