Jul 14, 2011 3:22 AM by Jim Hummel

Controversy Over Lafayette Billboards

The intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Johnston Street is one of the busiest intersections in Lafayette.  It's there, where one of a handful of messages flashing on an electronic billboard is screaming for attention from the thousands of motorists that pass by everyday.  The message doesn't feature and advertisement, instead it features a mugshot.

The mugshot is of Cherry Fisher May, a co-publisher of The Independent Weekly newspaper.  May was arrested for DWI, something the billboard makes clear.  It states, "The Independent Weekly Publisher Arrested For DWI.  Why wasn't this in the Independent's newspaper?  Don't Support Drunk Driving in LA."

The four billboards on display across town were paid for by Parc Lafayette, LLC and developer Glenn Stewart.  

"As far as I'm concerned they're a gutter newspaper organization," said Stewart, speaking about The Independent.

His animosity toward the paper began this spring, after a series of reports about his latest development project Parc Lafayette.  Most notably in The Independent's April 6th Cover Story, "Green Acres," Stewart was featured among other affluent property owners for getting an agricultural property exemption.  That exemption essentially allowed him to pay less property taxes on the future site of Parc Lafayette, so long as one bail of hay was cultivated on that land.  

"We did comply with the law, you do have to bail hay on your property and sell it, and we did," said Stewart, who went on to say what he did was no different than what any other land owner would do who qualifies for the exemption.  Stewart says among the requirements is that the property in question be at least 3 acres.  

While Stewart does not deny getting the agricultural exemption, he was most angered by the way he says he was portrayed in The Independent.  The paper, meantime stands by its reporting.

"It revealed that he was exploiting a loophole in the state tax law to pay virtually nothing on some of the most prime, commercial property," said Walter Pierce, managing editor of The Independent.

Pierce described Stewart's billboard as "mean-spirited," and "nasty" and points out that Stewart did not criticize anything the paper reported.

"We're always prepared to defend our journalism when somebody challenges it, but making it personal is a whole other issue," said Pierce.  

Despite that May has not been convicted of any crime, Stewart still says his motives behind the billboard are fair, and characterizes it as a "counter-attack."

"I'm just trying to make a point and give the publishers of The Independent a dose of their own medicine and see how it feels to be accused of something," he said.  

Stewart has no plans to take down the billboards, which are costing him about $6,000 per month.  Pierce meantime says the paper has no plans of backing down. 

"If anybody thinks that this is going to have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in Lafayette let me just say that next week's issue of The Independent Weekly will prove that wrong," he said.


Jim Hummel


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