Parish Council, President at odds over front-end loader purchase

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The Parish Council and President John Richmond are at odds once again. This time it is over the Nov. 30 purchase of a $154,907 Case 621G 2.5 yard front-end loader. The controversy is whether or not Richmond was authorized to make the purchase. Rewind to August 2020, when a budget amendment was introduced. It was then presented in September for public hearing and action. Equipment purchases were budgeted at $64,500.

The budget revision was for $301,878 bringing the total to $366,378. On Sept. 21, prior to the regular board meeting, Finance Director Julie Lockhart sent a memo to council members concerning the proposed action. It stated the Hwy Fund 101 portion would include increasing the equipment purchases line item among other things. At the bottom of the memo’s attachments, Lockhart included the details of the Highway Budget amendment. The fourth item was a “revision for a new tractor and bush hog and a front end loader; this is an increase to the line item equipment purchases.” The budget amendment ordinance on the Sept. 21 agenda passed unanimously. Further down the agenda is where the latest discord begins. Under “Other Items” was the purchase of the new loader.

Minutes from the September meeting quote Chairman John Salter as saying, “We don’t have any money left, we’re not going to have enough to buy a loader” and “We don’t need to spend this money now.” Discussion about the specs for the loader followed as well as a question from councilwoman Patsy Ward-Hoover concerning purchasing a front end loader with a backhoe.

Maintenance Director Johnny Salard stated a backhoe wasn’t needed enough to justify a purchase and recommended the purchase of the front-end loader. Councilman Chris Paige made the motion to purchase and Councilman Marty Cheatwood seconded. Paige and Cheatwood voted for the purchase while Hoover, Salter and Councilman Jim Kilcoyne voted against it.

The motion to purchase did not pass.

At that time Richmond asked to speak on the council’s vote. Salter said, “No, it’s over with.” Richmond replied, “I just want to make sure the public understands what just happened.”

So what did happen?

•The ordinance to amend the budget that included purchasing the loader passed.

•A discussion on the agenda item to purchase the loader then failed.

By failing, did that mean the money had to remain in the account until a purchase was authorized?

That is what Hoover said she understood it to mean in a telephone interview Thursday. The ordinance was signed Sept. 21 by the chairman and Parish President making the ordinance that passed enforceable.

By enacting the budget amendment was the purchase authorized?

Does the amendment supersede the vote against the purchase?

The amendment was for the 2020 budget, so if a purchase was to be made, it had to be done before the end of the year. The purchase order was issued Nov. 4 and the purchase paid in December. It was on state contract through Scott Tractor for the total amount of $154,907.62.

In a nutshell, contradictory votes were cast, authority to purchase is in question, once more the council and parish president are at odds, the checks and balances system in parish government has come under fire and the taxpayers have a shiny new loader on the maintenance lot.

In weekend print edition Feb. 6-7, 2021