The Jackson Parish Police Jury (JPPJ) last night took no action on Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson parishes) District Attorney Jonathan Stewart’s demand for additional funding for his office.
Stewart said he wasn’t asking for an increase in his budget, but rather a one-time $50 thousand appropriation to make up for a shortfall from the criminal court fund.
He claimed to be a good steward of public money.
Said Stewart, “We have actually fewer employees in our Jonesboro office, and overall, than we had when we took office.”
Stewart went on to explain how the criminal court fund mechanism works, and said that estimates indicated the fund would bring in about $100 thousand less than that projected for the 2012 budget year.
Last February, Stewart appeared before the jury’s finance committee with dire warnings of impending financial calamity and then proceeded to threaten the jury with a lawsuit if they did not meet his demands. Of the three parishes in the 2nd judicial district, only Bienville parish has agreed to the payment.
Jury President Todd Culpepper (Ward 1) noted that when the police jury in late 2011 made up budgets for 2012, the DA’s office made no requests at that time for additional 2012 monies. Stewart said that the criminal court funds shortfall occurred late last year and early this year, after budgets had been submitted.
Culpepper also said that several parish boards had not been provided legal counsel by the DA’s office, as is required by law. Stewart said a retirement last year left his Jackson Parish office short-staffed.
Stewart also addressed earlier public comments regarding the ongoing governmental crisis in the Town of Jonesboro, and his steadfast refusals to prosecute alleged wrongdoing by the town’s controversial mayor Leslie Thompson.
However, he said he would not respond point-by-point to the questions brought up during the comments.
Said Stewart, “I feel sorry for the citizens of Jonesboro, especially the 25 to 30% who actually voted in the last municipal elections. It would be easy for me to say that the 70% or so that didn’t vote deserve the government that they’ve got, but that in fact is not true.”
Stewart said that despite the lengthy investigations of Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (LLA), he claimed to find no criminal activity regarding the town’s finances.
Said Stewart, “To this date, based on the evidence that we had, we have not found criminal charges to be warranted.”
Thompson and Stewart have been political bedfellows ever since Stewart’s election in 2008, where Thompson was paid $11 thousand by Stewart for “consulting” and “canvassing.”
See our report from June, 2010 – District Att’y, J’boro Mayor Politically Connected
During the public comments part of the meeting, several area citizens railed against Stewart for his alleged failure to do his job.
Former Jonesboro Alderman Randy Layfield said that several years ago he another alderman specifically pointed out malfeasance in the town’s operation in a meeting with Stewart.
Said Layfield, “I showed him where line items and departments as a whole had been overspent. I asked him ‘Isn’t that malfeasance?’ He said ‘absolutely!” We’ve got it on tape if you want to hear that.”
District B Alderwoman Renee Stringer echoed Layfield’s comments. She said that the town is in “shambles” because Stewart didn’t do his job early on.
Said Stringer, “This could have been handled at the first non-compliance audit. But nothing’s ever been addressed.” Added Stringer, “I know that you (the police jury) have to go within the guidelines of the law, because y’all tend to follow the law… Whereas the Town of Jonesboro doesn’t have to follow the law.”
At the end of the meeting during the juror comments, Ward 6 Juror Chuck Garrett said he felt somewhat threatened by Stewart’s insistence that the jury was obliged make up shortfalls in the DA’s office budget.
Said Garrett, “I don’t work off threats, I never have.”
In other business, the jury – acting as the property tax Board of Review – denied an appeal of 2012 ad valorem taxes by Jackson Pines Subdivision. The subdivision is owned by the Greater North Louisiana Community Development Corporation (GNLCDC).