Parish Council; 2 hours, 2 items, 0 accomplishments

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The Parish Council meeting lasted over two hours Monday but there was little accomplished. It started at 5:30 p.m. and wasn’t over until about 7:45 p.m.

Perhaps the most important discussion came before and after the motion to go into executive session failed with Russell Rachal and Doug deGraffenreid casting the no votes. Rodney Bedgood, Pat Ward-Hoover and Chris Paige voted yes. With five members on the council, it takes four votes to convene into an executive session.

Assistant District Attorney Steven Mansour cautioned that the failure to have an executive session would have a detrimental effect on his attempt to defend and protect the Parish. McMurtry versus Parish President Rick Nowlin and Parish Government is still an open suit even though Judge Bruce Bolin ruled against McMurtry in a hearing Aug. 13.

McMurtry sought a restraining order against Nowlin and Parish Government to stop emergency spending. That motion that was denied by Bolin but the case is scheduled to go to trial in about two months. Mansour said discussing the case in an open meeting would put the Parish at a disadvantage by revealing its strategy.

A second item scheduled for the executive session was Lynda Vance versus Natchitoches Parish. While no suit has been filed, Vance’s attorney sent a demand letter about certain aspects of her job as Parish purchasing agent. Mansour referred to it is a threat of litigation. Nowlin had wanted to discuss the details in the executive session.

Parish Council member Chris Paige was the most vocal in criticizing deGraffenreid and Rachal. While he didn’t name those two specifically, he insinuated that there are political connections between them and McMurtry and other parties he said were buying signs and paying filing fees for political candidates. He said people were working for other people who were telling them what to do and the “frivolous” lawsuits were taking money that could be used on roads.

Rachal and deGraffenreid remained silent during Page’s criticism but their votes said a lot. At the August meeting, they voted against an executive session just as they did at the Monday meeting. After the executive session fiasco, the council considered a motion to hire additional legal counsel as recommended by the district attorney’s office.

Nowlin said that the district attorney’s office dealt primarily with criminal cases and believed specialized counsel would be better suited to defend employment suits. He said Steven Oxenhandler of Alexandria had successfully defended Parish Government in two federal wrongful termination suits. The first was filed by Dr. April Wade who was terminated as the Head Start director. The court ruled in favor of the Parish but it cost $21,000 to defend it. Another suit, filed by former courthouse employee Harry Braxton, cost the Parish $36,000 to defend before it was dismissed. Nowlin said the federal judge ruled that the Parish was entitled to $23,000 attorney’s fees, pending the plaintiff’s challenge. The parish will seek to recover the money if order stands. The vote for the motion to hire Oxenhandler went as expected—-Rachal and deGraffenreid against and Bedgood, Ward-Hoover and Page for.

In other business, the council approved a sales tax exemption for Alliance Compressors that wants to spend $1.4 million for new equipment. Comptroller Tom Frasier said the expansion will provide five new jobs and additional payroll of $150,000. Alliance now has an annual payroll of between $80-$100 million and has a current work force of 600 employees with a company average hourly wage of $15. The exemption will cost the Parish Council $96,000 in sales tax revenue over five years or about $20,000 per year. The request was denied at the August meeting but in a surprise move, the voting alliances changed. Ward-Hoover and Rachal voted no with deGraffenreid, Paige and Bedgood voted yes.

In other action, the council voted to do the following: •Reappointed Karen Terrell to the Library Board of Control; reappointed Ludlow McNeely and Mark Waskom to Fire District 6 board; reappointed Dee Dee Dunagan to Parish Housing Authority to replace Regina Keyser; and appointed Jimmy Atherton to the Saline Lake Game and Fish Preserve Commission replacing Tony Swords

•Approved zoning change from I-A Industry Agriculture to B-1 for Bill Rutledge to build an equipment shop over concerns expressed by Steve Harkins and Jean O’Brien

•Approved assessed value of Aaron’s rental business that requested lowering assessment from $605,000 to just over $201,000

•Awarded ADA renovations contract to DSW Construction LLC of Many for bid of $120,775

•Denied request of Fire District 1 board chairman to reduce number of board members from seven to five

•Noted Rachal’s resignation from Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Board because of conflict of interest of immediate relative employed at hospital

•Voted to video-stream Parish Council meetings through YouTube using Parish Government equipment