Bayou Vermilion commissioners vote not to terminate CEO after investigation

Lafayette Parish
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(KLFY) — On Wednesday, the governing body that oversees the living folklife park and bayou cleanup operations for Bayou Vermilion held a special meeting to discuss the possibility of terminating CEO David Cheramie following an investigation into staff complaints against him.

The nine-member board of commissioners held a special meeting after four board members — Mark Wiltz, Calvin Leger, David Eaton, and Holden Hoggatt — called for one to be held, according to President Tommy Michot.

The meeting was held over a Zoom conference call and was open to the public. There were around 115 participants including the board of commissioners and CEO Cheramie.

David Cheramie has led Vermilionville and the Bayou Vermilion District for a decade.

The legislative body for the park and district operations, which are funded by a property tax, has been split between longer-serving members and those who were appointed last summer after some commissioners tried to block a public statement by Vermilionville staff condemning systemic racism following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Commissioners hired an attorney earlier this year to investigate claims against Cheramie, and they were briefed on the outcome of the investigation during an executive session last month.

Michot said the complaints against Cheramie, which have not been made public, come from exit interviews with former employees and questioning of current employees by a human resource manager hired last year. Among the allegations include gender-related pay disparities and age-related jokes.

The attorney presented three options to the board of commissioners during an executive session last month, Michot said.

“She gave us three options as to how to move forward: disciplinary measures versus a performance improvement plan versus termination,” Michot said. “Four of the board members have taken it upon themselves to call for a special meeting to discuss and vote on termination of the CEO.”

Michot said he was leaning toward a performance improvement plan for Cheramie, who he said has done good work over the last decade for the district and park.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress, Bayou Vermilion District has, under his leadership,” Michot said. “Of course there’s been some setbacks in the last few years starting with the flood of 2016 and then COVID in the last couple of years. It’s put a strain on everything just like it has for everyone everywhere.”

Michot also took time during the meeting to commend the work that Cheramie has done in the last ten years.

Commissioners were given the opportunity to voice their opinions on what should happen moving forward with Cheramie.

One suggested that other measures besides immediate termination of Cheramie be considered, like suspension. Another said that a team effort should be implemented to keep things running until a new CEO is appointed.

Commissioner Phyllis Mouton suggested holding a meeting as a board to discuss improvement plans. She takes the position of putting a performance improvement plan in place.

“There are things that need to be fixed, not only with employees but also with the board… When there’s an allegation you act immediately. This board needs to look at itself,” Mouton said. “I think we have not taken the responsibility to eliminate what we see now with spiraling problems causing employee dissatisfaction.”

The public was also given a chance to submit comments online before the meeting and request to make commentary during the meeting. There were 46 submissions from the public against the termination of Cheramie and two for his termination.

Cheramie was also given the chance to speak before the board voted.

The board ultimately voted not to terminate Cheramie with five against termintaion, one for, and three abstained from voting.

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