Sorrento erupts in accusations

Wade McIntyre

SORRENTO – The Tuesday regular Town Council meeting could easily have been mistaken for a contentious town-hall health care shouting match.

Sorrento’s session ended suddenly with loud, persistent gaveling by Mayor Blake LeBlanc as councilmen glared and shouted one another down.

Four uniformed policemen stood by, controlling emotions raised from a statement read by Councilman John Braud before an area television crew that called three new councilmen to task for congregating together Monday in an unofficial get together that constituted a quorum.

Braud said he was made aware that councilmen Lionel Melancon, Donald Trabeaux and Wilson Longanecker Jr. were at the home of Melancon for about 45 minutes.

“I have been told in the past by the previous town attorney that such meetings constitute a violation of the Louisiana Public Meetings law,” he said reading from the statement.

Braud said he responded to a phone call from a concerned citizen when he drove down Braud Street where Melancon lives to see for himself what was going on.

“I have never accused Councilman Melancon, Trabeaux, or Longanecker of discussing town business in the time that they gathered and I will not do so,” he said. “As a fellow councilman, I feel that I have the right and the responsibility to say that being present together, in the very least, put them in a position where the law is unclear and that it did not reflect well upon this council as a public body.”

Melancon responded that the councilmen at his house were discussing personal business relating to his swimming pool and his laptop computer.

“It's embarrassing,” Longanecker said. “I own a pool service. I was looking at his pool.”

He said the three councilmen wouldn't do anything improper, anyway, in somebody's yard where everybody could see it.

According to Melancon, Trabeaux had taken his laptop for a checkup and walked in, returning the computer, while Melancon and Longanecker were discussing the condition of the pool that Melancon was readying for his daughter's birthday party Saturday.

“My door is open 24/7,” Melancon said.

Trabeaux, a former Sorrento police officer, was named interim councilman to replace  councilman Larry Lee who resigned suddenly shortly after being sworn into office, said he was offended by Braud's accusations.

“Last night somebody throwed trash in my yard,” he said. Next time somebody comes to his house like that, he said, he would stand his ground.

Braud, stood up, taking offense to Trabeaux's comments, saying Trabeaux’s remark had nothing to do with what Braud had said and done.

Trabeaux retorted that accusations had been made against him without evidence. “I got my wife as my witness,” he said.

LeBlanc then gaveled the meeting to an end, and the verbal jousting spread on to the floor of the council chambers and outside the town hall.

Police Chief Earl Theriot said he had a feeling the meeting might turn ugly, and called the four police officers on duty in case things got out of hand.

Theriot also sent a police officer out earlier Tuesday to investigate a complaint by Trabeaux against Braud and his father for driving by Trabeaux’s house twice and antagonizing him. The complaint report by Officer Reese Norley indicates no threats were made by the Braud’s to Trabeaux.

Councilman John Braud’s mother Troy Braud qualified Saturday to run against Trabeaux for the vacant Sorrento council seat in an October special election.

The former councilwoman declined to run in the previous election for personal reasons, but said Tuesday she more able now to take on the council job if elected.

Town answers pot-bellied question

During the Tuesday meeting, LeBlanc reported to councilmen pot bellied pigs were sighted in town by the police chief.

Sorrento, the Boucherie Capital of the World, has an ordinance against the possession of swine, LeBlanc said, asking the council for guidance.

“Any pig you keep in your house or yard should be allowed,” said Councilman Milton “Needlenose” Vicknair. “We should amend the ordinance.”

Melancon said if the pot-bellied pig in question is the one by his house, he has seen it playing with kids, dogs and cats, and has no problem with such a pig in the house.

“I enjoy watching them play,” he said.

Sorrento Police Officer Billy Ballard offered a different perspective. If it is the same pig, he has seen it try to take a hunk out of one of the town officers.

“It’s not so sweet,” according to Ballard.

Without fanfare or shouting, the council took the swine side, directing town attorney Erin Lanoux to amend the ordinance and allow pot-bellied pigs.

And in other business Tuesday, Sorrento’s council entered into a settlement for $67,500 to former police officer Tina Burd who had filed a civil suit against the police department alleging sexual harassment.