A Facebook post promoting a local business has caused some controversy, and it was revised significantly following questions from KATC Investigates.
UPDATE: We've received responses to our questions to LCG, and they're included below.
The item in question was posted on the official Lafayette Consolidated Government Facebook page at about 11 a.m. Tuesday. It showed Mayor-President Josh Guillory at a local business that sells Mardi Gras beads and other party-related items, as well as some language that appeared to promote the business.
(The business) "is Acadiana's #1 shop for beads, throws, carnival, costume supplies and apparel, and all things Mardi Gras!" the original post stated, ending with "Give them a call for all of your party and Mardi Gras needs!"
The post was shared multiple times across Facebook by local residents, and there were many critical comments posted on it by Facebook users.
We requested a copy of the LCG Social Media Policy that would address what's posted on the city's Facebook page and how it can be used, and about a half hour after that a clarification appeared, from LCG, on the post.
"We understand the confusion. To clarify, this meeting was a part of our Local Lafayette initiative to engage with local business owners and constituents throughout Lafayette Parish to get a better feel for their needs and ideas they may have. Some of our best ideas come from people who live and work in our community. Yesterday, we were able to discuss workforce and manufacturing issues and opportunities in Lafayette. If any business owners would like to schedule a meeting with the Mayor-President and other LCG officials, please fill out the contact form at www.lafayettela.gov/local-lafayette."
A short time following that, the post was changed. Some of the photos were removed, and the text was changed to the following:
"Mardi Gras is an important economic driver for Lafayette Parish and the surrounding region. The season has fostered the creation of local businesses that support this special time of year. King Cakes, beads, throws, and trinkets are some of the signature indicators that Carnival season is upon us, and serve as a micro-economy for our region," the post now states. "Youngsville resident and business owner Craig Spadoni recently shared some insights on the unique industry, its workforce, and even local manufacturing opportunities for future Mardi Gras seasons. Wishing everyone a safe and happy Mardi Gras season! #LafayettMardiGras"
However, it is unclear if that solves the issues that may have existed with the original post, which appeared on the LCG Facebook page for roughly 24 hours. Most of the comments made some reference to the use of public assets to promote a private business.
The Louisiana Constitution states, in Article 7, Section 14, that funds or anything of value that belong to the public "shall not be loaned, pledged, or donated to or for any person, association, or corporation, public or private." Several commenters argued that the original post constituted a free advertisement or promotion by LCG for the business, which could be viewed as a donation to one person and/or the business they own.
We reached out to LCG to ask these questions.
When we asked about the original working of the post, and CAO Cydra Wingerter said that it "missed the mark."
"The intent was to show that we are meeting with constituents and business owners, but in the course of posting on social media, we missed the mark and apologize for that. The purpose behind the Mayor-President’s initiative to meet with business owners is to keep his finger on the pulse of business in the parish and hear ideas, needs and concerns," she said.
Since the initiative started, six businesses have been visited, officials say.
When we asked about the possible issue with the Constitution, a response from City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan and Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert was that "It was not intended to be an advertisement, and we do not consider this a violation of Article 7, Section 14 of the Louisiana Constitution."
Some commenters said that the owner of the business featured in the post was a campaign contributor of Guillory's. KATC Investigates reviewed all of Guillory's campaign finance reports on file at the state Ethics Board, looking for the man's name, the name of his businesses, the address of his businesses, and the names of other officers in the businesses, and did not find any of them on those reports. We asked LCG if the man was a contributor to Guillory's campaign, and officials verified the man wasn't a contributor.
Here's the original post:
And here's the revised post: