Tara Wicker says she’s refocusing on her mayoral campaign now that a 19th Judicial District Court judge has dismissed a challenge to her candidacy.
But Wicker is also raising questions about the now-defunct suit and what she and others on her campaign team believe are possible connections to Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s reelection efforts.
“No doubt it was politically motivated,” she says. “We’re looking at all sorts of things that concern us.”
The suit, dismissed Tuesday by Judge Tim Kelly, was filed last week by three East Baton Rouge Parish residents, Millard “Sonny” Cranch, Glenn Ducote and Richard Brazan, who claimed Wicker was ineligible to run for mayor because the Louisiana Department of Revenue could not confirm she had filed state tax returns for 2016 and 2018.
According to the suit, LDR’s custodian of records, attorney Vanessa LaFleur, responded to a public records request filed by the plaintiffs seeking to confirm Wicker was current with her state tax filing by saying that the department “cannot confirm filings for 2016 and 2018.”
Wicker questions why LDR, which, by law, must keep private information about residents’ tax returns, was so quick to provide information about her tax returns, which also turned out to be inaccurate.
Adding to her skepticism is the fact LaFleur is married to real estate developer Brian LaFleur, who has done redevelopment work with city-parish agencies and is one of nearly 60 members of Broome’s reelection committee.
“Brian has contracts with the city-parish, both through Build Baton Rouge and the city, and Vanessa is his wife and that, needless to say, is hugely concerning to us,” says Wicker, who also questions the speed with which Vanessa LaFleur responded to the records.
Though state law requires a government entity respond to a records request within three days, that deadline is often ignored as a practical matter.
“I’ve been in government for years and never seen a records request responded to within one day,” Wicker says.
LDR Secretary Kimberly Robinson denies there was anything unusual about the way her department handled the records request and says while LaFleur is the legal custodian of records she did not research the request and does not even have access to the information but, rather, merely forwarded the information once staff had researched it.
“The nature of election challenges is such that we have to respond to these requests within 24 to 48 hours and there is a process in place to do so,” she says. “In general, records requests take longer to fill but not if it’s related to an election challenge.”
Robinson says there was nothing political about the process her office followed and that her staff did not violate state privacy laws by disclosing that Wicker’s returns for 2016 and 2018 could not immediately be confirmed. The law, she says, precludes her department from disclosing what is in tax returns, not whether they exist.
On a separate front, Wicker questions whether at least one of the plaintiffs in the suit, veteran media consultant Sonny Cranch, has ties to the Broome campaign.
Though Cranch has given a total of $750 to Broome’s campaigns since 2016, that’s a relative pittance compared to most of the mayor’s big donors. Moreover, there is no evidence in campaign finance reports that he ever worked for her campaign.
Cranch could not be reached for comment and Broome’s campaign manager, Sabrina Galloway, issued a statement saying, “the campaign was made aware of the lawsuit and declined to be involved in it. We are glad we can get back to talking about the issue in this race. …”
The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Bill Bryant, says his clients were not politically motivated and are not tied to Broome.
“This was just three citizens, who wanted to make sure one of the candidates was eligible to run for mayor,” he says.
(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its previous publication to include a statement from Broome’s campaign spokesperson.)