If anyone has spare time, an entire book could be written about Sorrento. The unconventional Louisiana town has seen highs and lows.
But if the hypothetical book ended today it may appear that the town ultimately began flying straight again. Mayor Mike Lambert has been at the helm since 2013 doing his part to rebalance Sorrento.
Lambert was re-elected unopposed to his second term on Monday, July 3. After sitting down with him for a couple hours in mid-May, all we can say is hopefully his second term is smoother than the perfect storm of unfortunate events that transpired when he first stepped into office.
WC: How's it going?
ML: It's getting better. It's getting better here in Sorrento.
I mean your day?
Oh, my day! S---! It was a good day! [laughs.] I just got back in from my business in Philadelphia yesterday. I had to go up to Harrisburg, then Philadelphia, then fly back home yesterday evening, so this is my first day back in since Sunday. I went up to do work for my company.
What do you do other than this?
I'm involved with a trucking company.
You drive a truck?
Uh-huh. And I'm retired from the Fire Department. I did a career with the Sheriff's Office for about 13 years and went to St. George Fire Department. I had to retire because of an injury.
Did you work for the Sorrento Police Department?
Never did. Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office. I did 13 years there.
Gotcha. You're on your second term. It lasts four years?
[Nods.] I was unopposed. There was three of us that ran the first time.
Who did you run against?
Wilson Longanecker Sr., Jason Adams, and I was second. Mr. Longanecker was a leader. Several days later he called and said, "I'm withdrawing from the race." He did, and I became mayor.
Is that the notorious Wilson Longanecker?
No. That's the father. His son is Wilson Jr, who was convicted of possession of child porn, something like that.
Just to get everyone caught up. Lambert is referring to Wilson Longanecker Jr. here, former Sorrento mayor. Longanecker Jr. entered a plea deal in January, 2016 according to The Advocate, for a 40-year prison sentence for 42 counts of child pornography. He was also in possession of videos portraying animal cruelty, reportedly abuse and torture of kittens.
ML: That was a shock. That one I didn't expect.
WC: Were you a friend of his?
No, not really a friend. We knew each other. We were very cordial. He was the only one that somewhat helped us during a transformation. He invited us to come see one of the budget meetings, and it lasted about 30 minutes.
"Us" as in?
The new council members. We were trying to do somewhat of a transition. We had no transition. Really, the last council kind of fought us on that, didn't give us any information. Dude, go back and read if you have time. That last administration was crazy! Some crazy s---! I've got packets at the house I kept from the newspaper accounts of it.
Let's go back to the election night of the first primary. That first primary night the people of Sorrento voted out pretty much the council. There were three new councilmen and a new mayor coming in. The night of the election myself and [Councilman] Don Schexnaydre received threatening phone calls, threatening our physical being.
To intimidate us. To get us out of there. I guess I'm too stupid to be intimidated. I've been shot at, I've been burnt, I've been knocked over, rolled over . . . okay, just another day in paradise, you know! We were threatened. Then when we took office, when we finally took office oh, it was a rollercoaster! It was like a nightmare! I knew things were bad. I didn't know how bad. And it started the first day [laughs].
What was a big issue facing you?
I was called into the judge's chambers to meet with one of the judges. A judge was presenting me stuff about the police department, about the misdeeds that they were doing, and recommended I needed to do something very quickly to correct it. They were going to develop some contingencies in dealing with them.
Basically, the police officers that they had at the time did not have any credibility. And they presented some cases to me. It put me in a difficult situation because one, there was very little I could do other than withhold funds. We control the funds, but once that budget gets to the chief of police there's really not much we can do. And since the chief of police was an elected official, once he got his budget there was little or nothing that we could do.
We couldn't fire the officers only based on his recommendation go back to the Lawrason Act, and see how that works. We had a lot of problems with them, with the police department and a number of lawsuits that they had.
About a month later I was notified by Risk Management who was our insurer, who was part of the Louisiana Municipal Association because they formed a group to insure towns because the cost was just outrageous. They informed me of basically what the judges had informed me that, "You better do something real quick with your police department."
Approximately 30-45 days later, they sent me a notice saying that they were cancelling our liability insurance for the police department, both on vehicle and professional liability. And then all kind of stuff came out as far as officers, their conduct and things like that. Then there was an incident involving the chief of police, which we still haven't finished the litigation yet. But basically she accused him of inappropriate sexual activity with her.
And the FBI got involved. And apparently he lied to the FBI. He ended up pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and had to resign. Part of his plea deal was to resign from the police department as chief. That gave us an opening. Senator Jody Amedee did a local option bill to come to a referendum of people here in town to eliminate the police department. Which is interesting because that election was on a Tuesday. 62 percent of the registered voters came out and voted. They voted 65-35. It was two referendums on there. One was to eliminate the position of chief of police and the other one was to eliminate the police department.
When we got elected it was 38 percent on a Saturday. This was a Tuesday and 62 percent came out and voted for that. Pretty strong!
End of Part 1.