Ascension Parish Council hit by citizen outburst

Staff reports

The Ascension Parish Council at last regular meeting appointed Suzana Zarazua-Gradine to the voluntary Planning and Zoning Commission.

The lengthy meeting in Gonzales also included three unrelated executive sessions. It was attended by a standing room only crowd keenly interested in the appointment the introduction of  an ordinance regarding the Keystone development.

The council, under pressure from vocal crowd members, including person after person who spoke against the top-ranked commission applicants, eventually chose Zarazua-Gradine. She was tied for third place in the council Personnel Committee qualification rankings.

Sherri Sliman, a former commissioner who had resigned, and whose name was put back in consideration for the seat, withdrew her name from consideration before the council meeting.

The second highest ranked candidate, Beverly Barre, also a former commissioner, was overlooked by the council, and Zarazua-Gradine was appointed.

When not voicing near unanimous opposition to the appointment of either Slimon or Barre, members of the public complained about a “Rules of Meeting Conduct” sheet adopted by the council in 2003 that outlined rules of public conduct during meetings.

Some members of the audience spoke without following the council public speaking format, which requires stating one's name and signing in before addressing the council.

With Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley in the audience, two uniformed sheriff's deputies escorted a man who said he was a disabled war veteran from the council chambers for not following the procedure.

The veteran shouted to the council, “I will not be silenced.”

With the deputies about to escort him out, and the audience applauding, the man yelled, “You serve us.  We don’t serve you.”

After the veteran's removal, council Chairman Pat Bell said the council was not trying to stifle anyone's rights. “All we ask is a little consideration,” he said. “We can't have outbursts like this.”

Councilman George Valentine said he disagreed with some on the council, and interpreted what had just happened a little differently.

“We don't want to see anybody leave this meeting,” he said.

Later in the session, the council introduced an amendment to its development agreement with the ownership of the Keystone PUD subdivision.

The ordinance amendment pertains to construction of a fire station, and amenities such as sidewalks, landscaping, walking trails, and a small recreational park.

Residents of Keystone, some bitter, others fighting back tears, complained that the council had betrayed them earlier in the year by allowing Keystone to decrease the size of lots and increase the number of dwellings in the PUD.

Regarding the executive sessions, the council agreed to authorize $100,000 as the settlement agreement for a matter related to the Council on Aging, and took up a threatened litigation suit by the developer of the Keystone PUD.