Archive for May, 2013

Special Monroe City Council Meeting Called, I-20 Board Explodes in Controversy

05/31/2013

The heretofore secret machinations of the Interstate 20 Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors – and who gets to serve on that board – has exploded into public view.

A special meeting of the Monroe City Council has been called for Noon, Monday, 6/3/13, to appoint three members to the I-20 board, and to change the bylaws to prevent controversial Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo from removing members after their appointment.

See here the agenda.

To be reappointed are City Council Chair Eddie Clark (District 5), and Charles Theus. A new appointment by District 1’s Ray Armstrong is Monroe attorney Mike Rhymes. Rhymes was the former Personnel Manager for Monroe.

After last Tuesday’s meeting of the council that saw appointment of Clark and Ernest Johnson to the I-20 board, Mayo summarily removed Clark and Charles Theus from the board. Theus had been recently appointed by District Three’s Betty Blakes.

See here news reports of Mayo’s action:

I-20 board shake up
I-20 board membership in flux

The controversy comes amid reports of an FBI investigation of the non-profit corporation, and after this reporter was blocked from attending a meeting of the group last week.

Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) today filed a complaint with Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Attorney Jerry Jones asking that he investigate whether the board’s meetings are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law. Per LA RS 42:25, district attorneys are responsible for enforcing the provisions of that law.

Milstead to Stay as RHS Principal

05/31/2013

Mike Milstead will remain as Principal of Ruston High School (RHS), at least for the 2013-2014 school year, according to a memo from Lincoln Parish School District Superintendent Danny Bell.

See here the memo.

Wrote Bell:

The committee unanimously decided and I concurred that neither of those interviewed be recommended to you for the position; therefore, I am proposing that Mike Milstead remain at Ruston High School. I plan to advertise for a principal at Ruston High School in the spring of 2014.

This is the second time this spring that applicants for the job were not recommended for the position. See here our earlier reporting on the two sets of applicants:

4/22/13 – RHS Principal Applicant Details
5/24/13 – Two Applicants for RHS Principal

KTVE-TV10 Jonesboro News Story

05/30/2013

Jonesboro Alderman Arrested

Another Jonesboro official faces charges.

Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown say LaStevic Cottonham turned himself in after he was notified of a misdemeanor warrant out for his arrest. Cottonham is an Alderman-at-Large in Jonesboro. Sheriff Brown says Cottonham is accused of interfering with a police investigation. A deputy was responding to a report of an altercation involving numerous people, when Cottonham allegedly tried to help one of the people involved get away from the area.

5/28/13 Monroe City Council Meeting

05/30/2013

Early in Tuesday’s meeting of the Monroe City Council, about 20 minutes was taken up with a public hearing and vote to reverse a decision of the Monroe Planning Commission. The commission had denied an operating application for Hope Restored Community Center to be located at 3906 DeSiard, across the street from the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM).

First to speak on behalf of the center was Monroe attorney Jack Wright, Jr.

Wright noted that the neighbors had no objections to the facility, and that the area already had bars, tobacco stores, tattoo parlors, and an adult movie store located there. Wright said the center would be open only three days a week and that the classes would be small.

“All they want to do is help poor people,” said Wright.

Several others spoke on behalf of the center, some of whom attended classes there.

Three members of the Planning Commission related why they denied the application, but one of the commissioners (Mike Riley) said he might decide differently if he had it to do over.

The council voted unanimously to overturn the commission’s decision, and allow the center to open.

Mayor Mayo’s attempt to have the agenda amended for adoption of cooperative endeavor agreement with the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention met with failure when District 3’s Betty Blakes voted no for the agenda change. Changes to an agenda at a public meeting must be unanimous, according to state law.

The LMB’s annual session is set for late July at the Monroe Civic Center.

Blakes said she would not vote to approve assistance for the convention after the mayor would not approve money for summer youth programs.

Said Blakes, “I’m voting no, because to me, giving money for people that’s coming in from out of town, and we can’t give the kids (money) to go the the recreation centers for free – I’m voting no.”

An effort to pass a supplemental agreement with Denmon Engineering for an additional $100 thousand in fees on a storm water retention pond project in the Rochelle Street area fell short when Gretchen Ezernack’s (District 2) motion failed to get a second.

Randy Denmon explained that the additional money was to needed to finish the surveying and engineering, and begin right-of-way acquisition.

However, some of the council members questioned why the total amount wasn’t originally appropriated. The original amount was around $50 thousand, Denmon said.

Clark said before he could vote for the appropriation, he would need to see a budget.

Two ordinances up for a final vote were pulled by Ray Armstrong (District 1). The ordinances (limits on interim appointments and ratings on civic center events) will be reworked and resubmitted, Armstong said.

Jonesboro Alderman Arrested

05/30/2013

Town of Jonesboro Alderman-at-Large LaStevic Cottonham was arrested yesterday on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a police officer, Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) has learned.

A Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) deputy was answering a call for an altercation near Pearrie Park when the alleged incident occurred.

Cottonham was released on $10 thousand bond, it was reported.

Port Allen, LA Update – 5/30/13

05/30/2013

Judge seeks clear definition of Port Allen official’s job duties

PORT ALLEN — The court battle between Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter and city Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain has been once again pushed back to another day.

The development came Wednesday as a state district judge asked McCain’s attorneys to file legal documents clearly defining her job duties for the court.

Attorneys for both McCain and Slaughter met in chambers with District Judge Alvin Batiste to review state statutes outlining McCain’s job functions as the city of Port Allen’s chief financial officer, municipal clerk and tax collector.

It was the second time Batiste delayed proceedings in the litigation. Wednesday’s scheduled hearing had been reset from April 30.

“Basically, it was an informal discussion with the judge, myself and the counsel for the mayor as far as reaching a stipulation as per the statutory duties of Mrs. McCain,” Cy D’Aquila, one of McCain’s attorneys, said after the court session. “It’s not a win or lose situation. It’s basically trying to find that happy medium between Mrs. McCain and the mayor.”

McCain has asked the court to grant a permanent injunction nullifying Slaughter’s February attempt to fire her.

Letter: Normalcy needed in Port Allen

May 29, 2013

Rarely do I feel the need to clarify or defend my words or actions. But, the May 26 article by Advocate reporter Terry Jones concerning the salary of Port Allen Mayor Demetric Slaughter is an exception.

In her first five months in office, Mayor Slaughter’s actions have created an atmosphere around City Hall and West Baton Rouge unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed — with her salary being the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

I did not simply and unequivocally agree the salary the mayor and her “chief of staff” erroneously set for her was justified! The mayor’s salary is to be set by council vote, not by an in-house memo/directive delivered by an unpaid “chief of staff!” This is only one of the many bizarre actions that have occurred since Jan. 1.

Looking back on my phone log, my conversation with Jones lasted five minutes and five seconds. To have two sentences cherry-picked from a five-minute conversation is disappointing. I stated clearly to Jones that by law the mayor’s salary was something the City Council should have addressed. The fact that is was not brought before the council raises serious concerns about how City Hall is being run, and by whom.

I hope this somewhat clears up my opinion on this topic. I also hope, in the near future, some sense of normalcy returns to Port Allen City Hall.

Hugh Riviere – Port Allen city councilman

I-20 Board Meeting Cancelled

05/29/2013

A 5:00 PM meeting of the Interstate 20 Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors yesterday afternoon was cancelled for lack of a quorum. Only three of the seven board members showed up: Chairman Claude Minor, Secretary Charles Pritchard, and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

See here the agenda.

Minutes of the 5/22/13 board meeting were also distributed.

See here the document.

Two new members will be joining the board next time it meets, however.

At the 6:00 PM meeting of the Monroe City Council, that body voted 4-0 to replace Minor with Ernest Johnson. District 2’s Gretchen Ezernack abstained.

Also, Council Chair Eddie Clark (District 4) will replace Kenny Wilson (District 4) as the council representative on the board.

City Attorney Nanci Summersgill said that in her opinion, the action of replacing Wilson with Clark was contrary to the group’s bylaws.

Said Summersgill, “It is clearly not in accordance with the articles of incorporation.”

The resolution passed with Ezernack voting no and Wilson abstaining.

Sources: Feds Investigating Monroe’s I-20 Board

05/28/2013

Sources have told Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the Interstate 20 Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-public non-profit corporation formed in 1996 to promote economic development along the I-20 corridor in Monroe, LA.

The revelations came in a board meeting two weeks ago, said the sources who were present at that meeting. The sources offered no details as to the nature of the investigation, except that the chairman of the organization, Dr. Claude Minor, had said in the meeting that he had been interviewed extensively by the FBI.

Phone calls to Minor were not returned.

Federal authorities have been active in the Monroe area for the past several years, most recently securing felony convictions of two City of Monroe councilmen – Robert “Red” Stevens and Arthur Gilmore.

Last year, former Ouachita Parish Sheriff Royce Toney plead guilty to misdemeanor computer fraud after an extensive FBI investigation, and OPSO Deputy Michael Davis was enrolled in a diversion program on similar charges.

Last week, this reporter attempted to attend a meeting of the group, but was kicked out. The board members cited the group’s status as an “economic development” entity, which they claim makes them exempt from Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law (LA RS 42:11, et seq). Economic development negotiations are often sensitive, and can’t be made public, they claimed.

See here an agenda of the 5/22/13 meeting.

LPNO was able to learn some of what happened behind closed doors from several sources who were in the meeting.

There was an attempt to replace Minor as chairman, but the action was tabled, the sources said. The board wasn’t sure if such action was allowed by the group’s bylaws.

Also, there was discussion of hiring Denmon Engineering to begin design on an extension of the I-20 North Service Road from Garrett Road to Millhaven Road. It is unclear if a valid vote took place on the issue.

Board members are Minor, Charles Theus, Otis Chisley, Kenny Wilson (District 4, Monroe City Council), Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, Charles Marsala, and Charles Pritchard.

Two board members – Minor and Wilson – may be replaced at tonight’s meeting of the Monroe City Council. Resolutions replacing the two are on the agenda and are up for a vote.

Now back to the board’s claim that they can meet and do business in secret with the public’s money.

Presumably, the group is relying on LA RS 33:9024 C.(2)(b), which says that:

The presence on the board of directors of said public officials shall not alter the private, nonprofit nature of the corporation and shall not make it an agency of the state or of the local governmental subdivision.

However, that statute was amended in 2010 to make such organizations subject to both the Open Meetings Law and the Public Records law.

LA RS 33:9024 E.(2)

Without altering the private nature of economic development corporations, any economic development corporation which obtains funds from the state or any agency or subdivision thereof of ten thousand dollars or more in any calendar year shall, as a condition to the receipt or expenditure of such public funds, maintain all of its books and records with respect to the use or receipt of any public funds as public documents and make them available for inspection and copying pursuant to the provisions of the public records law, R.S. 44:1 et seq., hold any and all meetings of such corporation with respect to the receipt or expenditure of public funds in public after due notice thereof in accordance with the provisions of the Open Meetings Law, and comply with any conditions of funding.

When the group was first formed in 1996, the original bylaws provided for open meetings.

10. All meetings of the Board shall be open to the public and shall be called after posting a notice and agenda for the meeting, at the place of the meeting, at least 24 hours before the meeting.

However, that provision was deleted by amendment in December 2000.

See here the original bylaws and subsequent amendments.

In 2005, another amendment was made to the bylaws. That amendment increased the number of board members from five to seven, adding the mayor and a council member to the board.

A legal opinion on the 2005 amendment was solicited, and rendered by Monroe attorney Louis Scott.

Scott opined that adding the two officeholders to the board would make it subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law, as it would become “an agent of the City of Monroe.” Ironically, the amendment was submitted by the now-convicted Arthur Gilmore.

See here Scott’s opinion.

Also, the the latest independent audit of the city by Luffey, Huffman, Ragsdale & Soignier tends to reinforce Scott’s opinion. From the audit for the year ended 4/30/12:

Blended Component Units

Economic Development – Two not-for-profit entities perform administrative functions for the City’s incremental sales tax economic development districts. These entities are the Tower Drive Economic Development Corporation and the Garrett Road Economic Development Corporation. For financial reporting purposes, all of these entities are considered an integral part of the City, not component units. This decision is due to the City keeping the books and records for these entities, the City as a whole reaping the benefits from the use of the proceeds of the incremental tax bonds issued by the not-for-profits, and that the districts and the separate not-for-profits are ministerial and structural in nature, as disbursement of funds is subject to the control of the City through the plan of government.

Monroe City Council Tuesday

05/27/2013

The Monroe City Council will meet at 6:00 PM, Tuesday, May 28, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

Port Allen, LA Update – 5/25/13

05/26/2013

Mayoral salary in Port Allen an issue not settled

The last four Port Allen mayors each earned about $85,000 a year, but only now are some city councilmen questioning whether that salary is too high.

Some City Council members have said the $84,960 a year salary for Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter is too steep for a city of 5,180 residents.

Plaquemine’s mayor earns $64,500 a year to serve 7,119 residents.

The mayor of New Roads is paid $62,000 a year to serve 4,831 residents.

In Baker, the mayor is paid $74,737 a year to serve 13,895 residents, earning less than the Port Allen mayor but serving a city more than twice that size.

It was Port Allen’s former mayor Mayor Roger Bergeron who had asked the council to lower the mayor’s pay to $65,000 a year for the next term — an action they took through adopting the 2012 budget but that Slaughter refused to recognize once she took office Jan. 1.

The salary became a hot-button issue in February after Audrey McCain, the city’s chief financial officer, revealed that Slaughter, in continuing to receive the $84,960 salary, would send two of the city’s operating funds into a deficit.