Almost 17 years ago, Sheriff Claude “Wayne” Morein chose to run for the sheriff’s seat of Evangeline Parish, and on Friday, February 29, he will retire as sheriff.
As the longest-serving sheriff of this parish, Morein will leave behind a legacy of change. He took office April 18, 1991, with a deficit of $400,000. When he retires Friday, he will have served the parish as sheriff for approximately 16 years and 10 months. The only two sheriffs to come close to that accomplishment are Elin Pitre and Charlie Pucheu, both who had 16 years of service.
Morein is retiring to accept a position with Governor Bobby Jindal’s team. He will continue his law enforcement career by serving the state on its seven-member parole board. “I’ll still be in law enforcement,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here if the new sheriff needs my services.” He said the appointment will give him something to do as he enjoys retirement. His commission begins March 1.
The sheriff’s law enforcement career began in the military. For two years, he worked as an officer with the military police before being honorably discharged in 1960. His law enforcement career spans almost 25 years with the Louisiana State Police and almost 17 years as sheriff of Evangeline Parish.
Morein became a trooper April 1, 1961. He remained there until September 1984. He retired as a major. Through his career as a trooper, he was appointed to the position of sergeant and then lieutenant (shift supervisor). In 1977, he made captain and then troop commander. In 1981, he was promoted to major in Region II, which was Lafayette. He had 300 troopers and 17-and-a-half parishes in his region at the time. He remained there for approximately five years before retiring. He said today’s state police is structured differently. There were only four majors in the state at the time under the colonel, who was superintendent of state police.
Then, Morein decided to seek the sheriff’s seat of the parish. On March 23, 1991, six candidates were on the ballot for sheriff of Evangeline Parish, and Morein was the top vote getter followed by Cecil Reed. He said it was the first or second of April when Reed decided not to remain a candidate in the runoff. “He was nice enough to get out of the race,” Morein recalled. “I went to Baton Rouge and got my commission. I was sworn into office in April; April 18, 1991.
He recalled his first days in office. He said there were many problems, including a debt of over $400,000. He immediately went to the bonding commission and got approval to borrow some money. He said it took his first term as sheriff to pay the $400,000 note. Since he has taken office, he has never had a deficit in 16 audits.
Morein said he immediately began to build the organization and staff of the sheriff’s office. He said keeping good people, with what the office can pay them, remains a problem even today.
While in office, Morein asked voters in Evangeline Parish to support a 10-mill tax to increase the funding for his department, but it failed by approximately 250 votes. With one of the lowest ad valorem taxes in the state (today it is at 5.66), he was thinking about the future. At the time, he wanted to purchase the prison in Basile and develop it into a money making project for the sheriff’s office and the parish. However, the voters turned him down.
Today, he said the sheriff’s office has a contract with Louisiana Correction Services (LCS) of Lafayette, and it has been a plus for the parish’s budget. “I don’t know what we do without it.” The parish has a contact with LCS to house prisoners in the parish. At one time, he said the parish collected more from this contract than it did from all the sheriff’s fees and commissions, which are based on the sheriff’s sales and various other activities in the sheriff’s office. “They are the biggest contributor to law enforcement’s fund in this parish,” he said.
Over the years, Morein has accomplished many goals, like providing vehicles for his road deputies. He saw the construction of a new jail, which he said will have to be addressed in the future. The 72-bed facility is not adequate for the number of prisoners this parish has, but Morein said the parish can squeeze into it a little longer. He said by keeping a working relationship with the city, the parish houses female prisoners there and sells meals to the city for its inmate population. Besides the LCS contract, the contract with the city is important to the sheriff’s organization.
The parish’s communication system is another achievement for Morein. “It’s one of our highlights.”
With a $14,000 donation from the Cabot Foundation and an agreement with 9-1-1, the parish’s communication center came to be. He said they were able to obtain a highband radio frequency, which is available to the entire parish’s law enforcement community.
During Hurricane Lily, the parish’s communication system was the only one operational. He said the fire departments, wildlife and fisheries agents and some troopers have radios in their vehicles along with police departments. He said everyone works together with the sheriff’s office. Through his agreement with 9-1-1, he hires and fires all communication operators, all who are commissioned officers. He said they answer 9-1-1 calls in addition to other duties. Together, the sheriff’s office and 9-1-1 share the bills, which allows the parish to have an up-to-date communications center.
When discussing how this 9-1-1 center is different than others in the state, Morein said, “We have immediate dispatch,” he said. “It’s why we’re so efficient. In other parishes, someone answers the phone and then calls the agency. Evangeline Parish can dispatch emergency personnel quickly with its present system.
When asked what advice would he give to the new sheriff, Eddie Soileau, he said:
•Watch the budget closely. He said the cost of gas is killing the department’s budget.
•Always attempt to hire good personnel. It’s difficult because trying to pay them what they’re worth is almost impossible with the present budget.
Keeping personnel in the office and deputies on the road has and will always be a challenge. “Experience is worth a fortune in this business,” he said. “(With experience) That’s money in the bank.”
•Stay tight with LCS because you need them and they need you too, especially in the business arena.
For Morein, he said the budget was the most intimidating thing he had to face as sheriff. He said the daily grind; the nuts and bolts of the operation is how one stays on top of it all.
Having law enforcement experience is important, and he thinks Soileau will do a good job for the parish. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll do a great job.” He said Soileau comes from law enforcement and he knows something about budgeting.
He said Soileau’s biggest challenge will be to keep it all together. He said Soileau has a good competent staff in place right now, and they’ll work with him.
Another thing Morein will remember is going through two election processes without opposition. He said the people were obviously satisfied with something he was doing right.
He’s enjoyed his time as sheriff, and he’s going to miss it. “It was an honor and privilege to serve the people of Evangeline Parish.” He’s going to miss the people, and he said he’ll probably stop in to visit. “If I can help the new sheriff I will,” he said.
Morein and his wife, Sue, will remain in Evangeline Parish. He said he’ll probably be traveling back and forth to Baton Rouge to fulfill his duties on the parole board, but he will be around.
Eddie Soileau was elected to the sheriff’s office in November. He was scheduled to take over July 1, but he will take office Saturday, March 1.