By Carolyn Roy
The long-running and controversial issue of whether to allow a public vote to return to the police jury form of government continued at the Parish Council meeting Monday. The council conducted a public hearing and heard comments from Janice Perry, Archie Dalme, Ronald Payne and Carl Sias who were the only ones to speak. Perry, Dalme and Sias advocated reverting to the police jury while Payne’s position was not clear. Perry was the most vocal in telling the council members she went to the meeting thinking there would be a vote on whether to put the issue on the ballot and was disappointed because some of the members seemed reluctant to do so. Should the council vote to agree to go to a ballot, the earliest it could be voted on is April of 2020.
When the public hearing closed, the controversy among the council members began. Russell Rachal and Chris Paige argued as they usually do with no resolution. Council member Doug deGraffenreid asked what the salary of the police jurors would be which aggravated Paige who argued there should be no delays such as working out the details. The council asked Assistant District Attorney Stephen Mansour how a public proposition should be formatted and Mansour said he had never been asked to render an opinion since the proposition was being handled by the council’s bonding attorneys, Foley and Judell in New Orleans.
Tempers flared as Rachal continued to question Mansour about procedure. “Let me research it. I’ve not been involved in the ordinance,” Mansour fired back. Parish Clerk Sheryl Frederick said that the bonding attorneys would be the ones to write the proposition and that details would be explained at a later date. The debate grew more intense with Perry entering the fray from the audience and Chairman Rodney Bedgood losing control of the meeting. “You falsified your advertisement,” Perry said. Tonight is the vote. And now you come up with this craziness.”
When Bedgood finally entertained a motion to vote, the motion failed because it requires a two/thirds, or fours vote, to pass. Rachal and deGraffenreid voted no and Ward-Hoover, Paige and Bedgood voted yes.
Moving onto other business, Interim Planning and Zoning Director David Kees said the Parish generated $14,000 in fees in July and paid $8,785 to consultant IBTS that conducts inspections.
Natchitoches Community Alliance (NCA) Director and Economic Developer Tony Davis spoke to the council about the advantages the organization could provide to the Parish. The Parish Council is a founding member of the NCA but will not release $18,000, budgeted over two years, for its dues. The other two partners, Northwestern State and City of Natchitoches, have contributed $50,000 each.
Parish President Rick Nowlin said that discussion of litigation, Alan McMurtry versus Parish Government, was still an active issue and Mansour said it was still pending litigation that should not be discussed in open session. Judge Bruce Bolin ruled last week that he would not issue restraining orders prohibiting emergency declarations and purchase of road maintenance materials as sought by McMurtry. The litigation surfaced after criticism was leveled by Rachal and deGraffenreid about emergency spending for road materials.
Ward-Hoover confronted Rachal by saying that in one month, there were only 12 maintenance jobs performed in her district for a total of $9,520. There were 111,000 jobs in Rachal’s district totaling $70,940 with over $50,000 spent in his district each month. She said the suit was filed because road materials were spread on Bermuda Road that is in her district.
In another surprise move, the council did not approve an election in Fire Protection District 2 for a new fee of $30 per lot in the Goldonna area. It died for lack of a second.
Controversy is back in Fire District #1 in Cloutierville. Ward-Hoover asked for an inquiry about whether nepotism exists because Rickey Sanders is board chairman and his son is chief. Ward-Hoover and Rachal clashed because Rachal said he had an ethics opinion saying there was no nepotism because there was no compensation.
Hoover said he should have shared the opinion with her since they were both on a committee to straighten out several issues resulting from a critical legislative audit. The council then tabled an agenda item to reduce the number of commissioners from seven to five and will ask board members to attend the next meeting.
The council voted down a request from Alliance Compressors for a tax exemption on an expansion.
The closing item was a request for executive session to discuss Alan McMurtry versus Parish Government. The motion for the session failed with deGraffenreid and Rachal voting no. It would have taken two thirds, or four votes.