The voters of Natchitoches Parish deserve better behavior than they got from their elected officials at the Parish Council meeting Monday. The sparring and insults extended the meeting to two and one-half hours in what should have taken no more than an hour even though there was a long agenda. Members Marty Cheatwood and Jim Kilcoyne didn’t enter the fray but Patsy Ward-Hoover and Chairman Chris Paige kept their long-running battle alive and John Salter continued his insults aimed at Parish President John Richmond and the highway department.
The harangues began with Paige criticizing Ward-Hoover when she questioned a letter members received saying they should call Richmond before the meeting if they had questions. “We are the policy-making council,” Ward-Hoover said. Paige said her remarks were “an idiotic stance about a lot of things” that she didn’t understand.
At one point, Ward-Hoover told Paige his reading comprehension was off. Richmond said he sent an email to council members asking them to submit questions about their information packets. His rationale was that several items had been tabled in the past because of lack of information. He said department heads could be better informed if they had the questions in advance. She then questioned why three items from Kilcoyne were not on the agenda even though he submitted them March 6. The deadline for submitting agenda item was March 10.
The items were about reinvigorating the finance committee; moving the Live Oak Building roof replacement item on the agenda; and examining whether the Parish Council clerk should attend a conference in Baton Rouge. “Why are these items not there (on the agenda)?” Ward-Hoover asked. After more back and forth exchanges with no resolution, Paige moved on to the next agenda item. The two clashed again when the matter of the Payne Subdivision sewer project arose.
Richmond wrote a letter to the LCDBG program director saying that the project will not proceed and Parish Government will return grant funds of $700,830. The project failed when the utility company, TESI, refused to donate the sewer system to the Parish as TESI first proposed. Then TESI wanted payment for improvements it made to the system without authorization from Parish Government. The conflict arose when Ward-Hoover wanted to dissolve the sewer system board that was appointed by Parish Government. Paige would not entertain that idea since he believes the board would be able to handle liability issues with TESI should they arise.
Ward-Hoover struck another blow when the council wanted to add an agenda item concerning changes to the design of the bridge on Clark Road over Bayou Bourbeaux. She was critical of Parish Engineer Nick Verret for not placing the item on the agenda by the deadline. Verret said he had been on vacation, the changes came up at the last minute and a delay in the changes could cause the Parish to be held liable for damage claims. It takes a unanimous vote of the council to add an agenda item and Ward-Hoover cast a no vote.
Salter remained relatively quiet until the discussion about road maintenance. Salter maintains that Marty Cheatwood’s district gets more work than his district and questioned why Richmond sits in on the highway department meetings. He said Richmond allowed Cheatwood to ride around in Parish trucks and he should not be on the jobs when the highway department is working. He asked if taking donuts and kolaches to the workers like Cheatwood does would help get roads worked on in his district.
Salter said that after April 24, when he believes the election for a new garbage disposal and highway tax will fail, he will be circulating a petition to return to the police jury form of government. Richmond asked if Salter said he would be petitioning against the tax. “That ain’t what I said, dummy,” he told Richmond.
After more exchanges, Parish Attorney Stephen Mansour told Paige to take control of the meeting.
Despite their behavior, there were other items of importance. The good news is that Natchitoches Parish has a 1.9 percent positivity COVID-19 rate that will allow an increase the capacity in bars and restaurants. When a parish exhibits a positivity rate under 5 percent for two consecutive weeks, bars can open to 50 percent indoor capacity and restaurants to 75 percent indoor capacity.
In other business, the council tabled the final vote on an ordinance that would affect a zoning change from I-A to B-3 for Nicole Birdwell to open a gym with a restaurant and coffee shop on 10173 Hwy. 120 between Robeline and Marthavlle. Although the business is closed because of damage during the snow in February, Birdwell wants the rezoning in case she should sell the property. Council Clerk Sheryl Frederick read a letter from Linda Moore who lives about 60 feet from the business. She said there was loud music from the gym when it was open and she did not want a restaurant and coffee shop so near her home. Salter motioned to table the request for more time to address Moore’s concerns.
There was a final affirmative vote on a request to rezone property in Campti from I-A to B-3 for a convenience store. The council agreed to ask the La. Attorney General for an opinion about the controversial purchase of a front-end loader for the highway department. The council accepted the bid of $41,273 from Hargrove Roofing of Shreveport to replace part of the roof on Live Oak Building on Second Street. The slate shingles will be replaced with architectural shingles and the slate and asbestos removal is part of the bid price. Hargrove also provides a lifetime warranty on workmanship.
The council authorized Richmond to notify IBTS of its intention to renew or terminate the current agreement that expires June 30. IBTS contracts with parish governments to conduct building inspections. IBTS manager Larry Walters asked that the council renew the contract and said the company would continue inspections past the deadline if the council has not contracted with another company to ensure there is no lapse in coverage. During the lengthy discussion, Walters said IBTS has an inspector in Natchitoches two days a week but has someone available five days a week and on weekends if necessary.
Greg Lemoine asked the council to consider the company he works for, S&G LLC. Lemoine is a licensed building inspector who is insured and can be on the job five days a week. Salter has been critical of IBTS because he says some contractors and others have not been able to get inspections during the week. Walters said he has not received those complaints and was unaware they existed.
The council adopted the resolutions that were official requests for road work to be performed in the incorporated limits of Ashland, Goldonna, Natchez, Provencal and Clarence. The resolutions allow the highway department to perform approved road work in those municipalities during 2021.
Transcript of the exchange between John Richmond and John Salter at the end of the meeting concerning the tax on the April ballot and the Police Jury form of government: Michael Mondello: (private citizen on the agenda) “What do you have to do to get a vote to go back to the police jury and eliminate the wrong situation?”
John Salter: (council member) “Now you’re talking (unintelligible)”
Mondello: “What do we have to do to vote on that? I mean, we citizens, we have a right to vote.”
Salter: “ It takes four votes right here (unintelligible) ballot….by the council, a majority here is not three, it takes four to pass. It’s got to be two-thirds.”
Mondello: “Well how do you bring it up in a meeting?”
Salter: “Well I’m going to bring a petition after April 24 when the tax fails and we’re going to be broke anyway…we gotta……after that day there’ll be petitions all over this parish….I’m gonna be (unintelligible) the whole way.”
John Richmond: (Parish President) “Mr. Chairman, may I be recognized?”
Chris Paige: (Council chairman) “Go ahead.”
Richmond: Did I just hear Mr. Salter say that he’s petitioning for a tax to fail so that he can go back to a police jury, so that we won’t have solid waste…(interrupted).
Salter: “That ain’t what I said Dummy. That ain’t what I said.”
Richmond: “I believe I heard you clearly.”
Salter: I said, after the tax fails because that’s all I hear is we’re not voting for a tax, then (unintelligible) my constituents… go back to a police jury form of government Dummy. You got something else you want to say about it?”
Richmond: “I haven’t said a word.”
Paige moved on to the next item then the meeting was adjourned.
Transcript by Juanice Gray based on Parish Council video footage.