Nine members of state ethics board resign

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There are just two members of the Louisiana Ethics Board left. A few weeks ago, there were eleven board members and a general council member. Since last Friday, nine members handed in their resignations.

Some say it all started when Governor Jindal passed a law, taking power away from the ethics board and giving it to administrative law judges and forcing a higher burden of proof for board members to meet. Now, those same speculators are not surprised by the mass exodus. "This board, having been legitimate citizens board, said we get this, y'all want us out of here. We quit," says political analyst Elliott Stonecipher.

Before their last board meeting, Michael Johnson stepped down. Board chairman Hank Perret, vice chairman John Greene, Gwen Hamilton, Joanne Ferriot, Doug Peterson, and board administrator Richard Sherburne all followed. Dr. Herbert Baptiste, Sr. of Natchitoches and Joseph Maselli of New Orleans just sent in their resignation letters. That means only two members are left.

It takes eight members to launch any ethics investigation, so right now, all research is completely stopped. "Now, you're seeing it happen and we all need to settle in to the fact that do not have real ethics enforcement from here on out," Stonecipher says. He says board members are leaving because legislators and the governor basically told them to. He made that prediction in February. "We are going to effectively stop this ethics board from doing what they otherwise normally do."

Friday he said, "They intended for the board to go away. They've already legislated for the board to go away." Stonecipher says new rules proposed by legislators and signed into law by Governor Jindal make it almost impossible for board members to do their jobs. In Judge John Greene wrote in his resignation letter, "With the changes in the ethics laws eliminating the hearing of charges by the board, I believe my services are no longer needed." Dr. Joanne Ferriot wrote, "I feel (however) that our skills, background, and experience are no longer appreciated."

"Honorable people do not want to be a puppet for the governor and for the legislature," Stonecipher says. Every board member appointed by a previous governor has now resigned. The two members left were both Senate appointees. When it comes to "refilling" the board, presidents of private colleges will suggest replacements to Governor Jindal.

Richard Sherburne, the board's administrator and chief counsel, who also is resigning, says he would not be suprised if the two remaining board members resign as well.

The two remaining board members include Dr. Dolores Spikes of Baton Rouge and Dr. Cedric Lowrey of Alexandria. Dr. Spikes' husband, Herman, died last week. Reached at home Friday morning, Dr. Spikes says she has "no notion right now" whether or not she will remain on the board. Calls placed to Lowrey Friday were not immediately returned.

At Jindal's behest, the Legislature greatly expanded ethics laws governing public officials and lobbyists during a February special session. However, some of the changes have come under fire from critics who say they will make ethics laws harder to enforce.

Jindal says he has already begun the process of replacing the departing members. He has otherwise said little about the criticisms of the ethics law changes. He said in April that critics would have to make their case to the Legislature.