Mayor Barney Arceneaux and the majority of Gonzales’ city council are set to wage battle over this year’s budget and the sticking point appears to be the latter’s insistence on devoting $800,000 to an I-10 service road project/study. The battle is over and Gary Lacombe, Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin have lost. It’s time for these “road warriors” to concede defeat.
The project/study is dead in the water, even if they haven’t realized it yet. With each attempt to defend the project/study they appear more ridiculous, not that they seem to mind. They can’t provide the first detail with regard to the road project/study.
Is it a project or is it a study? The road warriors don’t seem to know.
“Our purpose is to do that study,” declared Terance Irvin on April 28. “The study could encourage the property owner to come forward and, maybe, he’d offer right of way.” (Emphasis added).
“Point of clarification; it’s a road project,” insisted Gary Lacombe at a May 29 special council meeting called by the road warriors.
At the next council meeting on June 9 Lacombe twice referred to “the road project study.” (Emphasis added). In a post-meeting interview he insisted “It’s a project; a project.”
Why bother with minor details?
On Monday Gary Lacombe told Ascension Parish Voters League that the $800,000 is intended to pay for engineering costs for his beloved I-10 service road. How did he arrive at the figure? He calculates the road would cost $10 million and take five years to build. Engineering costs commonly comprise 8% of such projects, he claimed, thus $800,000.
Finally, some justification for the expenditure is provided by the road warriors. Mayor Arceneaux and two other council members have tried to unearth this deeply guarded secret since April 28.
My attempt to further question Councilman Lacombe about the engineering costs was greeted only by his look of disdain. Fans of Seinfeld would recognize it as “the stink eye.”
Mayor Arceneaux is expected to introduce his General Fund and Capital Outlay budgets at the next council meeting on June 23, and it will not include funding for the project/study. The road warriors simply do not have the votes to do anything about it.
The best that they can hope for is to block passage of two budgets vital to the city’s operation. That would be disastrous for Gonzales and its citizens.
I know, they’ve got three votes and have uniformly comprised the majority on every vote over the last 17 months that wasn’t unanimous. The rules of this road have completely changed, though.
Mayor Arceneaux initially included $800,000 in the Capital Outlay budget under “Capital Road Project” and itemized as “I-10 service road.” There it was, in black and white, on the morning of March 20 at the city’s special budget meeting.
What wasn’t at the meeting; the road warriors. They didn’t bother to attend.
By the time his budget was introduced on April 14, Barney Arceneaux had deleted the road item from the Capital Outlay budget.
Two weeks later the road warriors amended the General Fund budget to decrease funding for Ascension Economic Development Corp from $100,000 to $25,000. They slashed police department, fire department, water rehabilitation and funding for a long-discussed dog park from Capital Outlay.
All that funding was transferred back to Capital Road Project for the road project/study.
Gonzales’ operating expenses, including salaries for all city employees, are paid from the General Fund budget. The road warriors could just have easily selected another Capital Outlay item from which to slash the $75,000 they cut from AEDC and not touched General Fund budget.
Barney Arceneaux vetoed both amended budgets on May 21 declaring that Gonzales can operate on half of last year’s budget for five months. The road warriors did not even seek to override the vetoes, conceding they have no hope of a fourth council vote.
What happens next?
Can Gonzales’ residents expect successive rounds of budget introductions followed by road warrior amendments and adoption which are then vetoed by the mayor? That could go on indefinitely.
Recent events, though, have imposed additional legal roadblocks (sorry) to the project/study.
On June 3 Gonzales Planning Commission rejected the project/study which Commission chair Frank Cagnolatti insisted should have come before the body initially. He relied upon Louisiana Revised Statute 33:109 which states that “No street…shall be constructed or authorized …until the locations, character, and extent thereof has been submitted to and approved by the commission.”
When the commission rejects such a street a 2/3 vote of the council is required to overrule the commission.
The road warriors do not have the votes.
In that June 3 meeting, Commissioner Ralph Delatte argued against the road project/study since it benefitted a single family. Terance Irvin’s family, or family companies, owned four tracts of land south of Hwy 30 within .3 miles of the route over which a service road would traverse.
The property is zoned industrial but has limited road access. S. Darla St borders its western boundary and that is all. The road warriors argue for the project/study as a means to spur economic development which would, necessarily, enhance nearby property values.
Ralph Delatte implied that Terance Irvin could face a conflict of interest that might preclude his voting on the road project/study. I’ll be more emphatic. Terance Irvin must recuse himself from any vote concerning the I-10 service road.
At the beginning of 2014, Ascension’s Assessor listed the owners of the four tracts in question (from north to south) as Melvin Irvin, Jr., Ascension Investment, LLC, Viewpoint Development & Construction, and Ascension Investment, II, LLC. The Irvin family owned significant interests in each entity and Terance Irvin’s father, Melvin, owned one tract outright.
The elder Irvin recently passed away. Unless his Councilman-son is excluded from inheritance by his father’s will, Terance Irvin will come into ownership of the northernmost tract of land in question.
That is a direct conflict of interest.
Assuming Terance Irvin does not ignore state law, he must recuse himself from the vote concerning the road project/study. The road warriors can muster only two votes, not even enough to amend the budgets and fund it.
They might still prevent adoption though. Budgets are adopted by city ordinance which require majority affirmative vote of the council membership.
Anyone remember the 2-1 Crawford Electrical vote debacle?
Zoning Commissioner Delatte was wrong when he claimed that an I-10 service road would benefit one family. SLC, LLC purchased a 20% interest in the 19-acre tract owned by Melvin Irvin, Jr. on January 17 for $40,000. Viewpoint Development sold its 30% interest in another 19-acre tract to SLC, LLC for $160,000 on the same day.
Note the discrepancy in sales price.
SLC, LLC is owned by Grady Melancon. Another Melancon-owned company, SLC, Inc., already owned the remaining 70% of the Viewpoint tract. Melancon is also a member of Ascension Development, II, LLC which owns a third of the four tracts at issue.
That’s the same Grady Melancon who appeared at the April 28 Council meeting to demand payment of attorney fees from the City of Gonzales to another Melancon- owned company, Quality Design. Its lawyer, Scott Frazier, admitted that no legal obligation bound the city to do so.
Terance Irvin recused himself from the vote when it was revealed that SLC, LLC had paid off a Viewpoint Development debt owed to Whitney Bank. Whitney Bank had already initiated seizure of Viewpoint’s property. Now, Viewpoint owes SLC, LLC over $375,000. SLC, LLC holds the mortgage on another 11.5-acre located just across Hwy 30 from the four tracts at issue.
The road warriors jumped through every available hoop to ensure that a second vote took place and Quality Design’s attorney fees would be paid. Terance Irvin changed his mind and voted the second time around.
It was disgraceful.
Terance Irvin was conflicted then. A vote to fund an I-10 service road presents a more direct conflict of interest to him and he must recuse himself.
So, gentlemen, don’t you see that it’s over? Can’t you admit that the I-10 service road project/study is a non-starter? You don’t even have the votes to amend Barney Arceneaux’s next budget.
Let’s adopt the budget and move on.