Ruston Sports Complex Sees Massive Cost Increase Over Estimate

09/21/2017

The just-contracted Ruston Sports Complex that is to be built over the next two years off South Farmerville Street will cost more than double the original estimate that was sold to the voters.

Earlier this month, a $35.2 million contract was approved by the city’s Board of Aldermen to construct the facility.

When the “Moving Ruston Forward” plan was approved by the council in February, 2016, the estimated cost of the facility was said to be $15 million. The plan, along with a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to pay for it, was approved by Ruston voters in an April, 2016 election.

See here the “Moving Ruston Forward” presentation, page 25.

The construction contract does not include the cost of acquiring property for the facility. It is unclear where the money will come from for the additional cost, or what other infrastructure improvements might be left undone.

Advertisements

Sumlin Attorney a No-Show in Court

09/20/2017

Claiming a “medical procedure,” Monroe attorney LaValle Salomon yesterday afternoon was a no-show at Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court in Ruston. The result was several of his clients were left without representation, and had to have their court dates rescheduled, including former Louisiana State Representative William Sumlin.

Chief Felony Prosecutor Lewis Jones made the disclosure when he called up the cases from the court docket. Public defender Dwayne Burrell stood in (he sat, actually) for Salomon.

Sumlin was in court for a hearing on a motion to strike evidence related to his arrest two years ago on indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Sumlin’s hearing was reset for Tuesday, October 17, 1:30 PM. His trial is scheduled for Monday, October 30.

This is the second time Salomon has claimed health issues for a delay.

In February of this year, he said his wife was scheduled for surgery and couldn’t meet a March trial date. Sumlin’s trial has been set and delayed at least four times.

Salomon was a significant contributor to Jones’ campaign for district judge in 2014. See here the documents:

Candidate’s report 10/6/14 – pg 6

Candidate’s report 1/15/15 – pg 5

Presiding yesterday was Tommy Rogers.

Newell to Review Case Before Deciding on Thompson Retrial

09/18/2017

Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes) District Attorney Danny Newell will have to “review the case files before making a decision” on whether to retry former Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson on malfeasance.

The Louisiana Supreme Court today vacated Thompson’s three convictions, one for malfeasance, and two counts of misappropriation. The court remanded the case to the district court for a new trial on the malfeasance charge.

Newell noted that the trial was held four years ago, during the term of his predecessor Jonathan Stewart.

Newell made his comments late this afternoon to Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).

An interesting concurring opinion by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson was part of today’s ruling.

She claimed that Thompson was first elected mayor in 2000. In fact, Thompson was first elected in 2006, took office on 1/1/07, then re-elected in 2010.

The late Ira Reeves was mayor in 2000.

See here the documents from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Another specious claim from Johnson was that: “The evidence demonstrates that defendant did not create the town’s accounting issues, but rather inherited longstanding recordkeeping problems and a poorly-managed accounting structure.”

It was well-documented during our extensive coverage of the town’s finances that prior to Thompson’s term, the town for many years had no significant issues raised during the annual financial audit.

Former Jonesboro Mayor Thompson’s Convictions Overturned by LA Supreme Court

09/18/2017

Former Town of Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson’s malfeasance convictions have been overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Writing for the majority was Justice John Weimer:

We granted certiorari in this case primarily to consider defendant’s contentions that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions on three counts of malfeasance in office, (2) the district court erred by permitting the state to introduce unduly prejudicial “other bad acts” evidence under La. C.E. art. 404(B) and the court of appeal compounded that error by applying a faulty “harmless error” analysis in assessing the effect of the erroneous admissions, and (3) the district court erred in denying his motion for a mandatory mistrial under La. C.Cr.P. art. 770 due to the prosecutor’s references to race.

After reviewing the evidence in this case from the perspective of a rational trier of fact who interprets that evidence as favorably to the prosecution as any rational trier of fact could, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to Count I of the malfeasance in office charge; however, as to Counts II and III, we find that no rational trier of fact could have found defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Pretermitting all other assignments of error, we additionally find that the district court erred in denying defendant’s motion for a mandatory mistrial after the prosecutor directly referenced race in a comment before the jury that was neither material nor relevant and that could create prejudice against defendant in the minds of the jury members. Accordingly, we vacate defendant’s convictions and sentences, and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

See here the complete ruling.

Thompson was convicted by a Jackson Parish jury in September, 2013.

Budget Review @ LPPJ

09/14/2017

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury’s (LPPJ) Finance Committee featured the annual exercise of reviewing budget requests from several area agencies. The requests are funded from the jury’s general fund, or those funds that are not dedicated to a specific purpose, like roads or solid waste.

See here the requests.

Among those requesting significant increases was the Third Judicial District Court. On hand to “make their case” were Judge Tommy Rogers and Judge Cynthia Woodard.

See here their request.

Said Woodard, “I appreciate what your office does for our office, and I want you to know that we’ve tried to be good stewards of the public’s funds.” She noted that statutorily, the jury is obliged to fund court reporter’s salaries.

Woodard also said that the court reporting equipment was obsolete and needs to be replaced, and that security needed to be set up for the court house.

Another agency requesting additional funding was the Registrar of Voters. Among the items listed were training seminars, annual conference, office supplies, and personnel costs.

See here the request.

All the requests would be reviewed and finalized prior to the adoption of next year’s budget, Committee Chair Skip Russell said.

As we had reported earlier this week, the jury voted to increase the road tax and cut the library’s funding.

The vote was unanimous.

$35 Million Contract for Ruston Sports Complex Approved

09/12/2017

Womack & Sons, a Harrisonburg, LA construction company, was awarded a $35.2 million contract for the construction of the new sports complex on South Farmerville Street.

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen approved the action at last night’s regular monthly meeting.

Public Works Director Darrell Caraway told the board that five bids were received, and that the project was expected to take 425 working days.

Yeager, Watson & Associates is the project architect.

The council also approved an ordinance creating the Cooktown Road Economic Development District, a 15 1/2 acre area that is to be commercially developed. It is located at the northwest corner of Cooktown Road and the I-20 North Service Road (Woodward Avenue).

Asked during the public hearing what kind of public infrastructure improvements are planned, Mayor Ronny Walker said that street and sewage improvements are contemplated. The existing sewage lift station will be upgraded to handle the commercial development, Walker noted.

Finally, several sewer improvement projects were approved, which will allow the streets to be repaved afterward. Listed were: University, Western, Georgia, Maryland, Monroe, Lee, Arlington, and Second.

3rd JD Judge Cynthia Woodard Announces Retirement

09/12/2017

Cynthia “Cindy” Woodard, Third Judicial District (Lincoln, Union Parishes) Division A Judge is retiring early next year, she announced yesterday in an email to her colleagues of the Lincoln Parish Bar.

Members of the Bar,

I feel privileged and honored to have had the opportunity of being one of your district court judges. Aside from my role as a wife and mother, it has truly been the most rewarding and fulfilling undertaking in my life. While at times it has been challenging and in certain instances even troubling and disconcerting, I am very appreciative that the people of Union and Lincoln Parish allowed me to hold this position for 21 years.

I also appreciate the many courtesies virtually all of you have extended to me over these years. There is no doubt that I have been fortunate to have worked with such conscientious members of the bar in Union and Lincoln Parish. You have represented your clients in an exemplary manner, and have been a credit to our community and the legal profession.

I am also fortunate to have worked with such quality colleagues – Judge Smith, Judge McCallum, Judge Rogers and Judge Boddie. Their sense of duty and consistent desire to serve has made me proud to be a member of the bench of the Third Judicial District Court. I am especially proud that we have worked together harmoniously as your judges in an effort to better serve the legal profession and the members of the public.

I have decided to formally retire early in 2018. When that time comes, I will miss working with all of you, but I have every confidence that the Judicial District will continue to prosper.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, my colleagues, and all of those with whom I have worked on a daily basis. In speaking of my heart, I hope that upon my retirement, you would feel that any mistakes that I have made along the way have been of the head and not of the heart, as my sincere wish has always been to perform my duties in a manner that promoted justice and fairness. I especially want to thank my husband and children for their support and encouragement. To the extent that I have had any success in this position and in life, I owe it to them.

Fondly,
Cindy Woodard

Woodard, first elected in 1996, was in 2014 elected unopposed for a six year term. As the term runs until 2020, a special election must be held to fill the remainder.

Woodard’s action comes on the heels of other rumored changes in the district.

With the impending retirement next year of 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harmon Drew, court house rumors have 3rd JD’s Chief Judge Jay McCallum vying for that spot.

Drew reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 last year, but is allowed to finish his term which expires 12/31/18.

Should McCallum win that slot, his position at the district level will become vacant. Third JD Assistant District Attorney Bruce Hampton is rumored to be eyeing that position.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury to Hike Road Tax, Cut Library Tax

09/11/2017

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) will meet on Tuesday, September 12, where jurors will vote to set the millage rates for 2017 on two property taxes collected from parish property owners.

Two road taxes that now collect 4.08 mils each (8.16 total) are proposed to be rolled up to the legal maximum of 4.41 mils each (8.82 total), for a total tax hike to the property owner of of 0.66 mils.

The library’s millage is proposed to be cut from 4.30 mils to 3.95 mils, or a reduction of 0.35 mils.

If adopted, the net effect to the Lincoln Parish Taxpayer will be a tax hike of 0.31 mils. The owner of a $200 thousand house would pay just under $4 more in property taxes.

The meetings will be at the Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Public Works Committee – 5:30 PM
Agenda

Finance Committee – 6:00 PM
Agenda

Police Jury – 7:00 PM
Agenda

Ruston Board of Aldermen to Meet Monday

09/10/2017

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen will meet Monday, September 11, 5:30 PM, Ruston City Hall, 401 North Trenton.

Here is the agenda.

Lincoln School Board Balks on Health Plan Changes

09/06/2017

Despite a year-to-date deficit of nearly a million dollars in the fund that pays for medical benefits for Lincoln Parish school district employees, the school board last night declined to make any significant changes to close that deficit.

Among the proposed changes were increased co-pays for drugs and emergency room visits, an increase in drug deductibles, and an increase in the maximum out-of-pocket cost to $4500 from $3500.

The board did approve one change, to allow a ‘closed formulary’ for drugs. That means only specific drugs in each drug class are covered.

Board insurance consultant David Charpentier was on hand to brief the board on the issue, along with Business Manager George Murphy.

“What we’re fighting primarily is a prescription drug issue,” said Charpentier. “The majority of it is a consequence of the Affordable Care Act,” he added. “Today, 40 cents out of every dollar the plan pays is for drugs.”

Board members apparently have been getting pushback from district employees, as several had questions about the proposed changes.

Superintendent Mike Milstead cautioned that employee medical costs are taking a larger bite from the district’s total budget every year.

Said Milstead, “There’s two things to me that we need to consider. One is that this past year out of a $71 million budget, we paid almost $10 million in this health care fund. So if that percentage continues to go against the overall budget, the ultimate thing that will come for us is taking money away from kids to pay our insurance costs.”

The board’s consensus was that the other plan changes would be reviewed and possibly adopted in the future.

In other business, the board approved capital spending for 2017-2018 that include $2.1 million for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Center for Ruston Junior High School, $500 thousand for two new special education classrooms at Ruston High School, $240 thousand for a new football scoreboard at Ruston High, and two classrooms at Simsboro School.

Additionally, the board approved a $500 increase in the November salary supplement checks. Employees with teaching certificates will receive $3000, instead of $2500, and other employees will receive $1500 versus $1250.

See here the board agendas and memos for the meeting.