BATON ROUGE -- Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, facing multiple allegations that he has used the powers of his public offices for private benefit, celebrated a victory Thursday as the Legislature passed a bill allowing his agency to sell or lease state park lands and lease a State Museum storage facility in the French Quarter.
The bill, which passed both houses unanimously and now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for his signature, paves the way for Nungesser’s office to initiate public-private partnerships, including a possible resort development on a piece of Fontainebleau State Park.
Also, Nungesser says the bill would allow the creation of a private foundation to lease a $3.6 million State Museum storage facility on Chartres Street and develop it, bringing in much-needed revenue for his state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
Nungesser said there are plans to create a private Culture, Recreation and Tourism Foundation to take over the storage facility. The foundation would be set up as a charity to support the state agency he runs, in much the same way as the LSU Foundation backs the Louisiana State University system.
“We will set up the foundation and the foundation will pay the state fair market value for the use of the property,” Nungesser told WWL-TV. “Then we can do something with it, like develop a hotel, and we will be able to reap the benefit of it.”
Nungesser said the “we” he refers to is the private foundation, which hasn’t been set up yet. But he said it would be an independent nonprofit and once it’s created, he and his state agency would not have any authority over it.
The storage facility has played a part in the recent controversy over how Nungesser oversees operations at the Louisiana State Museum, ever since the interim museum director resigned with a splash in April. In his resignation letter, former interim director Tim Chester accused the lieutenant governor of threatening to sell museum property stored at the Chartres Street facility on eBay.
Nungesser denies that he would sell any museum artifacts without approval of the museum’s board, explaining that Chester had taken out of context a comment Nungesser made to The Advocate last year when the lieutenant governor pointed out a folding chair that had been kept in the storage facility because President Ronald Reagan once sat in it.
“To me, that doesn’t have any historical value,” Nungesser told The Advocate in June 2016, when he first floated the idea of selling or leasing the Chartres Street facility. “Some Republican would pay big money on eBay to buy that, but I don’t think we should be using tax dollars to store it.”
Chester, the former interim museum director, also accused Nungesser of bypassing the museum board and its director to “commandeer” an apartment used by the museum; interfere in a waiting list for coveted French Quarter apartments owned by the museum; and to try to loan museum artwork to Sen. John Kennedy for his use in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, the Plaquemines Parish government has filed civil claims against Nungesser and members of his administration from when Nungesser was president of Plaquemines Parish, accusing them of using parish work crews, equipment and materials to make improvements on private property. Nungesser and the former parish department heads named in the lawsuits deny the allegations, which are being litigated in state court.