By Carolyn Roy
There was action on a proposed referendum to change to the police jury form of government at the Parish Council meeting Monday evening but the proposal was just the beginning. By a vote of three to two, there was introduction of an ordinance to allow a referendum to be on the Nov. 6 ballot to change from Home Rule Charter to police jury form of government. As expected, council members Rodney Bedgood, Pat Ward-Hoover and Chris Paige voted to introduce the ordinance with Doug deGraffenried and Russel Rachal voting against it. The introduced ordinance must now lay over for a month, until the May 21 meeting, when it will be voted on. It will require a two-thirds approval, or four yes votes, before the referendum will be put on the ballot. There is a group of parish residents, “We the People 2018,” hoping to get the referendum put on the ballot by petition if the Parish Council does not.
A second proposed ordinance, to eliminate the three-minute time limit residents can speak at Parish Council meetings, failed by a vote of three to two. deGraffenreid, Bedgood and Rachal voted against the proposal with Paige and Ward-Hoover voting for it. A third proposed ordinance concerning attendance at board and commission meetings will be voted on at the May meeting. Members appointed to boards and commissions can be removed if they miss 50 percent of the meetings.
The only dissenting vote was from deGraffenreid who said 50 percent was not a very high standard for attendance. Paige and Ward-Hoover were critical of $17,128 paid to the Gold Law Firm that is representing the Parish Government in two suits filed by former Parish employees. Ward-Hoover said she believed the Home Rule Charter stated such contracts should be approved by the Council and that the council was not informed of the contract. Parish President Rick Nowlin said he had contracted with the law firm to represent the Parish on recommendation of the District Attorney’s office. “It requires expertise the District Attorney doesn’t have,” Nowlin said. Nowlin explained to Paige and Ward-Hoover that Parish Government was required by the court to answer the suit that the attorneys believe is without merit.
“The Parish is not suing anyone. We must respond.” He also explained that he did not present every expense to the Council such as those in the public works department. “This was done in accordance with direction from the District Attorney.” Nowlin will give copies of the contract to Parish Council members. There was unexpected support for former Public Works Director Nick Verret who is providing part-time consulting to the highway department. There was criticism from Ward-Hoover and Paige about payments to Verret, whom Ward-Hoover said she thought resigned. Nowlin clarified that Verret resigned as public works director but the Council agreed to keep him on for part-time consulting with a cap of $50,000 annually. Nowlin said Verret worked three and one-half hours last week, about an average weekly number of hours worked, and the total costs for his services would “be hard-pressed” to reach even $10,000. Nowlin said Verret worked for one-third the going rate for consulting engineers but he would end the employment if the council wanted him to.
“I’ll hire an engineer at a higher rate.” “It would be foolish not to keep him,” Interim Public Works Director Earl Townsend told the council. He said Verret would help him represent the Parish at meetings with La. DOTD and also assist in other areas. Bedgood also offered support for Verret who is needed to work on several failing bridges. In another matter, Bedgood said the council should make a final decision next month on what should be done with the Shady Grove Community Center.
For at least two years, there has been disagreement on what should be done with the building. While it is in deplorable condition, there is a faction of the community that wants it to be restored but has no money. Another faction wants it torn down. But council members have been reluctant to take a stand. According to past records, the Parish owns the facility as long as it operates as a community center. Should it cease those operations, ownership will revert to the Shady Grove Baptist Church. Proponents of the facility say there are basketball games there as well as weekly meetings and reunions every two years. Others say it is unstable, the roof leaks, there is no insurance and it is not regularly used. One woman said it was not fit for animals. Bedgood said the Parish did not need the responsibility of the building, especially if it is not insured. The council finally tabled whether to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement.
That would require those wanting to keep the building open to repair and secure the premises including the roof, plumbing/septic system; repair bathrooms and electrical components; and acquire liability insurance. It will be on the May agenda.
In other business, the council did the following: •Approved $7,500 for support of the LSU AG Center •Approved $52,000 for new software and training •Accepted bid of $332,494 from Merrick LLC for improvements to Coco Bed Road Included in Nowlin’s report were the following: •Bids for the handicap ramp and restrooms in the main courthouse were rejected because they were over the budgeted amount; project will be redesigned for a lower cost •April 20 is the deadline for applications for public works director •Hired Kenneth Ellzey as the IT manager •Consulting engineer is working on plans for Hampton Road improvements with bid package to be ready by end of April