BATISTE: A Sexual Harassment Cover-Up In New Orleans’ City Park

A little-known sexual harassment settlement emphasizes the “gross” in gross neglect that lives in the under the oaks of City Park in New Orleans.  Foul play at the park resulted in taxpayer money paying for a sexual harassment settlement a few years back.  The City Park Board and its attorneys attempted to conceal this information from the public, but they were outsmarted.

The story goes back to 2011 and, as a Park official told a Mitch Landrieu staffer about Beauregard’s ownership back in June 2015, this story too “makes interesting reading.”  A Director at City Park was fired in late October 2011.  After having worked with thousands of volunteers to restore the park after Katrina, the female employee received a promotion to a Director position.  According to documents filed with the state by her attorney, the employee worked for two years “under both a hostile and retaliatory work environment.”  She was “subject to repeated unwanted sexual advances and harassment by her direct supervisor Mr. Rob Deviney.”

Rob DeViney is the COO of City Park.  A news story revealed that DeViney used park contractors on two personal properties.  State policy forbids park employees from hiring park contractors for private work.

“I can tell you we investigated it, and he used extremely bad judgment at that time, but again, not a law, not an ethics law, but a policy violation, and we did take disciplinary action,” City Park CEO Bob Becker said in a news story with WWL TV’s David Hammer, although he refused to elaborate the punishment.  Becker also refused to provide Hammer with the report that a contracted private investigator conducted on DeViney.

Meanwhile, DeViney’s employee Mike Mariani was forced to resign in 2013 for using park contractors on his home as well as park building materials. DeViney also paid more than $600,000 in taxpayer funds to an unlicensed contractor for the park.

Back to the sexual harassment settlement.  (The female employee will not be named for multiple reasons including the fact she was a victim and due to the evidenced vindictiveness of the powers that run City Park.)  She went to the City Park Human Relations staff to complain about the work environment.  According to her attorney’s filing, she was told, “wait in line, we all have the same problems and nothing is going to change that.”

The female employee refused to accept that response and took her issues up the chain to CEO Bob Becker about DeViney’s behavior.  She noted to Becker in July 2011, “Mr. DeViney’s ongoing hostile behavior, irregularities in bidding procedures and the IG’s investigation as well as his unwanted sexual behavior toward her.”  According to the attorney’s filing, Becker claimed that he would get back with her shortly, but never fulfilled his word.

A meeting with a past City Park Improvement Association president also went the same as with Becker.  She then contacted the Human Resource office for the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, the state government branch that oversees City Park.  Within three hours of talking with the CRT people, the City Park Director was called into Bob Becker’s office.  “She was asked to resign in lieu of termination.  She was handed a termination letter and escorted back to her office with a police unit to gather her personal belongings.”

The employee was also interviewed by the state Inspector General’s office.  The Park’s Controller, according to the attorney’s letter, “admonished” her about what information she provided because the IG’s office was “not our friends.”

After her termination in October 2011, the employee requested a settlement for “sexual harassment, hostile environment, retaliatory discharge and any potential whistle-blower claims.”  This was a compromise offer from the employee’s attorney to the state of Louisiana.

The state agreed to a sum of $35,000 dated January 26, 2012.  This was in exchange for the rescission and expungement of her termination from her personnel file.  Louisiana taxpayers were burdened with paying for a bad employee, DeViney.  One that is still, six years later, a high level City Park employee.  Perhaps the women’s rights crowd will take note of this lark in City Park.

These records were provided by the Louisiana Administration’s Office of Risk Management through a public records request.  The Hayride requested it from City Park.  The Hayride requested it from City Park’s legal representation, Kinney, Ellinghausen, Richard & DeShazo, whose attorneys claimed a records request was a question, and a question is not forcibly answered by law.  This request was made twice and the attorney’s response challenged.

This looks like a cover-up by state employees and state-contracted professional services.  The refusal to comply with a public records request demonstrates the corruption of City Park.

This same organization knew, as evidenced by previous records requests, that it owned the Beauregard monument.  Becker and the City Park management allowed Mitch Landrieu to confiscate a statue of a Louisiana native, the state’s first civil rights leader, a statue on the National Register of Historic Places, located on Park property, cited owned by the Park, to be removed with ample time to halt proceedings and challenge legally.

The Beauregard cover-up is obvious.  City Park paid the same law firm mentioned above in March, April, May, and June of 2017.  The Kinney firm billed City Park for 319 hours involving the Beauregard monument in April and May.  According to records provided by the Kinney firm, City Park was billed $68,000 for legal dealings involving the Beauregard Monument.  But combing through the City Park meeting minutes, the controversial monument only found its way into discussion one time, during executive session, meaning hidden from the public, and it happened on May 23, 2017, after the monument was removed.  This shows that the powers that be at City Park absolutely discussed the monument, but they concealed it from the public.  The Park’s spokesman John Hopper even said in a statement, “The Board of the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association, made up of all volunteer community leaders, has spent a great deal of time and effort reviewing this matter.”  But there’s no record of their time or effort on this.  It is a complete lack of transparency from government.

Two New Orleans City Council Members sit on the City Park Improvement Association, Susan Guidry and Jason Williams.  Both voted for the removal of the Beauregard Monument on December 17, 2015.  This is an obvious conflict of interest.

And City Park CFO Kevin Cox commented on Facebook on April 30, 2017, after the Battle of Liberty Place monument was removed and before the Davis, Beauregard, and Lee monuments were removed, that he was “proud to stand with the Mayor! … some are proud…others like me are embarrassed…take em all down and enjoy the unfairness.”

City Park has serious issues behind the scenes.  The CEO, COO, and CFO appear to oppose and neglect their fiduciary responsibility and were complicit in the removal of City Park property.  The City Park board buried its head in the sand, all 35 members.  From the sexual harassment settlement, the personal use of park contractors, the hiring of unlicensed contractors, and the allowed and supported confiscation of an iconic monument, the picture starts to come into focus as to what’s going on under the oaks.  The cover-ups involving staff and legal representation involving the harassment settlement, the cover-up and secrecy surrounding the gross neglect of Beauregard, and the lack of oversight from the controlling board, shows that City Park is a filthy cesspool.

City Park is a significant asset to Louisiana and New Orleans.  The goings-on there are out of control and show a pattern of corrupt behavior.  The body of water should no longer be referred to as the City Park lagoon, it’s the City Park swamp.

Fire the employed management and replace and shrink the board.  It’s time to drain the City Park swamp.

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