Racial allegations thrown at City Hall


Gonzales City Council meetings have gone from slinging accusations on Mayor Barney Arceneaux for malfeasance to now a lack of racial diversity in hiring practices in city departments. The year 2014 has shown Gonzales’ potential, but much of it has been overshadowed by a storyline of “council trio” versus the mayor.”

At the Nov. 24 meeting, James LeBlanc of Baton Rouge was asked to speak to the mayor and council about the hiring practices in the city departments and why they lacked in racial diversity.

James, of Baton Rouge, said the city should feel lucky it’s him asking about the hiring practices and not the national news media trying to find out why these positions are the way they are.

“We can pass this information to Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Sharpton and have them here, or have someone as local as I am who has seen a problem and realize where working together we can get this corrected,” LeBlanc said, adding the City of Gonzales has a 58 percent minority population.

Councilman Kenny Matassa spoke up first to LeBlanc and informed him there are no racial problems with the city and added there is one black minority seat on the council that can’t be touched, “where really it should all just be open.”

LeBlanc responded to Matassa if there is something wrong with that “correct it.”

“We have three people who have been going against what the mayor wants, but there are only two on the recall,” LeBlanc said, referring to then-councilman Gary Lacombe and Tim Vessel who is still on the recall. “Why didn’t you put the third, because he was part of that vote? This is what the public never been told. Why recall two rather than the three?”

Matassa answered and said before they got on the council we worked together, and we didn’t have any problems.

After the meeting, chairman Chuck LeBlanc of the SaveGonzales group responsible for pushing the recall, said it’s hard to get one, much less two or three recalled.

“And we were told by the political analyst who helped us not to go after Terance,” Chuck LeBlanc said in an interview with the Weekly Citizen. “For 14 years Terance has been excellent and never had trouble. And then all of a sudden, boom. We chose the two we thought we could get. It wasn’t racially motivated, it was motivated by what could be done to keep this city moving in a positive direction.”

Irvin, the third councilman of the trio but is not up for recall, said it is important that it was brought up and added “diversity is extremely important for the city.” He told LeBlanc (Timothy) Vessel called a meeting with the mayor and Clay Stafford in 2012 and brought it to his attention at that time “so this isn’t the first time it’s been brought up.” However no action was followed up since that time.

“We have a Hispanic population that is growing also,” Irvin said. “[Vessel] and I both have experienced communication with the Hispanics and some of the parents who don’t speak English as well as the children were having to take their children out of school to come and pay their utility bills and so on and so forth.”

“That makes the diversity so important because we need someone who is bilingual and who can speak to the masses of our community and you have a minority population that is the majority there is some shifts and changes that need to be made,” Irvin said.

Irvin asked LeBlanc how to improve the process.

LeBlanc told the council this is not something that’s going to happen overnight.  It’s going to take some work and some digging down and some understanding each other to get changes made.

“The best way we can deal with this is to have our elected officials be able to appoint someone to a committee and give them 90 days to come up with some answers,” LeBlanc said.

He mentioned the mayor, Judge Alvin Turner, Representatives Ed Price and Johnny Berthelot, and Senators Troy Brown and Jody Amedee to be part of the committee.

Mayor Arceneaux said he agrees with LeBlanc and will look into the matter, and added he doesn’t mind hiring anybody who is qualified for the job.

Irvin put a motion in that the council establishes a resolution to organize a subcommittee to address the diversity in hiring and promotion opportunities in the city of Gonzales. Vessel seconded.

Matassa asked for an amendment to the motion to also send it to the personnel committee, which Irvin is a part of. It was passed. However, the racial discussion wasn’t over.

Former Police Chief Bill Landry took the podium and said when it comes to civil service there is no race, it’s about being the best man for the job. That’s why he endorsed Sherman Jackson as Police Chief.

“When I tried to hire good African Americans, they didn’t want to come to work because they didn’t want their homeys to talk down on them,” Landry said. “That’s the reason you don’t have good qualified African American police officers. They don’t want to face the scrutiny of their own folks.”

“It’s not about color or race. It appalls me that all of a sudden now we have a diversity problem,” Landry said. “Come on people, it’s a smoke screen for something else.”

“You don’t hire people to fill in spaces, you hire people that’s educated, committed, qualified, dedicated, hard-working and honest,” Landry added.

Judge Alvin Turner asked why is it being brought up now, rather than 2012 when Vessel says he first brought it up.

“All of 2013 went by, why couldn’t ya’ll put it on the agenda then?” Judge Turner asked.

Irvin and Vessel both pointed at the mayor.

“We turned the proactive role over to the mayor,” Irvin answered.

Tyrone Smith said this is where we are and now it’s an opportunity to move forward.

“You have a plan that you’ll create a committee and this is what we need to focus on,” Smith said. “This is where we were, this is where we are, where do we go from here?”

Chuck LeBlanc added: “To come into this little city and compare us to Ferguson, come on. This city is nowhere near that I don’t think we ever will have that problem. That’s not fair to anybody living in this city.”

After the meeting Matassa added: “In my 18 years on the council I have as much black vote as I do white vote, and we have never had any problems in the city and this problem was created by them as a last effort, but they will be recalled on Dec. 6 This is a last-ditch effort.”

After the meeting, Mayor Arceneaux said it was a little upsetting to try to pull the race card.

“But even a few of the blacks in the audience saw that it was strictly political for the race debate,” Mayor Arceneaux said. “This city has never had problem with race relations and for them to attack me like they were. Never have I had a problem with the black community.”