Council elects Guey as chairmanJan 19th, 2011 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: news
The first meeting of the year for the Plaquemines Parish Council began in a moment of hot debate as who should be the rightful chairman and the order of agenda items were disputed.
Councilmember Burghart Turner, District 6, temporarily held the chairman position after the former council chairman Don Beshel’s term ended. Beshel ran for re-election to his District 1 seat, but lost in November to PV Griffin. As vice chairman, Turner was to take over as chairman in Beshel’s stead, and was even given the gavel at the conclusion of the special council meeting on Dec. 31, 2010.
On Jan. 10, while the Parish President Billy Nungesser was on the Plaquemines Parish Caribbean Cruise, it was disclosed that Turner went to Nungesser’s office to act as president.
According to section 3.06 of the parish charter for local self-government, “whenever the Parish President is absent from the Parish and unable to perform the duties of his office due to his absence, the powers and duties of the Office of Parish President shall be exercised by the Chairman of the Parish Council.”
Turner was denied entrance to Nungesser’s office. He reportedly left the premises, but returned a short time later in a second attempt to take his place as Parish President in Nungesser’s absence. But he was again denied entry. No further attempts to act as chairman were noted, until last week’s council meeting, the first of this term.
On Jan. 13, after Turner called the council meeting to order, Councilman Anthony Buras, District 5, made a motion to immediately vote on item 6k: a resolution to elect the chairman of the council.
Turner dismissed Buras’ motion; he said the agenda would be followed in the order it was written to streamline the proceeding for those waiting to take up an item.
Buras attempted to “call for a vote” of the council to move 6k to the forefront, but Turner countered with a rule from the Mason’s Manual – the book local governments frequently turn to for standard meeting conduct – that the presiding officer, namely himself, has the final word.
Councilman Keith Hinkley, District 2, quoted section 4.08 of the charter, “The Parish Council shall elect a Council Chairman and Council Vice-Chairman from among its members each of whom shall serve for one year term.” Hinkley contended that Turner’s service as Vice-Chairman expired on Dec. 31, and therefore the council currently had no presiding officer.
Turner dismissed this, and reiterated his reason for moving along the agenda in order, so that those in the audience may have their business done quickly and go home.
Turner’s colleagues on the council conceded to his wishes and the meeting continued in order.
When item 6k was reached on the agenda, Turner put himself on the ballot for chairman.
“Since I’ve been elected in 2007, the precedent is that the vice chair will always move up to the chair position,” said Turner of why he was running. “In 2010 Don Beshel was chairman, and I served as vice chairman. That’s why my name is in the slot today. I’m asking that my colleagues will support me.”
New council member, Kirk Lepine, District 3, seconded his motion, but their two votes lost to the six votes against Turner; Councilman Griffin abstained from voting.
Hinkley then nominated council member Dr. Stuart Guey, District 4, to fill the chairman seat, and it was seconded by Buras. The motion carried, 7-2, with only Turner and Lepine voting against Guey.
Council member Marla Cooper, District 9, was nominated by Turner and seconded by Buras to be this year’s vice-chairperson. The motion passed unanimously.
Audit committee member slots filled
The audit committee positions were also voted on. Hinkley and Lepine were unanimously selected to join Turner, a previous member, on the audit committee.
Underage drinking/smoking taken up by PPC
The first thing on the agenda was a public hearing to determine whether or not two Plaquemines Parish establishments – the Conoco Gas-N-Go and the Shell Station, both in Belle Chasse – would have their liquor and beer permit suspended as result of 14 incidents of selling alcohol and cigarettes to minors between 2008 and 2010.
While Turner said items would be taken up in succession to hasten the process, this matter was not settled for about three hours.
Mohammed Cheema, an owner of the vendors, and his attorney agreed at the Dec. 9 meeting to appear at a public hearing of the council in February. Cheema’s lawyer would be out of the country the entire month of January. The council agreed to this continuance. However, at the Dec. 31 special meeting, the attending members overturned the countinuance, and called the public hearing at the Jan. 13 meeting. Cheema’s absent lawyer had representation at the meeting from two of his colleagues.
“How can anyone trust you when you vote on something and then you change your mind?” one of the representatives, attorney, Alicia Gravolet, asked the council.
Cheema and the attorneys argued with council for about 20 minutes before the council passed over the item in order to write new legislation. Cheema and company waited several hours until the council returned to them. However, the legislation was never heard as Cooper voted against the suspension of the rules needed to hear the matter.
The council then agreed to a hearing at the Feb. 24 meeting. Cheema’s stores have been vacated of alcohol until then.
For nearly half of the council, this was not just the first official council meeting of the year, but first meeting ever as members.
Even though all of the ordinances and resolutions on the agenda were introduced at prior council meetings, many items were deferred in an effort to give the newest members more time to become abreast of the details.
Some of the postponed legislation included:
• An ordinance that would end the parish’s current state of emergency, which went into effect after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. Ending the state of emergency does not prohibit cleanup work, but would halt Nungesser’s ability to make decisions unilaterally. It was introduced by Turner.
• An ordinance directing the parish president to immediately begin taking the steps necessary to rebuild the courthouse at the parish seat in Pointe-a-la-Hache, also authored by Turner, was withdrawn from the agenda at the request of Griffin. The courthouse in Pointe-a-la-Hache was destroyed by a fire in 2002. There has been a longtime debate about moving the location of the parish seat and the courthouse to the Westbank, which would be a more convenient location for some.
• An ordinance to create a Department of Parks and Recreation and a Director of Parks and Recreation to oversee all of the parish’s recreation-related buildings and activities. Hinkley introduced this legislation, and recommended a $68,000 salary and benefits for the position if passed.
• A resolution ending the contract with Guste, Barnett, Schlesinger, Henderson and Alpaugh. Guey introduced this resolution that would cut ties to the parish council’s legal consul, Robert Barnett.
• Two particular ordinances of interest were introduced by Hinkley in regards to the construction of a Wal-mart and retail area in Belle Chasse. They included a moratorium on the construction of commercial property in parts of Districts 2, 3 and 4, changes to building regulations and codes, changes to zoning ordinances, and permits being approved directly by the council. A public meeting is scheduled for tonight, Jan. 18, 7 p.m. at the Belle Chasse Civic Auditorium to discuss issues related to the Wal-mart.
The deferred business will be on the agenda again at the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting, which will be Jan. 27, 1 p.m., at the temporary courthouse on F. Edward Hebert Blvd. in Belle Chasse.