Amid lawsuit, LEDA turns over applicants for parish’s highest paid public job

UPDATE: The Current’s public records lawsuit was settled ahead of a hearing date, with LEDA agreeing to pay $5,310 for The Current’s attorneys’ fees, $750 in court costs and $900 in penalties to this news organization. View the consent judgment here.

The gist: The Lafayette Economic Development Authority has turned over the full list of candidates who met the July 14 application deadline for the agency’s top job, by far the highest paid position for a public official in Lafayette Parish — potentially worth an estimated $450,000 in salary and benefits

LEDA produced the full résumés and candidate videos of all 34 applicants after The Current filed suit Monday to compel their release. The public agency has thus far cooperated with The Current’s requests for additional records related to the search and at press time was negotiating with this media outlet’s attorney, Gary McGoffin, on whether a hearing will be necessary next week to conclude the matter.

LEDA President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux

Gregg Gothreaux, who has held the job for 26 years, announced in June that he would retire later this year. LEDA is funded by a parish property tax and has a $4 million annual budget and 20 employees. The CEO position pays a base salary of $250,000.

Seven of the 34, including three local candidates, remain “under consideration,” according to Mike Guidroz, who chairs the selection committee: 

  • Monique Boulet, Acadiana Planning Commission CEO
  • Mandi D. Mitchell, Louisiana Economic Development assistant secretary 
  • Troy L. Wayman, One Acadiana president and CEO
  • Verdell L. Hawkins, Gulf Power Company economic development manager
  • Larry Holt, Columbia River Economic Development Council COO (Holt has since withdrawn)
  • John A. O’Toole, Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation executive director
  • Bob Shark, Fay-Penn Economic Development Council executive director

View the résumés of those still under consideration here.

“We’re not going to call them finalists yet, because it was our first run-through,” Guidroz says. “Next Move did provide some recommendations based on their experience and the job requirements.” He says the committee considered the recommendations and viewed the majority of the résumés on a shared screen via teleconference, settling on a list of applicants it would keep under consideration. 

“The next step is to look at those a little closer or go back and see if there are others who need to be included in our interview process and then move forward,” Guidroz says. The committee will recommend three finalists to the full board, which will interview and select the CEO.

Serving alongside Guidroz on the search committee are fellow LEDA executive committee members Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, Chris Arsement, Frank Neuner and Jerry Luke LeBlanc. LEDA board member Willie Leday, whom Guidroz says recently served on the executive committee, is also on the search committee; Mike Michot, LEDA’s lobbyist, and EJ Krampe, a former LEDA chairman, are serving advisory roles. 

LEDA retained the search firm Next Move Group over two other firms that submitted proposals. Next Move, based in New Orleans, is being paid $27,700, according to its proposal

Guidroz tells The Current he remains confident in Next Move Group’s ability to run the process, despite its CEO taunting this publication to sue him for the sake of his YouTube channel’s popularity. The matter ultimately led to a public records lawsuit against his own client, LEDA, that could result in thousands of dollars in fees and penalties. 

“Please sue me,” Chad Chancellor wrote to The Current in a rambling response last week as he tried to fight the release of the candidates’ names. “Please please please.”

Chancellor advised LEDA to fight disclosure despite LEDA’s request of him to let candidates know that their names and résumés may be released publicly if they were to be finalists. Next Move Group included that language in materials it distributed during the search. Louisiana’s public records law, however, does not distinguish between applicants and finalists. The Louisiana Supreme Court has held that there is no exemption in the state’s public record laws for employment applications for public jobs. 

“They’ve done what they said they would do,” Guidroz says of Next Move Group. “I won’t comment on his emailed response.” 

Records from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office show that the company had not been in good standing for failure to file an annual report in October 2019. It filed its 2020 annual report Wednesday, two days after The Current’s lawsuit, and is back in good standing with the state.

Four candidates removed themselves from consideration ahead of the July 14 noon deadline, according to Gothreaux. Those are Henry Florsheim, Leon Darren Harper, Shea Hopkins and Melody Lockwood. 

Florsheim was Gothreaux’s preferred candidate, according to the outgoing CEO. Florsheim worked for LEDA from 2001 to 2008 and was CEO of the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise from 2008 to 2010. He is now president and CEO of the Wichita Falls, Texas, Chamber of Commerce. 

Gothreaux also informed Guidroz of this preference, confirms Guidroz, who says he doesn’t recall in what context Gothreaux related that information. 

The other applicants are:

  • John R. Barnott
  • Anita Ready Begnaud
  • Stephen R. Bell
  • John H. Broussard
  • Mark S. Brown
  • Larry Arnold Calhoun
  • Thomas Clark
  • David A. Colligan
  • Leigh M. Ferguson
  • John D. Gatto
  • John H. Hatfield
  • Clair Hebert Marceaux
  • David W. Johnston
  • Benjamin H. Pingree
  • Sanford B. Ring
  • Bill Rodier
  • Michael Southard
  • Nathan Sparks
  • Michael J. Tarantino
  • Frank Tate
  • Martin K. Vanags
  • Clay Walker
  • Jonathan Watkins

View the full list of résumés here