For the second time in three months, the Bayou Vermilion District board of directors, which operates the Vermilionville Living Natural History Museum in Lafayette, last week attempted to fire its CEO.
A special meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, supposedly to take another shot at firing David Cheramie, who served as CEO for 10 years.
Cheramie has become a target after Vermilionville staff issued a public statement condemning systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in May 2020 by Minneapolis Police. Four board members resigned in protest, including Calvin Leger, who was quickly returned to the board and led efforts last week to fire Cheramie.
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Two board members – David Eaton, appointed by Mayor-Chairman Josh Guillory in October 2020, and Mark Wiltz, who is on the staff of Republican Senator from Louisiana Bill Cassidy and appointed to the BVD board by the city ââcouncil in October 2020 – – are affiliated with Citizens for a New Louisiana, a conservative group that Breaux Bridge executive director Michael Lunsford calls a local government watchdog group.
Lunsford, amid chaos on BVD’s board of directors, on November 16, 2020, released a video and statement alleging that Vermilionville staff are “stealing MILLIONS” intended for bayou operations like controlling the erosion and smaller cleanup, and “reappropriated almost an entire agency for cultural manipulation and political engagement.
The board has scrutinized Cheramie’s work and leadership and the cost of operating Vermilionville, which is supported by property tax revenues but is operating in deficit. At a special board meeting in August called by LÃ©ger, three board members – Eaton, Wiltz and Holden Hoggatt, who was appointed by parish council in 2019 – abstained in a vote to fire Cheramie.
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A human resources lawyer investigated 24 allegations against Cheramie, some dating back to 2015, 10 by an employee who refused to speak with the lawyer or provide details. None of the complaints were of a sexual nature.
Instead, the board outlined the improvements and training for Cheramie and reorganized BVD operations. Cheramie lost an ally when the term of board chairman Tommy Michot expired at the end of October.
At a meeting on November 17, board members expressed their displeasure that Chermie had waited so late to provide them with the proposed budget for 2022. LÃ©ger complained that the finance committee had been informed that the accounting firm submitted changes to Cheramie on the night of November 14, but the board only received the changes at the November 17 meeting.
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As CEO, Hoggatt said, Chermie is responsible for providing the board with financial planning documents in an understandable and correct format. Getting the budget through without board oversight at the end of the year is not the way to run the organization, he said.
Leger then proposed a motion to terminate Cheramie as CEO so that the Bayou Vermilion district can “move in a different direction.”
Cheramie said he has known the board has been trying to fire him for some time, adding: “I feel very betrayed” because he made the changes the board wanted and is working with the board of directors, despite the challenges.
Counsel for the board said the motion may be out of order as there was no specific agenda item for Cheramie’s termination, so the board attempted to add it to the agenda. The motion, which required unanimous approval to be added to the agenda, failed when board member Phyllis Mouton abstained. LÃ©ger, Eaton, Wiltz, Hoggatt and new board member Karen Hail voted to add the item to the agenda.