Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Re-cap of St. Mary Parish Council Meeting 5/28

St. Mary Parish Council
By: Howard J. Castay, Jr.

An independent audit of the St. Mary Parish Council’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget, shows the Parish Council began 2008 with an extra $12.9 million in its governmental funds budget, and $1.2 million in its general funds budget, both available for the council to spend as it deems necessary.

Guy Pitts of the Morgan City based Pitts and Matt firm of public accountants, presented the review Wednesday, during the May 28 St. Mary Parish Council Meeting.

He said the council maintains 42 governmental funds, which include earmarks for items such as road construction and maintenance, sanitation and capital improvement.

“The council’s total operating revenues for the year 2007 was approximately $31 million and their total expenditures were $28.2 million,” Pitts said.

The local government originally ended 2007 with $2.8 million in its general fund, but transferred $1.6 million – a state grant, to Hospital Service District No. 1, for their construction of the new Franklin Foundation Hospital.

Pitts said the biggest contributor to the 2007 increase in its fund balance, was due to the parish collection of $402,000 more in ad valorem or property taxes.

On another topic, he said the parish council also completed some major projects in 2007 including the $4.5 million Atchafalaya At Idlewild golf course, clubhouse and parking area and $1 million in various improvements to the airport.

In another matter, Pitts pointed to two pitfalls in the government’s budget, one controlled, the other needing improvement.

He said the council is “current” on its debt service on the parish’s landfill, which isn’t projected to close until the year 2041. “You basically have a $3.9 million hole here, but you have 33 years to cover it,” Pitts said.

However, he said the parish is losing an annual $300,000, in operating and maintain the jail, due to having to pay prisoners’ medical bills.

“You’re getting $7 per prisoner from the State, but you’re paying about $14,” he said.

The parish ended 2007 with a $177,996 deficit in operating and maintaining the jail.

In other matters, Pitts said during the course of the audit, it was noted that, “…several of the parish’s individual funds needed budget amendments that were not made.”

State Statute, the St. Mary Parish Charter and the St. Mary Parish budget ordinance require that budgets be amended. Failure to do so prevents the “…governmental body from effectively curtailing or expanding projects and or their services with funds that are actually available.”

“Although the parish makes accruals for payables and receivables at the year end, adjustments are not made in the interim period,” Pitts said. “When significant differences exist between payables and receivables from year to year, the amount of funds that appear to be available or costs that appear to have been incurred, can be distorted.”

Pitts recommends that the Council “fine tune” its ongoing budget monitoring program, in order to “periodically consider accruals for major revenues and expenditures.”

It should be noted that the 2007 Fiscal Year Budget was the last year of a previous four-term Parish Council. In 2008, there are 6 new members and 5 returning incumbents.

The new Council includes: Rev Craig Matthews, District 1, Charles “Butch” Middleton, District 2, David Hanagriff, District 3, Glen Hidalgo, District 4, Ken Singleton, District 5, and Logan Fromenthal, District 6.

The returning members from the 2007 Council are: Kevin Voisin, District 7, Charles “Chuck” Walters, District 8, Albert Foulcard, District 9, Steve Bierhorst, District 10, and Gary Duhon, District 11.

In other business during the Wednesday meeting, the Council appointed a committee to study the St. Mary Parish Home Rule Charter for possible changes, any of which would have to be presented before voters in parish wide election, in order to gain approval.

The idea for the committee surfaced last month when Parish Councilman Glen Hidalgo suggested the council appoint the group to amend the parish charter to propose an amendment that would require the parish to hold public hearings before making fiscal decisions over $10,000.

Currently, the St. Mary Parish Council can spend money without gaining public approval.

Hidalgo cited a past decision by the council to hire former State Rep. Jack Smith as their new capitol liaison with an initial salary of $50,000.

Hidalgo said previously, “It’s OK to give a recreation department $2,000 or $3,000 here and there, but to offer this job position at $50,000, to be paid for with public money, without the public input, is wrong. Taxpayers include the elderly, and many others who are on fixed incomes.”

“It’s time to look at bringing the charter up from 1983 to 2008 standards,” Hidalgo said.

The members of the Charter Review Committee are: former parish president Bill Cefalu of Morgan City nominated by Councilman at-large Gary Duhon. Also serving will be Jeff Beverly, nominated by Butch Middleton of Franklin; Jessie Boudreaux (by Craig Mathews of Four Corners); Jim Supple (by David Hanagriff of Centerville); Stan Robinson (by Glen Hidalgo of Bayou Vista); James Vidos (by Ken Singleton of Patterson); Stan Beaubouef (by Logan Fromenthal of Morgan City); Phelo Joe Keller (by Steve Bierhorst of Patterson); Sostenes Ruiz II (by Kevin Voisin of Morgan City); Lou Tamporello (by Chuck Walters of Amelia); and Willie Rack (by Albert Foulcard of Franklin).

Council Chairman Bierhorst said a set of guidelines is being drafted and there will be no time limit on the review.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Houma Fireman gets Job Back

Saying they could not determine “one way or another” as to whether a terminated fireman received permission to be late for work due to a family emergency, the Houma Municipal Police and Fire Civil Service Board voted 4-1 on May 26, to reinstate the city employee and to pay him 10 months worth of back-pay.

The board voted to re-hire 48 year old Fire Equipment Officer Michael Jones, a 27 year veteran employee, after former Parish President Don Schwab fired him last summer, for habitual tardiness, failure to appear at a reprimand hearing, and for not receiving proper permission to be late for work on June 30, 2007, due to a family emergency. The termination was at the recommendation of Fire Chief Daniel Scott and others, including District Fire Chief Jerry LaBouve.

However, four members of the civil service board couldn’t see “proof that they did or not give Jones the proper permission, so they voted on May 27 during a hearing on the matter, to give him his job back, with back-pay. Those members voting in favor were: Calvin Jones, Houma Fire Department Capt Heyward Simms, Houma Police Lt. John Chapman, and member Doug Levron.

Voting against the idea was retired policeman and Board Member Clay Naquin, who thought the city had proved its argument against Jones.

Board Member Calvin Jones, reviewing fire department paper work on the issue said, “…there is no indication of a no or a yes as to whether or not Michael Jones got permission from his supervisor for the emergency leave.”

Board Member Doug Levron, again reviewing fire department inter-office memorandums, said “No one documented anywhere that Mr. Jones was out of line.”

Fire Department Capt Heyward Simms said, ‘By reviewing these documents, I can’t tell whether permission was given or not given.”

Houma Fire Chief Daniel Scott was disgruntled after the meeting.

“This is very inappropriate. They ignored our ability to disciple. They ignored our decision to discipline,” Scott said, adding that the board placed themselves “in our shoes” in making their decision about Jones.

Board Member Clay Naquin said he believed that Michael Jones recalling of what happened the morning of June 30 was not true. “I do not believe it all took place like that,” Naquin said.

Michael Jones made only one statement after the hearing, “I’m glad this is over.’
Jones had not worked as a fireman since last summer. He is a fire-department truck driver.

“On the morning of June 30, I received a call from daughter at about 6:10 in the morning saying she was in a very intense situation and I needed to get to her…it involved the police and a couple of other things…she called me and said her car keys were missing and someone was threatening to kill her,” Jones said during the hearing.
“When you get a call like that, and you’ve got children, the first thing is to react because you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do…I was talking to her on one phone, and calling District Fire Chief Jerry LaBouve on the other,” he said.

“In short, he told me, okay Mike, you go do what you have to do,” he said.

“I told him I will be back at work as soon as this is over…and that was before 1:30 or so,” Jones said.

“Had he told me know, I would not have gone,” Jones said.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bunk Johnson Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Iberia celebrates annual awards ceremony

By Robert R. Jones III

The Bunk Johnson Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Iberia held its annual awards ceremony, honoring members of the greater Bayou Teche community for their accomplishments in their respective fields.

On hand was the Honorable Charles Porter, an original founding member of the festival, which celebrates the life and artistic legacy of Willie Gary "Bunk" Johnson (1879 - 1949), a prominent early New Orleans jazz trumpet player the early 20th century who enjoyed a revived career in the 1940s.

Legend says after he failed to appear for a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade job in 1915, he learned the krewe members intended to do him bodily harm, and so he fled, touring with shows and then settling in New Iberia.

In 1931 he lost his trumpet and front teeth when a violent fight broke out at a dance in Rayne, Louisiana, putting an end to his playing. He thereafter worked in manual labor, occasionally giving music lessons on the side when he could.

In 1938 and 1939, book researchers interviewed several prominent musicians of the time, including Louis Armstrong, who spoke very highly of Johnson.

The writers tracked down Johnson and helped to raise money to fit the musician with a set of dentures by Sidney Bechet's dentist brother, Leonard as well as a new trumpet.

In 1942, Johnson began recording again and played in New Orleans, San Francisco, Boston, and New York City until he suffered a stroke in late 1948 and died in New Iberia the following year.

The celebration of Johnson’s life, as well as the 11 honorees, was kicked off with an invocation from the Reverend Ronald Broussard.

“Lord, lift the spirit of Bunk Johnson and through his spirit, bless those who share their gifts with the community,” he prayed, referring to the honorees. “Bless these individuals in the name of Jesus our Lord.”

Judge Porter also thanked all those in attendance and expressed pride in the festival’s history as well as high hopes for the future of the festival.

“Years ago, we began a warm and intimate event with Harold Drobb and Matthew Polk,” he said. “They acted as lecturers for the first award program because they knew Bunk Johnson. Harold not only started the festival but donated a collection of Bunk Johnson memorabilia he collected over 45 years of his life. We will be here as long as we can and flourish with your support.”

The following were 2008 award recipients by category:

• Daniel E Harper, Ambassador Award
• Adam Richard, Visual Arts Award
• Bernadette Derouen, Humanitarian Award
• Harvey Charpentier, Band Director Award
• The Charles Family, Minister of Music award
• Alton “T.K.” Hulin, Hall of Fame Award
• Wayne Peltier, Culinary Arts Award
• Iris Alexander, Culinary Arts Award
• Rita Williams, Culinary Arts Award
• John Wilson, Zydeco Award
• Dianne Freeman, Literary Award

After receiving her award, Freeman paid tribute to all who were honored Wednesday night.

“I was honored here with a lot of great people tonight,” she said. “Many said they did not like to speak (in public), but they speak loudly through they great jobs they do (for the community.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

St. Mary Council struggles to come to agreement over parish charter committee

By Robert R. Jones III

The St. Mary Parish Council struggled for about an hour to agree on the terms of the formation of a special committee suggested by Glen Hidalgo to review and suggest changes to the parish charter.

The move came after Hidalgo said he had a problem with parish government spending more than $10,000 on any proposal without public input at the last regular meeting two weeks ago, leading to heated discussion Wednesday night.

Issues among the council members and audience ranged from the makeup of the proposed committee to how groundwork for the group would be laid out before it was formed, resulting in Councilman Chuck Walters voting no to the measure.

After Hidalgo moved to allow either a councilman or a person chosen by the councilman from their geographic district to sit on the 11-member committee, Councilman Kevin Voisin suggested all the councilmen have names of committee members at the next meeting to meet the July 15 deadline for the November ballot.

The suggestion immediately garnered opposition, as other councilmen said they did not wish to rush the issue and end up with an unsuccessful result.

“This is an (important) issue and some ordinances require a lot of research and debate,” said Councilman Gary Duhon. “If we try to rush and do this in 45 days, we might as well not do it at all.”

Walters said he agreed in principal to the move, but he would not support the measure or appoint a committee member until groundwork was laid out for the new group.

“We need a set of guidelines of exactly what we want done before we make a motion,” he said with the support of Councilman Rev. Craig Mathews. “There can’t be 11 guys just throwing out suggestions. We need something in writing and I want to see what these people will be charged to do.”

Unlike Walters, Matthews did support the measure when it came to a vote, though he agreed guidelines should be drawn out in advance.

Hidalgo said something needed to be done because most of the council members had problems with the charter, which has not been adjusted since 1983. he added members could be named next month to address the problems in committee.

Councilman David Hanagriff agreed, saying if Walters had no problems, his appointee could help mediate other problems.

“We should be able to vote on it,” he said.

Walters replied he did have problems with the charter, but the committee needed guidelines before it would be effective and formal.

Councilman Steve Bierhorst said he wanted the committee set up so all the problems could be addressed at once on one ballot.

“Don’t piecemeal it,” he said. “I have no problem starting the committee, but I don’t want to rush it.”

Councilman Logan Fromenthal agreed the issue should be taken up, adding nothing could be put to a vote without approval by the council.

“I thing we agree the charter should be reviewed,” he said. “We should start now, and the committee would have to come through the council to get on the ballot. We are looking to the experienced councilmen for guidance, but I agree with Hidalgo this needs to be reviewed, though it does not have to be on the November ballot if it is not done properly by then.”

The council, except Walters, eventually agreed a person from each district would be appointed by a councilman to sit on the committee and advise the board on charter matters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jeanerette residents demand right to ride horses in town

By Robert R. Jones III

The Jeanerette Board of Aldermen agreed to take up the issue of the legality of riding horses in the city limits at the next board meeting in June after angry Jeanerette residents demanded to have a city ordinance amended.

Currently, the city ordinance says horses can only be rode in town during parades due to safety concerns. However, residents say they have no place to ride in the country either, because farmers do not want them on their lands.

Discussion on the matter became heated between Mayor Arthur Verret and agitated members of the audience, who said they felt their concerns were ignored after they could not get the issue put on the agenda for the monthly regular meeting on Monday, May 12.

When given a chance to speak near the end of the meeting, Derrick Wells, representing a group of riders filling the meeting room, said horses were part of the community’s culture and heritage, and residents were left with nowhere to go and do what they love to, without breaking the law.

“We want an explanation of why we can’t ride horses,” he said. “We want an answer and we’ve never been given one.”

When Verret said the issue was not on the agenda, agitated members of the audience shouted they came to the mayor for an answer three times, but were never given an answer and wanted the ordinance amended.

Board Attorney Ray Allain then explained the action could only be taken at the next meeting after a member of the board of aldermen made a motion to change the ordinance.

“You have run us out of the city, and we can’t go in the country because we can’t ride on farmland,” Wells said. “All of us grew up on horses and we all have horses, and we are just looking for a safe place to ride once or twice a week.”

Other members of the audience said they would accept limitations on where they could ride and avoid high traffic areas such as Main Street, (La. 182).
The board then agreed to put the matter on the agenda at the next meeting.

In other business, the board agreed to change the name of Monnot Street to Rosa Parks at the request of neighbors in the area, all of whom signed a petition to have the change put into effect.

Parks started the civil rights movement in the U.S. by being arrested after she refused to give her seat on a city bus to a white passenger.

Speaking on the matter was Cleveland Jones of the Magnificent Men’s Civic and Social Club.

“We want to honor (Rosa Parks) by the change,” he said. “The area is right by the park in a black district, and we want the kids of the next generation to see the name and know what people have sacrificed for them.”

Friday, May 9, 2008


by: Howard J. Castay, Jr.

The St. Mary Parish School Board approved the following administrative appointments and changes on Thursday, May 8:

Principal, Patterson High School - Rachel Wilson

Principal, B.E. Boudreaux Middle School - Naomi Harding

Assistant Principal, B.E. Boudreaux Middle School - Ronnie Louis

Principal, Hattie Watts - Niki Fryou

Assistant Principal, West St. Mary High - Evangeline Butler

Assistant Principal, Hattie Watts - Charles Foulcard

Assistant Principal, Franklin Sr. High School - Terry Duchane

Assistant Principal, Morgan City High School - Robbi Gouaux

Coordinator of Special Instructional Services - Debra McClarity

Compliance Officer - Mike Ortiz