Dropping suit was responsible thing to do

Published 11:13 am Friday, September 20, 2013

Credit Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal, Parish President Richard Thomas and the Washington Parish Council members for coming to their collective senses and having the political aplomb to dismiss lawsuits against each other.

Seal initially activated the legal proceedings in April when he filed suit against Thomas and the council for nonpayment of what he believed were reimbursable expenses. The suit was ostensibly aimed at guaranteeing future payment of his office expenses, as mandated by state law.

The parish fired a retaliatory strike in May by countersuing the sheriff.

This past week Thomas said the parish government and the sheriff reached what he called an amicable agreement. Deep-sixing the suits was fiscally responsible and politically logical since they were largely ceremonial, and the only parties to have emerged victorious would have been the respective attorneys with their legal meters spinning billable hours.

Seal believed he was justified in asking the court to force the parish to pay reasonable expenses to his office. But given the parish’s current financial challenges the money is simply not available, not without imposing draconian cuts.

Already, Thomas has been forced to make staff reductions at the administrative level, including layoffs and reduction of hours. Parish agencies have had their budgets severed by 16 percent, forcing department heads to sharpen their own financial pencils to find a way to make ends meet.

Quite simply, any monies afforded to Seal with a favorable ruling would have either not materialized or crippled other parish departments. The suits were reactionary, filed in the aftermath of a heated tax referendum campaign that voters overwhelmingly rejected.

That same proposition, a .33 percent sales tax increase, is once again on the October ballot, so it was politically prudent for parish fathers to bury their own differences and present a united front in support of the tax. All involved insist the tax is required to keep the parish financially solvent, and that message must be portrayed through the area in one unified voice by leaders.

Now that the pesky annoyance of suits and countersuits have been cleared, the real campaign can begin.