Port Sulphur Library ordered… againFeb 2nd, 2012 | By William Dilella | Category: news
For months, even years now, Councilman Burghart Turner of District 6, has had a standing agenda item, to discuss the Port Sulphur Library project at every Council meeting. And, for years, as additional projects went up all over the parish, Turner was left asking, ‘why haven’t we moved on this yet?’
With the Council’s most recent vote, Turner got his answer. And now, Parish President Billy Nungesser has until February 2 to enact the legislation passed at the January 26 Council meeting, or prepare for litigation with the Council and a contempt of Court Charge, legislation Nungesser has already promised to veto.
The never ending story
The Port Sulphur Library, in its current form, was destined for a spot of land near the Plaquemines Parish Learning Center site. A Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) was prepared and approved by both the Parish School Board and the Parish Council back in 2009.
But three years, two Council votes and one Court order later, the plans never took form. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser never executed the move. And depending on who you ask, there is a reason for that.
Turner asserts that the Parish President has been acting unilaterally, and standing in the way out of his own personal objections. Nungesser’s statement was that he was ready to move, but Councilman Turner’s action on the issue, including the suit, have only delayed the project.
“There was no land presented or allocated, and the library would have been built by now if [Turner] had not sued and stopped it,” Nungesser said. “That’s why we already have a beautiful library in Buras. What Mr. Turner has to realize is he is not Plaquemines Parish President. He is one Council member, and one member has no authority without the Council.”
Talk the talk
But Turner did in fact get authority from the Council to act as the negotiating agent on the library project—after some argument from Benny Puckett, Grants Administrator for the Parish and member of Nungesser’s staff.
“The applicant is the Plaquemines Parish Government,” Puckett said. “It’s not the Council, nor is it an individual in the Council. In order to have an applicant that is outside of the scope of local government it would in essence negate the contracts and cooperative endeavor agreements that are currently enforced and in place… I think we open ourselves up to some at risk things here.”
The Council approved to have Turner negotiate the projects—arguably for the third time—rather than leave them in further limbo status. And Turner, in a few short months, had reconvened with state officials, members of GOHSEP, and the Plaquemines Parish School Board, to move forward on the project.
Rehashing the past
Nungesser has been vehemently against Councilman Turner acting on behalf of the Parish in this capacity, and refutes the fact that a CEA ever existed for land donation from the School Board.
“Mr. Turner is way out of line,” Nungesser said one week before the most recent Council action. “This is a personal matter and he’s grand standing. There was no CEA.”
But at the January 9 School Board meeting, the board members—while further discussing the matter with Councilman Turner—acknowledged that a previous CEA had indeed been executed all those years ago.
According to their records, in December of 2007, the School Board did prepare to enter into a CEA with the Plaquemines Parish Government, for the use of land for a library in the Port Sulphur area. The Council then approved for the location to be next to the Plaquemines Learning Center in May 2008.
“At that point, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, on his own, went ahead and bided out of the old site,” said Turner.
But because of the lapse in action, Turner was being forced to re-deal with the Board members and superintendent Denis Rousselle, in order to secure the same site.
“I feel the school board has done everything in its power, and Denis Rousselle, I want to thank you for that,” Turner told the board on January 9 this year. “I talked to the state, and where we stand today is the state saying if we don’t move the project forward, they’re going to move the money.”
Turner said that $2 million in FEMA funding has been allocated for the expansion. But before he moved forward with the Council on January 25, or sought the Parish President’s signature once more, Turner wanted to secure that Cooperative Endeavor Agreement.
“I want to make sure we are still on the same page,” Turner said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to accommodate the School Board, to make sure you will be proud of what’s on that property.”
After some discussion about making sure the new building would match the current architecture of the Learning Center, which has since been completed, the school board members voted to move forward with the CEA once more, so long as Turner could secure the Council’s approval.
And at the January 25 meeting, the Council did in fact move on the new CEA with the school board. They also planned for any possible standoff with Nungesser.
“[A] sum of $20,000 from the General Fund Unreserved/Undesignated Fund balance to employ additional special counsel, to file any and all documents necessary to file contempt of Court charges against [Nungesser] as it pertains to the Judgement,” Turner’s legislation said.
The Judgement referred to was decreed and ordered by Judge Joy Lobrano back in 2009, and said that Nungesser was to execute his authority as Chief Officer of Plaquemines and see the project through as the Council voted, an order which is still in effect.
“[Nungesser] is to take all necessary actions to relocate the Port Sulphur Public Library at the Alternative/ Title I school site at 26878 Highway 23; to enter into and to execute any and all documents necessary to enter into a cooperative agreement to utilize a front portion of property from the Plaquemines Parish School Board given to Plaquemines Parish Government for the public library,” the order states.
So as of the Council’s vote on January 25, President Nungesser has until February 2 to fulfill the obligations set down by the Council and by Judge Labrano’s Court order, or prepare for contempt of court charges.
Nungesser, who has openly stated his plans to veto the legislation passed by the Council, also said he is preparing a letter for the ethics board about Councilman Turner’s negotiations.
“It’s illegal what he’s doing,” Nungesser said. “And, unfortunately, rather than fight him [Turner], the Council went along with it, and it’s sad.”
For further information on this and other past Council votes, visit www.plaqueminesgazette.com