Ethics, conduct, malfeasance being questioned at city hall
The past few months at Gonzales City Hall have been a roller coaster. With a mayor’s veto, two councilmen being petitioned for recall and a late-approved budget the city’s officials have halted a progressing city. In the midst of it all comes rumor and speculation.
Gonzales City Councilman Terance Irvin, was questioned first by Mayor Barney Arceneaux of his involvement, for the then-requested Interstate 10 Service Road Study that was asked to be included in the 2014-15 Capital Outlay Budget. With that, at the July 14 council meeting, Irvin provided answers. He read aloud the Louisiana Ethics Board opinion 2014-641 into the record. Irvin requested the opinion on May 8 to clarify whether he faced a conflict of interest with regard to a controversial effort to fund an I-10 service road project study.
“Dear Board of Ethics Members,
This is a request for an opinion regarding a recent vote in the City of Gonzales involving $800,000.00 appropriated for a service road plan that would connect Hwy 30 and Hwy 44 in Gonzales. The purpose is to encourage development and alleviate traffic.
My father, Mr. Melvin Irvin along with Grady Melancon as well as other business partners own land in the area. Would my vote for the appropriation of funds to conduct a preliminary plan be a conflict of interest?”
Irvin voted on May 12 to adopt the Capital Outlay budget ordinance which included the $800,000 appropriation. On June 20, the ethics board responded with the opinion that he need not recuse himself, stating in a letter dated June 24:
“The Louisiana Board of Ethics, at its June 20, 2014 meeting, considered your request for an advisory opinion regarding whether the Code of Governmental Ethics would prohibit you from participating in a vote to fund a study to select a location for a service road which may potentially be placed on your father’s land. You have stated that the Gonzales City Council has already appropriated $800,000 to pay for a service road that would connect Hwy 30 and Hwy 44 in Gonzales. The purpose of the service road is to alleviate traffic and encourage development. The City Council will vote on funding a preliminary study to determine where the service road should be placed. You stated that your father owns land in the area that may be considered by the study.
The Board concluded, the Code would not require you to recuse yourself from voting on funding of the preliminary study for the placement of a service road. Section 1112B(1) requires a councilman to recuse himself when he has actual knowledge that an immediate family member has a substantial economic interest in the transaction.
This advisory opinion is based solely on the facts as set forth herein. Changes to the facts presented may result in a different application of the provisions of the Code of Ethics.”
With the clearing from the Board of Ethics for Irvin, another Gonzales City Councilman is being rumored to be in violation of Governmental Ethics Code, Kirk Boudreaux.
In support of the SaveGonzales recall petition group, Boudreaux business, Ascension Logistics Inc., is documented in a report for proposition/recall elections to have donated $550 on May 20, 2014. After Monday’s council meeting, Boudreaux said he is not concerned of any violations.
“I’m just going in for my city,” he said. “I have no concerns.”
Ascension Logistics Inc, isn’t owned only by Boudreaux, but also City Attorney Ryland Percy. However, Percy also donated under his name R. Ryland Percy on April 26, 2014 in the amount of $1,000.
After Monday’s meeting, when asked if he was concerned of a Code of Conduct violation, Percy replied, “no comment.”
“I have no comment on that,” he said. “Anything I’ve done with that I’ve done as a private citizen.”
The heat had turned up earlier in that meeting between Percy and Lacombe, after Lacombe asked Percy, “who are you giving counsel to, the mayor or the council?”
“I’m giving my best legal opinion to you, the mayor and the citizens,” Percy replied.
That question and answer came after Arceneaux revealed Lacombe asked the state to investigate the mayor for malfeasance in office, and that the Attorney General’s Office has ruled there are no valid grounds for doing so.
Lacombe says in consent with the ordinance no. 15:35 determining membership of Planning and Zoning Commission. Lacombe claims Arceneaux is violating a city ordinance by not removing two members from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission who are serving beyond the end of their terms, five years.
“Every member of planning and zoning has a five-year term,” Lacombe said.
Lacombe researched since 1998 that two members, Chairman Frank Cagnolatti and Commissioner Eddie Williams, have served for more than five years and were not reappointed for their current terms.
“Based on the law, 15:35, we have two terms that are expired right now on planning and zoning. I want to offer a resolution that affirms section 15:35, which is the law, declaring two spots are vacant because of expired terms,” Lacombe said.
Percy, however, said a recent Attorney General’s Office ruling, sought by Lacombe himself, makes that resolution incorrect.
“The positions are not vacant,” Percy said.
Lacombe replied saying the law says, “they shall” serve for five years.
“Shall means five years, not whenever we get around to it,” Lacombe said. “What does expire in five years mean?”
What it means, Percy said, is “the council has no means to enforce” the local ordinance in which the commission appointments.
Arceneaux read aloud the letter, to clarify, by the Attorney General’s Office, written July 18 by Assistant Attorney General Kurt Wall, director of the criminal division.
“Although the Code of Ordinances does state the procedure for appointing members of the planning commission and their successors, courts have been very clear that an appointing authority cannot be mandated to make an appointment,” Wall wrote.
Arceneaux also read aloud the letter that Lacombe wrote in June, first seeking the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, in which Lacombe said the mayor’s “lack of action constitutes malfeasance in office.”
The attorney general responded to Lacombe: “After review of your complaint it does not appear to rise to the level of malfeasance in office on the part of the mayor.”
“As such there does not appear to be any valid grounds for the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the actions of the mayor in his failure to appoint any member to a board or a commission and no further action will be taken by our office at this time,” Wall wrote.
“You throw a criminal violation at me?” Arceneaux asked Lacombe.
Lacombe said he asked of the city clerk and the mayor earlier in the year and nothing has happened, “that’s why I reached out to the Attorney General.”
“We have five members who do an excellent job and none of them have come to me and said ‘I want off,’” Arceneaux said.
Council Timothy Vessel said to the mayor they are all “bickering like kids, but all it takes for you tonight to put that shovel down.”
“If you put the shovel down and we could move the city forward,” Vessel said. “You keep digging a hole for yourself.”
Matassa offered a substitute motion, which was seconded Boudreaux and was approved, offering a resolution that the mayor reappoint the existing members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“I’ve been on the council for 18 years,” Matassa said after the meeting. “The planning and zoning do a great job. We appointed the last person on there. The mayors in the past have reappointed unless somebody didn’t want to serve anymore or weren’t doing a good job or showing up. These guys show up at every meeting. They do their homework, so why advertise if you don’t an opening.”