Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux and the Gonzales City Council took up numerous agenda items which have been the subject of much public interest recently on Monday, September 23, at City Hall. The mood was rather subdued and businesslike as item after item were considered and then acted upon by the body until the very end of the agenda when a near shouting match broke out between Mayor Barney Arceneaux and Councilman Timothy Vessel.
As Public Works Director Alvin Broussard finished his report, Councilman Vessel asked him for an “update on the sewer problem behind Phillippe Park (an industrial park off of Hwy. 30).” Vessel claims to have received a call from “a concerned citizen about raw sewage backing up in a ditch” there. He was informed that the problem had been corrected, but he already knew that to be the case.
“What did we do with the hazardous residue after it was removed?” Vessel asked Alvin Broussard. “It’s a health hazard.”
Mayor Arceneaux, sensing that the Councilman “was on one of his tangents,” attempted to bring order to the proceeding, but Vessel would not be deterred.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Vessel demanded. “Let me finish. I called Mr. Broussard about this problem on Monday last week, and he told me that you wouldn’t let me talk to them,” he bellowed at the Mayor.
He further claimed that neither Broussard nor Gonzales Building Official Jerry Self will speak to him because Mayor Arceneaux has directed them so. He attempted to have Broussard accompany him to Phillippe Park to view the raw sewage, but his request was refused. That was on Monday, September 16. The following day Vessel contacted WBRZ News and made the same claims.
Alvin Broussard said that he and Jerry Self asked Councilman Vessel to identify the problem near Phillippe Park but Vessel refused.
“I have to clear it with the Mayor before I leave City Hall like that, and that is what I told Councilman Vessel,” Broussard said. “He called me last Monday and wanted me to ride with him to the site. He said he would call back but never did. He would not even tell me what the problem was or where it was located. WBRZ crews came to City Hall before I even knew what the Councilman was talking about. Once we were informed of the raw sewage clogging the ditch we immediately addressed it.”
Broussard added that, had Councilman Vessel simply called in a work order, the Department of Public Works would have acted immediately as well. But there was no appeasing Councilman Vessel.
“Don’t sit here and play games,” Mayor Arceneaux told him. “All you had to do was give DPW an opportunity to fix the problem, but instead you want to call Channel 2.”
“You need to get out and do your job,” Vessel roared back.
After the meeting a frustrated Timothy Vessel said “Every time I talk to the Mayor he cusses me out. Now he’s told his people not to talk to me, but when I get a call from a citizen I’m going to take action to fix that citizen’s issues. That’s my job as councilman,” he concluded while expressing no regret that he had called the media to air this grievance.
“It’s time he understands his position as a legislator,” Mayor Arceneaux said of the Councilman. “Tim knows he can call me or Alvin Broussard for something like this or simply call in a work order. In fact, as I understand it, Alvin did speak to him and sought the relevant information but was refused by Vessel. Alvin expected him to call back, but he never did. The next thing we know, WBRZ calls on Wednesday morning. If he only wanted the sewage problem remedied why didn’t he just call back?” Arceneaux wondered, hinting at some more sinister motive.
Prior to the Vessel-Arceneaux imbroglio the meeting had been almost yawn-inducing. Some expected fireworks because the fate of the Merritt P. and Ruth Walker Evans Estate’s rezoning application was up for a final vote. It has been the subject of numerous Council, as well as Planning Commission, meetings. It has been the cause of much controversy and mutual recrimination between Estate representatives and those who resist rezoning.
The Council, without discussion, adopted an ordinance rezoning the property subject to four conditions. The applicants must dedicate five acres for park(s), a 50 ft. right of way must be dedicated for future expansion of Hwy. 44, ¼- acre must be dedicated for intersection improvements at Hwy. 44 and Hwy. 941, and land sufficient for a regional sewer lift station must be dedicated.
The remaining agenda items concerned matters for discussion by the Council without a vote.
City Engineer Jackie Bauman presented the plans for a series of roundabout intersections envisioned to replace Hwy. 30’s current traffic signals. The Council discussed a resolution to authorize Mayor Arceneaux “to sign and execute all Documents Relating” to the project.
“It is extremely exciting because it is 100% federally funded,” Bauman said. “There will be a public meeting at Cabela’s conference room on October 21 between 4-7 pm to discuss the project. Cabela’s offered its meeting room because it is behind the project.”
The Council will soon consider amending ordinances governing “Peddlers, Solicitors and Itinerant Vendors” who sell their wares door to door.
“We’ve fought against allowing them to operate in the city for a long time but it appears that we may risk violating the U. S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause,” explained City Clerk Clay Stafford. “We have to acquiesce but we will limit the activity to between 9 am-6 pm. Also, if a citizen posts a “No Solicitation” sign it will prevent these sales calls and a homeowner’s association may choose to prohibit the activity in entire neighborhoods.”
Stafford also told the Council that Gonzales may face a one-time $35,000 expenditure necessitated by St. James Youth Center’s closing.
“The youth center used to house our juveniles facing felony charges,” he explained “and since it closed we pay Assumption Parish $150/day to do so. The parish is expected to pass a millage to pay the expenses parish-wide but has not done so as yet. That $35,000 should last us the rest of the year.”