New Roads mayor calls council members’ transparency efforts a “witch hunt”

"The mayor is not willing to be transparent and when you’re not being transparent, in my opinion, is normally because you have things that are hidden that you want to remain hidden."

It was a fiery council meeting in New Roads on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 where at least three council members requested transparency from Mayor Cornell Dukes.

The entire council meeting consisted of three main items:

  • Discussion on resolution regarding the Mayor’s driver (Mr. White)
  • Discussion on city police officers seen outside the city limits (Mr. White)
  • A review of never seen purchases made by Councilman Kirk White on city credit card (Mayor Dukes)

Councilman Kirk White requested both of the discussion items regarding the mayor and said Mayor Dukes’ request to add the item about his credit card statement from 2011 was retaliation.

Mayor Pro-Tem Theron Smith said constituents are concerned about their tax dollars being used to drive the mayor around on his personal time. They repeatedly asked the mayor to respond and show any documentation as to the trips that require New Roads police officers to drive him around, but Mayor Dukes did not answer and repeatedly said he would not take part in the witch hunt.

“We found out that he had spent $24,000 in overtime with one person. That’s when after that allegations came out of the things he was doing and this was during Covid restrictions where everything was closed. There were no business meetings taking place outside of Zoom. So I think we knew we had to act, but the mayor would never answer any questions and again tonight, he refused to answer questions as you saw,” said Smith.

Smith said Tuesday night’s meeting was the mayor’s second opportunity to defend himself. In February, this council passed a resolution to get details on the mayor’s use of a detail driver.

However, Mayor Dukes has continuously refused to answer any questions state that his office was governed by state law and ordinances.

“My office is not governed by a resolution. This group knew that when they passed it. The proper way to govern this office is an ordinance so I’m not about to sit here and play your witch hunt game Kurt, Theron or Mr. White. I’m not going to be a part of that,” said Mayor Dukes.

The city’s attorney, John Wayne, said New Roads is governed by public charter. That then started a conversation between the mayor and Wayne.

Mayor: Does that resolution have any impact on my office?

Wayne: It does not.

Mayor: Yes sir.

Wayne: But if you’re simply asked to do something, you could comply with it.

Mayor: Yes sir. But does it have an impact on my office, on my daily operations?

Wayne: It can’t as long as you are obeying the law, it can’t change things.

Mayor: Could you say it a little louder so everybody can…. does that resolution have any impact on my daily operations?

Wayne: It doesn’t, it doesn’t control you and it can’t force you to do something. They pass an ordinance, it can.

Mayor: Yes sir. And, have I broke the law in any way?

Wayne: As long as, as long as you’re using what you’re doing for the city business.  

Mayor: Have I broken the law in any way? Have I broken the law?

Wayne: I have no idea, as long as you abide by the law and not. If you’re using the officers to go with you, which you have a right to do, you asked me that when you first took office.

Mayor: Everything I do here, I ask an attorney first.

Wayne: I don’t know about that.

Mayor: Well things like that.

Wayne: I told you, you were within your right to use one of those officers when conducting city business, city business.

Mayor: I have broken no laws

When Kellerman asked if they pass an ordinance, would the mayor abide by it, the mayor’s response was “pass your ordinance.”

Councilman White proposed forming a committee to introduce, advertise in the paper and pass an ordinance. The mayor said he has the right to veto it and that it would take four council members to override the mayor’s veto.

Aside from resolutions and ordinances, Mayor Dukes stopped Smith after three minutes saying his time to speak was over due to their rule that gives people three minutes to speak.

“We have to have boundaries so we’re not here all night,” said Mayor Dukes.

The mayor asked the administrator what their policy was and she responded with, “We really don’t have a policy mayor.”

Council Kurt Kellerman said the public could go home and the council was willing to stay until midnight to get some answers.

“It was kind of ridiculous and the first time anyone on the council had heard such a thing for council members. I mean very rarely does he hold that to citizens, only when it’s issues he doesn’t want to talk about a lot. I think he was really trying to muzzle us as much as possible,” said Smith. “It says the mayor is not willing to be transparent and when you’re not being transparent, in my opinion, is normally because you have things that are hidden that you want to remain hidden because if those things are known, it wouldn’t be favorable.” 

WATCH NEW ROADS COUNCIL MEETING

The second main item that came to light was an address outside the city limits of New Roads.

For basic understanding, city police officers are responsible for covering any addresses within the city limits of New Roads. Unless given authorization, city officers do not have the jurisdiction to police outside of the city limits. Meanwhile, a sheriff’s office has authority over the entire parish but a general rule of thumb is they patrol outside of any city limits.

In this case, the address in question is 8566 Bayou Run Dr., the Believe Therapeutic Group Home. That is outside of the city and technically falls under the jurisdiction of the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Upon further digging, that group home comes back to Mayor Dukes. He is the registered agent and manager of that home.

That alone started a conversation between certain council members. Councilman Vernell Davis said he’s brought it to light in the past when he’s noticed New Roads officers in Morganza and that no one did anything about it. His point was because this address comes back to the mayor, that’s why it’s a debate now.

New Roads Police Chief Kevin McDonald was at the meeting and confirmed New Roads officers do respond to Bayou Run Dr. He said he, the staff at the group home, Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Rene Thibodeaux and the chief deputy all had a meeting.

“In that meeting with the sheriff, he said, ‘Well, in the event that we’re not close by, if your guys are right there, then if y’all can maybe’….because a lot of the times what happens is, you go over there and the kid might just be having a bad day,” said Chief McDonald.

When questioned who approached who, Chief McDonald said the sheriff’s office approached city police on the matter, but Sheriff Thibodeaux told Unfiltered with Kiran that’s not the case. 

“We were invited to go visit with the mayor at another location and we had a meeting. We go to visit with the mayor and they offered to help in this situation saying that they knew most of the kids and some of the parents that they would like to mentor some of them and try to help with the call volume. I’m not sure why they were saying we asked for help there,” said Sheriff Thibodeaux. 

In fact, the sheriff said since July 2020, there have been 129 calls for service from that one group home.

Unfiltered with Kiran did reach out to District Attorney Tony Clayton asking if his office was investigating Mayor Dukes. He said after meeting with the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office, he needed a more thorough case by deputies.

Some of the questions Clayton said he wanted answered include whether the mayor used his city issued credit card when he was accused of being out in New Orleans with a New Roads officer allegedly driving him there, and if there’s a policy that states the mayor cannot have a New Roads officer 24/7.

Clayton said the city attorney told him there was no policy against it and added the mayor is entitled to security. 

The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has not yet responded to whether they are investigating the matter or not.

The last item on the council’s agenda was a purchase on Councilman Kirk White’s city issued credit card from 2011 for $794. But before the item could be discussed, Mayor Dukes said he would be removing the item.

However, White spoke up saying that ever since the item was placed on the agenda, he received numerous calls asking what all he spent the city’s money on. He explained in the meeting that this was retaliation for the two items he put on the agenda about the mayor. White added that’s why the mayor went and pulled a charge from 10 years ago. He went on to explain the charge was for a work conference plus a $41 late fee because the city did not pay the card on time.

White even responded to the mayor and said his attempt to put the item on the agenda was a witch hunt.

White closed his remarks by saying, “Once again, you have brought shame upon this city. Here we are, it’s three mayors in a row now that are under AG investigation and it’s shameful.” 

Mayor Dukes was asked after the meeting if he wanted to interview, but he chose not to.

About Kiran Chawla 574 Articles
I'm an Emmy & Murrow Award winning investigative reporter who simply loves my job!

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