Archive for December, 2015

I-20 Board Approves Back-Dated Contract W/Attorney


Yesterday afternoon, the I-20 Economic Development Corporation’s Board of Directors took action in open session to execute a contract with an Alexandria law firm to represent them in ongoing litigation. Steve Oxenhandler, of Gold WeemsBruser Sues & Rundell, will be paid for hours billed since November 17, 2015. Also, any actions taken or filings made on behalf of the board since that time will be ratified.

See here the document.

Notable in the contract was this clause:

Clients expressly recognize that any estimate of total fees and expenses to be incurred in connection with the representation, which may be given in the initial interview or otherwise, is nothing more than a good faith guess and that the actual fees and expenses ultimately incurred may bear no relation to the estimate.

The vote to hire Oxenhandler came after a 45-minute executive session to discuss the terms, and after items four through seven on the agenda were passed over.

The board first voted to hire Oxenhandler in an executive session on 11/17/15, according to the minutes of that meeting. However, as that action may have been illegal, the board took the action yesterday in open session.

According to a 12/23/15 Ouachita Citizen article by Zach Parker, Oxenhandler had even billed the board some $6 thousand prior to the 11/17 secret vote.

Chisley continued to deny that the board tagged Oxenhandler to represent them in the 11/17 closed session, according to a Bob Lenox story in today’s News Star.

Lenox quoted Chisley, “On that particular night, we did not know whether we were going to engage Mr. Oxenhandler. We talked about the situation, we discussed it, but we didn’t have a contract, so therefore we could not enter into a contractual agreement.”

City Attorney Nanci Summersgill has in the middle of the negotiations to hire Oxenhandler, even though she apparently does not represent the board, but actually is paid by the City of Monroe. It is unknown if Summersgill’s actions represent a conflict of interest, which is prohibited by Louisiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys.

Here is the original lawsuit against the board.


Do-Over for I-20 Board Attorney Hire


The Interstate 20 Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors will convene a “do-over” meeting tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, 12/30, 4:00 PM) to “officially” hire an attorney to represent them in ongoing litigation.

Here is the agenda.

Two weeks ago, the board took action to hire the attorney in an apparent illegal executive session.

Hearing Wednesday on Sixth Street Saloon Controversy


A Wednesday, 12/30/15, 9:30 AM hearing has been set to hear a motion asking for contempt sanctions against two Monroe City Council (Betty Blakes and Ray Armstrong) members for voting against renewal of the Sixth Street Saloon’s liquor license. The motion also asks that the court direct that the bar’s alcohol permit be renewed.

See here the documents.

The hearing will be in Courtroom 8, Fourth Judicial District, Ouachita Parish Courthouse.

Wheels Come Off @ I-20 Board


Last week’s meeting of the Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors was filled with recriminations, finger-pointing, and crawfishing, according to The Ouachita Citizen’s Zach Parker, who was there to report on what happened.

See it here (subscription required):

I-20 board breaks law, takes secret vote to hire lawyer; invoices, hire date discrepancy revealed

We had earlier reported that at the 11/17/15 meeting, board Chairman Otis Chisley denied having selected an attorney to defend against a lawsuit, but in fact had done just that in a secret session moments before.

According to Parker’s account, the attorney – Steven Oxenhandler of Alexandria – was engaged prior to that meeting, and without the knowledge and approval of the board. He sent an invoice to the board that included 26 hours worked prior to 11/17.

Monroe’s City Attorney Nanci Summersgill, who sometimes acts as an “unofficial adviser” to the I-20 Board, first contacted Oxenhandler, Parker wrote.

Also, there was a kerfuffle over the minutes of the 11/17 meeting, after it was realized information on an illegal vote was included.

Parker also recounted LPNO’s efforts beginning two years ago to get the board meetings opened up to public scrutiny.

Sixth Street Bar Issues Alleged: Underage Drinking, Contaminated Liquor


On a 2-2 tie vote, the Monroe City Council denied a liquor license renewal for the 6 Street Bar & Lounge at last night’s meeting.

This is the second time in two years the council has denied a license for the controversial establishment. At the 12/23/13 meeting, a license renewal was denied, but the bar later reopened after the owners sued and the city settled.

Voting to grant the license were Gretchen Ezernack (District 2) and Kenny Wilson (District 4). Voting to deny were Ray Armstrong (District 1) and Betty Blakes (District 3).

Mark Neal, an attorney for the bar owners, said that they would sue again if the license was denied.

Speaking to the council, Neal cited the terms of the earlier settlement and said the owners had held up their end of the bargain.

Said Neal, “I encourage the council to do what it agreed to do in June of 2014, which was to grant this license by way of a consent judgement.”

Neal also noted that the bar had been in operation since 1945, and that the current residents knew the establishment was there when they located in the neighborhood.

Resident David Pivont said despite Neal’s assertions, the bar had continued to have problems.

Pivont said the bar had twice this year been cited by the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) for selling alcohol to minors, and selling liquor that was contaminated with debris and/or fruit flies.

Said Pivont, “They had two violations of selling to minors.” He added, “They had bugs in their liquor.”

Another resident, Marilyn Denoux, said she had issues with patrons of the bar engaged in “intimate” conduct in their cars parked on the street or in nearby parking lots.

Said Denoux, “The last time this happened, I went out – it was about 2 in the morning – and called to them across the street to please either stop, go to a motel, to put their pants back on. In the meantime I was given an obscene gesture and told to go away. So I picked up the (water) hose from my yard and sprayed it across the street on them.” She added, “This is not right.”

In other business, the council unanimously denied a conditional use permit to sell beer for off premise consumption for Just Stop, 3100 Renwick Street.

Several area residents showed up to object, citing proximity to area schools.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury Creates New Tax Districts


The Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) last night voted unanimously to create two new tax districts as vehicles to levy increases in sales taxes for drainage and road construction. The East Ouachita and West Ouachita Economic Development Districts are divided by the Ouachita river, and encompass all of Ouachita Parish, except the Cities of Monroe and West Monroe, and the towns of Sterlington and Richwood.

The East District sales tax increase, if approved by voters, would be $0.0139, and would collect about $2.8 million/year. The West District increase would be $0.0039, and would take about $1.8 million/year from the people.

The resulting sales tax rates would then be at a statutorily maximum of $0.0999.

Finance Committee Chair Walt Caldwell (District C) said that new taxes would allow the parish to do much more in large road and drainage construction projects.

Said Caldwell, “These funds would be used only in large capital projects; they’re not going to be used for pothole patching.”

See here a slideshow on the plan.

A vote on the proposed taxes will be set for Spring, 2016.

In other business, the jury adopted amended 2015 and proposed 2016 budgets.

For 2015, total revenues came in at $84.5 million, with expenditures of $83.8 million. For 2016 proposed revenues are $75.5 million, and expenditures of $81.1 million.

The jury also award an across the board cost of living raise of 2% to employees.

Monroe City Council Tonight


The Monroe City Council will meet tonight (Tuesday, 12/22), 6:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

I-20 Chairman Caught in Lie


Otis Chisley, the Chairman of the Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors wasn’t truthful at the 11/17/15 meeting of the board when he denied that an attorney had been engaged to defend against a just-filed suit against the board.

After an hour-long executive session reconvened to an open meeting, we had the following exchange with Chisley:

LPNO: “I assume you’ve discussed hiring an attorney?”
Chisley: “We’ve discussed hiring several different attorneys.”
LPNO: “No decision yet on that?”
Chisley: “No.”

Listen to the audio of the discussion.

However, just moments before in the executive session, a decision was made and a vote of the board was taken to hire Alexandria attorney Steven Oxenhandlder to defend the suit, according to the minutes of that meeting.

See here the document.

The suit claims that construction of a road adjacent to property owned by I-20 Corridor Properties (Eddie and Joseph Hakim) has aggravated flooding on the property.

Ouachita Parish Policy Jury Monday


The Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) will meet Monday, December 21, 5:30 PM, Ouachita Parish Courthouse, second floor.

Here is the agenda.

I-20 Board Meeting Tonight


The Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors will meet today (12/17), 4:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

Though not on the agenda, likely to be discussed in executive session is the lawsuit filed last month by Monroe developer Eddie Hakim.