Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Nov. 21 Times-Picayune on a judge ruling that a teacher's ejection from a school board meeting was illegal:

Ten months after a teacher was handcuffed for questioning a pay raise for the Vermilion Parish school superintendent, she's been officially vindicated.

A Lafayette judge ruled ... the School Board violated Louisiana's open meetings law when English teacher Deyshia Hargrave was kicked out of a meeting and then held down and handcuffed on a hallway floor. 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith negated the pay raise given to Superintendent Jerome Puyau and everything else the board did during the Jan. 8 special meeting.

Attorney General Jeff Landry's office sued the School Board, which led to the court decision.

"There is no indication in the evidence that Ms. Hargrave's behavior was willfully disruptive. Ms. Hargrave addressed the board respectfully," the judge said in his ruling.

In fact, it seemed that then-School Board President Anthony Fontana just didn't like the question. He recognized Ms. Hargrave to speak, and then cut in when she tried to ask about the superintendent pay raise. "Stop right now! That's not germane to what's on the agenda tonight," he said on a video recorded by an audience member.

Ms. Hargrave disagreed. "This directly speaks to what you were just voting on," she said, with people in the crowd backing her up.

But Mr. Fontana, who resigned less than two weeks later, called over a school resource officer, who told Ms. Hargrave to leave. After trying to ask about the rules and continue her question, she picked up her purse and began to walk out. That is when things escalated.

She and the resource officer were briefly out of the view of cameras. When the video picks up, the teacher is on the floor, being handcuffed. The officer tells her on the video to "stop resisting," which she denied having done. "I am not, you just pushed me to the floor," she said. He pulled her down a hallway and outside, as people from the meeting trailed them.

It was an appalling incident.

Ms. Hargrave was arrested on charges of "remaining after being forbidden" and resisting an officer. Prosecutors had sense enough not to pursue a case against her.

Thankfully, Judge Smith has sent a strong message to the School Board that it cannot shut out the public from discussion of school system business.

Ms. Hargrave was speaking during a public comment period. Her question was pertinent, and even if it hadn't been, there was no reason to eject her. And there certainly was no justification for her being handcuffed and dragged out of the building.

The board had been deadlocked for a year on whether to renew Superintendent Puyau's contract and give him a raise. Mr. Fontana picked the moment he did to push for a vote after one of the board members opposed to the renewal died. Mr. Fontana handpicked the replacement to get someone in favor of the raise.

It is not surprising that someone would ask about all of that during the meeting.

The attorney general said Monday that it is essential for the public's "views and thoughts" to be heard before a vote by a government board. He's right.

Ms. Hargrave's question was entirely reasonable. And the School Board owed her and other Vermilion Parish residents an answer.



Nov. 21

The Advocate on Thanksgiving and John James Audubon:

As Louisiana families gather for Thanksgiving this week, John James Audubon will, in many houses, be there above the mantel to welcome sons and daughters home.

The bird artist's prints occupy a prominent place of honor in homes and offices across the state, a way to acknowledge a painter who often chose the wildlife of Louisiana as his subject.

When we hail Louisiana as a sportsman's paradise, we're evoking a distinction that Audubon helped to create. He painted more birds in Louisiana than any other place on earth, advancing the state's international reputation as a natural wonder.

This Thanksgiving, we should be grateful for the beauty bequeathed by Mother Nature to Louisiana — and give thanks for Audubon, who reminded us what a lovely spot Louisiana was.

All of this comes to mind because the good folks at LSU Press have just released "Audubon on Louisiana," a collection of the bird artist's writings about the state. In addition to being a masterful artist, Audubon was a clever writer, too, and Louisiana was a frequent topic. Although he traveled widely, Audubon said Louisiana was his favorite state in the Union.

Audubon arrived in Louisiana in 1821, seeking portrait commissions from wealthy clients in New Orleans while he looked for birds to paint. Before long, he was in West Feliciana Parish, where he refined the skills that made him the most famous wildlife artist in history.

"It was in Louisiana that he gave himself up totally to the project that finally became 'Birds of America,'" writes Ben Forkner, who edited the new collection of Audubon writings. "It was in Louisiana that he persuaded his wife Lucy to join him and make her home for almost 10 years. It was in Louisiana that he perfected his art, and in Louisiana that he painted the most and, many would argue, the best of his birds. In Louisiana, he became the Audubon we know today."

When he left St. Francisville in the autumn of 1821, Audubon said that leaving the "sweet woods" was painful, "for in them we always enjoyed Peace and the sweetest pleasures of admiring the Creator in all his unrivaled Works."

That legacy is still a vivid part of Louisiana's landscape, though the state has changed much since Audubon's time. Development has dwindled the wild places, and the coast is challenged by erosion.

But Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on what we still have. The words of John James Audubon, given new voice in "Audubon on Louisiana" are a potent reminder of just how lucky we are.



Nov. 20

American Press on an airport receiving a certification positioning it to attract developers:

Lake Charles Regional Airport is the ninth location in Southwest Louisiana to be deemed a certified site under the Louisiana Economic Development's Site Certification Program.

Now the airport is poised to attract additional development on 156 acres of its nearly 2,000-acre property.

All LED Certified Sites have completed a rigorous application and review process conducted by an independent, third-party engineering firm. The in-depth evaluation includes an environmental site assessment, wetlands delineation, geotechnical survey, threatened and endangered species study and a cultural and archaeological survey.

This process ensures potential buyers that they will have no site issues that could disrupt critical construction schedules or present unexpected additional project costs.

"A certified site is considered 'shovel-ready' by developers, which greatly increases its appeal," said Gus Fontenot, project coordinator for the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. "That elevates that property in the market place, and that's going to serve the area well in terms of generating revenue for the airport and it's going to generate jobs for this area and this parish."

LED Secretary Don Pierson said attracting developers to our state is part of a "readiness game."

"We're in an age of acceleration; it's not site selectors, it's site eliminators — are they ready or are they not," Pierson said. "That's what developers are looking for. It's nice to add another certified site in this region."

Heath Allen, the airport's executive director, said for every dollar invested in local tax dollars in the airport, the return is $291.

"Airports are tremendous generators of economic activity, in fact the Department of Transportation and Development has pegged the economic outlook for Lake Charles Regional Airport in the state of Louisiana at $224 million per year with about 1,600 jobs and an over $50 million payroll," he said. "That's quite significant."

Congratulations to the airport.

This site certification designation is an important move for the facility and for Southwest Louisiana.


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