Courthouse ordinance deferredNov 29th, 2010 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: news
Councilman Don Beshel deferred his ordinance to immediately rebuild the courthouse in Pointe-a-la-Hache at last week’s council meeting. However, he said the matter will be voted upon at the next meeting on Dec. 9.
The heart of the issue was not so much the rebuilding of the courthouse, but instead the parish seat, currently located at Pointe-a-la-Hache. An attorney general opinion in 2004 stated that a parish courthouse should be at the parish seat, and recommended the rebuilding of the Plaquemines courthouse at the current seat.
But the council was split.
Members from northern districts cited population shifts and more protection from future storms as legitimate reasons for a relocation to Belle Chasse. They also pleaded for a fourth vote of the people to be put on a future ballot. The vote would be an up-or-down selection to a specific location and will require two-thirds majority.
District 4 Representative, Dr. Stuart Guey Jr., reminded the assembly that while the courthouse location has been voted on in the past, it has been eight years since then, and issues have changed.
Keith Hinkley, Council District 2, recommended taking a step back and reassessing the make-up of the parish.
“We can address the needs of the whole parish with satellite offices,” Hinkley said. He is currently working with a committee exploring which services satellite offices throughout the parish need.
Several members of Moving Plaquemines Forward, a civic organization who at this time are focusing on five specific parish issues, including the courthouse/parish seat issue, were present.
Norris Babin of Moving Plaquemines Forward, pointed to history.
“In 1890, Point-a-la-Hache had buildings on both sides of the road,” he said. “It was the largest part of Plaquemines, population-wise.”
Bill Bubrig, Chairman of Moving Plaquemines Forward, said group members each felt differently about where the courthouse should be located, but all agreed it should be voted on again. Bubrig urged the council to let the citizens decide.
“There’s no rush to judgment. It would take away the right of the newly elected council… Why now, at the ninth hour?” he added.
The “ninth hour” refers to Chairman Beshel’s limited time remaining as a councilman, which will end at the beginning of 2011.
Councilman Burghart Turner, District 6, took offense.
“If we didn’t (address this issue) we would be taking away the right of currently sitting council members,” Turner said. “Why not now? It’s justified.”
Other councilmembers had more cynical comments.
Councilwoman Lynda Banta, District 8, said she would “hang (her) head” in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. because people would laugh about Plaquemines still lacking a courthouse. Thus she supports beginning construction on a new courthouse as soon as possible, and challenged those who want to move the location from Point-a-la-Hache because of natural disasters.
“Hurricane Katrina was an act of God, and Belle Chasse was saved,” Banta said. “What if, God forbid, Belle Chasse was hit and Venice was saved?”
Audience members also came to the defense for Pointe-a-la-Hache.
“An argument people use is Katrina,” said Rev. Tyron Edwards, a residents of the Eastbank. “Katrina didn’t do anything to the courthouse. It was fine. Just look at how much was actually torn down.”
“Most people think the Eastbank is not part of the parish,” Edwards continued. He described the Eastbank as “the bastard child of Plaquemines Parish.”
Beshel later expressed a similar feeling.
“We’re not a part of the parish to some people,” Beshel said. “Just give us our 45 percent (mineral) royalty and we’ll go about our business.”
But it was neither side for Councilman Jay Friedman, District 7.
“I never agreed with putting the courthouse on the Eastbank,” Friedman said. “I supported going ahead with a referendum to the people. Unfortunately, it takes a two-thirds vote of Plaquemines Parish to pass anything.”
He said the courthouse would have been built already if it weren’t for the special interests of a few, and this issue is going to be a continuing fight.
“We’ve got six weeks, left,” said Friedman, who will end his second term in December. “(President Billy Nungesser) is not going to act if he doesn’t want to, just like everything else. This is a moot issue. It’s up to the next council.”
An incoming member of the next council was present and vocal about the issue.
P.V. Griffin, the incoming District 1 councilman, said he was against another referendum on the ballot because three times is enough.
Griffin then pointed out a liability that would exist if prisoners needed to be transported from the Eastbank to Belle Chasse.
“I think there’s a misconception about who occupies the courthouse,” Griffin said. “If you look back historically, it’s the prisoners.”
Beshel said the ordinance will be taken up again.
“We will move forward on this issue, not this time, but next time.”