Parish Council meeting rife with controversy

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By Carolyn Roy

carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The Parish Council meeting was rife with controversy and flaring tempers Monday and it was hard to keep track of what was happening. During department head reports, Planning Director Greg Lemoine said he was vehemently opposed to the reappointment of Vanue LaCour to the Parish Planning and Zoning Commission. Lemoine said working with LaCour had been “difficult and contentious since the first day” and he felt LaCour forced action against Lemoine’s objections. He said the animosity between them had gone on for too long and was too serious. Parish President Rick Nowlin had just the opposite opinion and thought that LaCour would perform his functions as a commissioner who had worked well with Nowlin in the past. Council member Chris Paige’s opinion was that the planning commissioners served at the will of the people and not that of Lemoine. Paige termed Lemoine’s objections distasteful.

There was no immediate motion to reappoint LaCour and chairman Pat Ward-Hoover quickly stated since there was none, she would move on. Parish Council member Doug deGraffenried tried to offer a motion but was denied by Ward-Hoover. “It’s done. Let’s move on,” she said. The council then gave unanimous approval for the appointment of Jill Morgan Cox and reappointment of Travis Guin to the planning commission; appointment of Kathy Carter and Arshundae Perry to the Parish Children and Youth Planning Board; and reappointment of William E. Dowden III and Marc Custis to the Fire District 4 board.

The council adopted the 2018 budget with one amendment offered in a motion by deGraffenreid. His motion was to require council approval should a line item have an accumulative increase or decrease of 10 percent. The motion passed with the only dissenting vote by Ward-Hoover. Two other amendments deGraffenreid proposed failed. The first was that employees who received raises of over 4 percent before Aug. 31 receive no Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 2018. deGraffenreid offered,“The real world has stopped COLA raises.” Nowlin objected to deGraffenreid’s logic saying that taking away COLA’s would destroy incentive. The second was that employees who received merit raises in 2017 should not get merit raises in 2018. Nowlin said that would leave only 4 percent COLA raises for merit raises for employees who took on additional duties and performed well in their jobs and would not be eligible for merit raises. While there seemed to be support for the proposals, council members said the amendments were not presented until the meeting and they needed more time to study them.

The COLAs are in the 2018 budget. Nowlin said merit raises will come from undedicated funds. In other business, the board agreed to permit employees at the Natchitoches Parish Port to participate in the health care program at no cost to the Parish. Natchitoches Parish Port board chairman Nettles Brown made the request at the October meeting. The Port will pay 100 percent of the premiums. Those four employees must be enrolled in the plans by the first week in December to receive coverage effective Jan. 1. Nowlin said the State has designated $610,000 for planning on replacement of the Old River Bridge in Natchez. Speaking about courthouse security, Nowlin said he will present plans for a handicap accessible ramp for the front of the courthouse to the Historic District Commission Dec. 4. The ramp is the first step in a comprehensive security plan. Other plans call for a metal detector and X-ray machine to examine bags and screen visitors at the front door. Employees will be able to bypass security with nametags and attorneys and others who frequent the courthouse can purchase security passes after background checks. The council changed meeting dates from Jan. 15 to Jan. 22 and from Feb. 19 to Feb. 20. Head Start centers will close Friday, Feb. 1 so teachers can attend training. Head Start will raise money for extra expenses by operating a parking lot on Christmas Festival Day. Parish Treasurer Debbie Miley is seeking volunteers to work that day.

Nowlin is considering giving Parish employees Dec. 26 off because they will not be off Christmas Eve off since it is on Saturday. Paige suggested that Parish employees get off at noon Friday before the Christmas Festival because of the traffic. Nowlin said they were let off at 3 p.m. last year.