Division at City Hall

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley

Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In Gonzales City Hall there has been a separation of sides made up of Mayor Barney Arceneaux, Councilman Kenny Matassa and Councilman Kirk Boudreaux; and Councilman Gary Lacombe, Terance Irvin and Timothy Vessel, Sr. The two sides have been battling for almost a year, with a major division coming in May when the 2014-2015 fiscal year General and Capital Outlay budgets were to be voted on. Thrice has Mayor Arceneaux vetoed a 3-2 vote on amended budgets, leaving the city to continue living off its 2013-2014 fiscal year pockets.

Agreeing and approving a budget seems all impossible as the mayor, Boudreaux and Matassa feel the “leveling off of spending” the other councilmembers request aren’t acceptable.

Mayor Arceneaux, Boudreaux and Matassa believe the Ascension Economic Development Corporation should receive $75,000 for the fiscal year, while other members believe only $50,000 is sufficient from the General Fund Budget. Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel also requested an exact number of $327,555 for the Gonzales City Police Department; a number they feel is sufficient to meet the Police Chief Sherman Jackson’s needs.

After the Sept. 8 meeting, Chief Jackson had one word to describe his feelings, “frustrated.”

“I try to do the best with what I can do with what I got,” Chief Jackson I feel the citizens of Gonzales are getting cheated. We have funds available and I’m not sure why we aren’t using those funds to make our system better and city safer. So yes, it frustrates me.”

Chief Jackson’s main request was for the availability of funds to buy nine new Dodge Chargers for his officers, and a new resource – surveillance cameras.

However, the majority of the council didn’t see the need for the cameras and did not request enough funding for that in the amended Capital Outlay Budget.

Vessel said Chief Jackson hasn’t provided a lot of information about the cameras and how the program will actually work and benefit the city.

“All he said was they’ll be able to help catch burglars,” Vessel said. “But we need to know who’s going to monitor the cameras, effects of the camera or anything. We need to know all of this before hand. We aren’t telling him what to buy we just need more information on it.”

But still, the majority of the council remained to leave the Police Department a raise in salary pay. In all three proposed budgets in May, July and August that were vetoed by Mayor Arceneaux, the council proposed a 3.65 percent raise to the 2014-2015 budget – giving the department as a whole an about an additional $94,965 for salaries.

Mayor Arceneaux, Boudreaux and Matassa feel that isn’t adequate support of the police department as they’ve all shown support of a SaveGonzales movement that would bring Lacombe and Vessel to the voter’s polls to be recalled of their seats.

Signing the petition

Earlier this month, Mayor Arceneaux, Matassa and Chief Jackson all signed a petition that would make a recall possible of Lacombe and Vessel.

Matassa said he wanted the petition efforts to come from the citizens.

“We see what’s going on every meeting and evidently the citizens are fed up with it and that’s why they signed the petition,” Matassa said. “I signed the petition like I told them I would at the end of their job and they did a good job.”

Mayor Arceneaux said he signed the petition for two reasons:

“One, I certainly feel the three, as we continue to call them, are taking us totally in the wrong direction. The city has been wonderful and is continuing to grow regardless of how they continue to fight economic development,” Mayor Arceneaux said. “I’ve got enough of that and as a leader of this city I felt I had to make that change.”

“Secondly, when the letter went to the Attorney General’s Office against me in a criminal matter that helped me make a decision very, very easily. I did not appreciate it. I know other people in the community has asked Mr. Lacombe to make an apology, he refuses, and that’s fine with me. I have no problem with it at all. But I felt I was compelled to go ahead and sign.”

As far as the petition, Chairman of the SaveGonzales recall efforts Chuck LeBlanc submitted Tuesday and Wednesday signatures needed to bring Lacombe and Vessel’s seats to the polls, respectively.

LeBlanc said with what the mayor, Boudreaux and Matassa have been going through and battling, “it meant us a lot to us that they put their faith in us as a group.”

“We’re not individuals with a cause, we’re a group that wants to Save Gonzales,” LeBlanc said. “For them four people to step up and sign this petition it meant a lot to the city and people who formed the group.”

LeBlanc said the people who signed the petition need to be congratulated because they stepped up big and “they’re just tired of what’s going on.”

 “People who signed this want a change,” LeBlanc said. “We worked hard but without them we couldn’t do this. It’s not over and there’s still a long road. There’s still a process, it’s not a done deal.”

Indeed it’s not a done deal. Tuesday, LeBlanc turned in over 2,700 signatures of the needed, 2,145, to the registered voter’s office with a month of time to spare.

To make it onto a December 6 ballot, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal must issue a proclamation ordering the election “on or before the forty-sixth day prior to the election” according to Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1300.7. The governor has 15 days in which to issue that proclamation from the day he receives the certified petition(s) from the registrar.

“You always have to take that first step,” LeBlanc said. “We’re taking that first step to walk when we turn it in and after that we’ll go from there. We’ve worked hard and presented the facts that have come out.”

LeBlanc added, “We feel comfortable with our numbers. With the mayor and them signing gives us a big boost. We have confidence in them.”

A divided leadership

The division between the two sides at city hall hasn’t stopped any major economic growth for the City of Gonzales, as Mayor Arceneaux and the Ascension Chamber of Commerce continued to cut ribbon throughout the process on many new businesses.

Matassa said he could work with “almost anybody who at least communicates.”

“But they don’t communicate nor come to very important meetings,” Matassa said, who’s been on the council for 18 years. “It’s up to them, it’s up to them not up to me because I make the meetings that I’m supposed to make. I fight for things I think are right.”

Mayor Arceneaux said he would find it hard to think that the two sides could ever work it out. He said those guys seem to be “entrenched against anything that the other two councilmen feel like they want, what the police chief wants and I don’t think there is any compromise with them.”

“I would hope so, you would think that an average thinking person that’s elected by the people would want to do that,” Mayor Arceneaux said.

If the recall efforts fail at the polls, Lacombe said he would be willing to work with the mayor and other council.

“We have to do the work of the people,” Lacombe said. “So yes, that’s an easy decision. You’ll work with anybody you have to, to better the city.”

Vessel said the two sides will work together regardless because it’s what they have to do.

“I’m not worried about that petition right now, I’m just trying to do what’s best for the citizens,” Vessel said.