For 14 years now, Lafourche Parish District Attorney Camille Morvant II has had to be the adult, keeping peace among the squabbling Parish Council members and several different parish presidents.
No matter how much Morvant likes the rest of his job, this part of it surely was a drag.
Facing a seemingly endless stream of requests for official opinions, Morvant’s office has had to make sense out of the most senseless and shameless political shenanigans on display in local government.
He has seen a parish president conducting private personal business with BP even as the parish had a contract with the company and struggled with the lingering fallout from its disastrous oil spill.
He has had to issue opinions that, in most places, would not be necessary. But Lafourche Parish has a political history like no other. It is a place where the council and parish president – regardless of who the people are in any of the offices – exist in a constant state of petty warfare. And it’s been that way for years, even longer than Morvant has been in charge of trying to instill some sense of public responsibility.
Sadly, Morvant’s tenure as the parish’s top lawyer will soon come to an end. He announced earlier this week that he will retire on Nov. 3. Fortunately, he is staying on in the office as an assistant DA.
Though he didn’t say so in his retirement announcement, I can help but think the ongoing bickering – fueled and exacerbated by a parish president who at times has refused to communicate with the council – played into his decision.
“When I sought a third term as district attorney in 2014, it was because I felt I still had so much to give to the office and this parish,” Morvant said. “My passion for the job has not changed, but life has a way of forcing you to take a hard look at what you can realistically accomplish when health and age become increasingly important factors in your life. It is no secret that the office of district attorney is a demanding one. There are no office hours, and our job extends far beyond the courtroom. There are few aspects of public government with which we are not involved. The people of this parish deserve a district attorney who can give all of oneself, all of the time.”
Of course, it is pure speculation on my part. But I know that most people, if confronted with the kinds of disagreements he has to settle on a regular basis, would have grown tired of it long before now.
There have been a few signs that Morvant’s exasperation has grown since Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle took over at the beginning of 2016.
Back in February, for instance, he replied to one request for a legal opinion with an understandable sense of frustration:
“As was stated in earlier opinions, the parish president, as chief executive officer, is responsible for providing reasonable work space for all parish employees. Previous administrations understood this basic concept and as a result, work areas were constructed and/or designated in Thibodaux, Mathews and Galliano specifically for the Legislative Branch to meet with constituents and/or house the employees that the (Home Rule) Charter provides they can hire. It’s bewildering as to why the occupation of a legislative office space by a legislative employee has devolved into such a spectacle, but here we are. It is troubling to witness the divisiveness that has manifested and grown within our parish government.”
I cannot imagine the difficulty involved in trying to have a person who is proudly and belligerently uncooperative work with his fellow public servants.
But that has been Morvant’s task for more than a decade. It is a task he seemed to embrace, insisting time and again that our public servants remember the “public” part of that description.
He has never shied away from his responsibility. And he has always seemed to do his best to ensure we get the government’s best.
His retirement and the rest he will now get is well-deserved. But he will surely be missed.
Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.