UPDATE, 3/3/2023: Milton-Fontenot said that Bellard gave her job back the day after the council meeting. According to Milton-Fontenot, Bellard investigated the incident and after speaking with her, he decided to reinstate her.

ORIGINAL: ST. LANDRY PARISH, La. (KLFY) — An investigation has begun in the firings of many former employees in St. Landry Parish government.

The Administrative and Finance Committee voted to begin the investigation at a meeting Wednesday after many former employees claimed they were unjustly fired by Parish President Jessie Bellard.

Councilman Wayne Ardoin, who asked for the investigation, said he became concerned when several Black former parish employees came to him after being terminated, believing race may have influenced the terminations.

The parish will now hire an independent Human Resource Specialist to investigate the human
resource department and any other parish government department to determine if
proper protocol was followed and that the terminations were justifiable.

News 10 spoke with many former employees who came to the meeting who said they were unjustly terminated at the hands of Parish President Jessie Bellard. The former employees include people in permitting and inspection, animal control and security.

Mitch Landry said he was hired in June of 2021 to be the building official for St. Landry Parish.

“After being employed 30 days and failing to follow the directions and orders of the parish president, which were against the code of requirements by the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council, I was terminated,” Landry said.

Mary Milton-Fontenot, a former security officer, said she was fired a week ago for violating policy and procedures after she says the human resources director told her she’d let someone through the line to get their lights checked at Community Action.

“I had a lot of respect for Mr. Bellard,” Milton-Fontenot said. “I had a lot of respect for my job. I loved my job with every beam in me, and I just want my name to be cleared of all of these accusations and mess because this is my name. This isn’t about the money, but my name because I have to get another job.”

Terri Courville, the former animal control director, was also at the meeting. Jessie Bellard fired her several months ago.

“I was terminated for being a whistleblower to illegal activity,” Courvelle said. “We were not given any type of reason why we were fired. I was fired directly after two investigators went into a lady’s home without a warrant and tried to pressure me to agree that we had not gone in.”

“I was fired because they fired Terri, and they said I’d go back and tell Terri what was going on at the shelter,” Tracy Duplechain, a former kennel attendant at the animal shelter, said. “I was doing my job. I’d work weekends at the shelter, and I’d go in in the afternoons. I never had a reprimand, not one. I questioned Jessie about why I was fired, and he said because I said so.”

When Courvelle was fired as animal control director, Brooke Wagley, the former vet tech, stepped into her position. Wagley says two days after she took control, she was placed under investigation.

“I asked them what I was being investigated for,” Wagley said. “They would not tell me. I tried to call Jessie twice after that. He would not answer me. A month went by, they finally contacted me, told me to come into the courthouse, told me my investigation was over with and fired me.”

All of the former employees who were terminated said they were fired without warning.

At the meeting when Bellard was questioned by council members, he defended his decision.

“Whenever some people do something that is so wrong that I cannot overlook it or face the possibility of myself being held accountable through malfeasance, it doesn’t matter what the book says. They’re not going to work for me,” Bellard said in the meeting.

Bellard issued the following statement:

“In the last year, I’ve relieved 21 employees of their duties with the parish. Each time, it has been because of lack of performance or because of wrong doing. During that time period, 9 black and 12 white employees were terminated with cause.  A person’s race has never been or ever will be a factor in their employment or their release from work at St. Landry Parish Government.

“While some employees did not receive a cause on their termination letter, Human Resources does have the cause of termination documented in their personnel file and we can not release that for public viewing,” Bellard said.