Louisiana sheriffs are given a lot of authority and completely control the funding of their operations. I guess in my case, the taxpayers consider themselves fortunate to have a CPA sheriff at the helm to take care of the business side of running the office, since I was re-elected last year to a third term.
I was first elected in 1999 on the platform of running the Sheriff’s Office like a business. I had lived in Assumption Parish five years, having taken over and grown an accounting practice here. I served several small businesses and governmental bodies in the region, so a lot of the voters were well aware of my CPA/business adviser background.
We have been able to take limited resources and allocate money where we can best serve the public. The previous administration was spending a lot of money on part–time financial consultants to budget and run the accounting side of the operation. These individuals had no personal accountability to the taxpayers. I fired them, took over that responsibility and allocated that money to beefing up our number of deputies on the road and investigating drug crimes.
I always had an interest in politics but never thought I would run for sheriff. Despite not having any law enforcement experience, I knew I could serve the people and make a difference with the skills and talents I had to offer. This was also my first run for public office. I had been an independent auditor for a sheriff in northern Louisiana and served as a consultant for some sheriffs and investment bankers financing prison and detention center projects. I have been an avid hunter since I was growing up but never owned a pistol until I was elected sheriff.
Napoleonville is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where I was born. I was raised in the area and received my accounting degree from Louisiana State University. I worked for Coopers & Lybrand in Houston and New Orleans and later began an accounting and consulting practice in Baton Rouge. My wife, Elaine, is also a CPA and works part time in our practice, Waguespack & Gallagher LLC in Napoleonville, and is a full-time mother to our two young girls, ages 10 and 7.
Assumption Parish is near the Mississippi River. Some of its 24,000 residents raise sugar cane or work at the two local sugar mills. Fishing for crawfish and catfish and raising turtles are still thriving occupations. But most of the well-paying jobs are outside the parish, in the chemical plants and refineries along the river
Despite being a rural, agricultural community, the parish does have crime. Losing a deputy who was shot and killed in the line of duty two years ago was the toughest challenge in my law enforcement career. We were challenged with making sure Sgt. Jeremy Newchurch was properly honored and that justice was served. We succeeded with both challenges. We are a very close-knit department with 75 full-time deputies, and this tragedy hit friends, family and colleagues very hard. In the end, it brought our team closer together and made us all better law enforcement officers.
Not only do we investigate crimes and make arrests, Louisiana sheriffs also collect property taxes and can sell property to recover the taxes due. We also seize property for mortgage companies and banks and provide security for the court and judges. One unique thing in Louisiana is that the sheriff is personally responsible for any fund balance deficit upon leaving office. The financial statements are audited annually and submitted to the state legislative auditor for approval and publication. In addition, the sheriff is the warden or keeper of the local jail.
When I want to relax, I like to go to my camp in Grand Isle, La., on the Gulf of Mexico and attempt to be a gourmet cook. On my limited off time, I also like to hunt and saltwater fish with friends and family. Someday, I would love to become a lobbyist or assist individuals and companies with raising capital. However, I never intend on getting out of the CPA profession. Even as a full-time sheriff, I still find time to assist my firm’s clients and staff with their needs.
—As told to Paul Bonner