Parks & Rec employee put on administrative leave same week Boudreaux was pushed out

Sen. Gerald Boudreaux at his desk in the state Capitol.

The gist: A Lafayette Parks and Recreation Department employee was placed on administrative leave the same week longtime Director Gerald Boudreaux tendered his resignation after a heated discussion with Mayor-President Josh Guillory the morning of June 2. The employee later returned to the office but has since been temporarily suspended.

The disciplinary action appears to be related to an email the employee sent out to residents who use parks and recreation services. The email contained information and language that was also circulating in social media posts picking up steam at the time. Denise Ferguson, who supervises therapeutic recreation programs for the department and had already seen some of those services cut because of coronavirus health concerns, asked in the email that citizens contact the mayor-president and council members to spare other aspects of the department from budget cuts due to the impact of coronavirus. The email and similar social media posts from others raised alarms among council members.

“I spoke with the CAO this morning and she says that there are no plans to close the parks,” Councilwoman Liz Hebert wrote in a May 28 email to a resident. “Where is this information coming from? I’ve received a ton of emails this morning about it and I would like to try and locate the source.” The resident confirms in the email thread that she got the information from Ferguson. 

Every LCG department, save for what Guillory calls essential services — public safety, roads, drainage — has been asked to submit recommendations to cut their current fiscal year budgets by 20 percent. Guillory made the announcement at a June 2 coronavirus press briefing, the same day he announced that Boudreaux had “retired.” The mayor-president implied that pending budget cuts led to Boudreaux’s departure. “I understand that the measure we may well need to take with respect to our parks and recreation centers are heartbreaking, and I certainly understand his decision,” Guillory said at the time. 

The action against the employee appears linked to an internal investigation into the department referenced by Boudreaux after he was pushed out. Boudreaux, a state senator who has led the department since 1985, made his first public statement on June 12, saying the resignation would ultimately be a retirement and indicating he would have more to say in due time.

“Because of my respect for the office of the Mayor-President and upon the advice of my legal team, I will not have any public comment or response until the conclusion of the investigation,” Boudreaux said in the statement. Contacted on his cell phone last week, Boudreaux declined to elaborate. 

Freguson returned from leave but was subsequently suspended for 10 days. By June 8, she was back at her office when The Current reached her for comment, a request she referred to interim Parks Director Frank Wittenberg. Wittenberg said the issue was an “HR matter.” LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle declined to comment on Ferguson’s situation last week, and Human Resources Manager Rick Zeno did not respond to a voice mail message requesting the reason for her suspension.

There is nothing to suggest Ferguson was acting on any inside information, a source tells The Current, but rather merely reacting to Guillory’s own public comments on KPEL about the need for drastic cuts and/or sharing what was already circulating on social media at the time, like this May 27 post from a Facebook user: 

Mayor Josh Guillory is talking about closing all recreation centers and half the parks in Lafayette. Please gather as many of your friends that can help and contact the Mayor’s Office, CAO and City Council’s Office and tell them how essential the Parks and Recreation Department is. It is a direct reflection of how the city views quality of life. Please do so by Thursday afternoon. The final decision is Friday. Please Facebook your friends.

Parks and rec employee Denise Ferguson appears to have been disciplined for sending an email to residents who use the department’s services, asking them to let elected officials know how much the services mean to them.

“The truth is no decisions have been made, but also the truth is everything is on the table,” Guillory said June 2 to The Acadiana Advocate’s Claire Taylor, who asked whether there was any truth to speculation some recreational centers would be closed. 

On Monday, the administration responded to The Current’s June 5 public records request, confirming that in late May, Boudreaux — at the request of the mayor-president — proposed slashing $1.6 million from the department’s $8 million capital budget. No proposed operational cuts, like closing parks or recreation facilities, appear in the document.