With just over a month to spare SaveGonzales wrapped up its effort to recall two Gonzales councilmen, Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel. The group needed to convince 2,145 registered voters to affix their signatures to the recall petitions before 180 days elapsed from filing of those petitions, April 23. Moments ago, SaveGonzales’ Chairman Chuck LeBlanc turned in over 2,700 signatures to recall Gary Lacombe to Ascension Registrar of Voters Robert Poche. The petition for Vessel’s recall will be turned in tomorrow.
“We have the numbers,” said an unusually subdued Chuck LeBlanc, the rigors of an arduous recall campaign etched in the furrows of his brow. “Now it’s up to Mr. Poche and his capable staff to certify 2,145 signatures and then the governor must proclaim the recall elections.”
SaveGonzales notified the Registrar last week that the petitions would be filed in keeping with Louisiana’s election code. Now, Robert Poche has fifteen working days in which to certify the requisite number of signatures.
“We made the decision to push as hard as we could and get as many signatures as week could and still file the petitions in time to allow for the December 6 election date,” LeBlanc explained. “Lacombe has been provided copies of both recall petitions but Vessel has not returned my calls or responded to the certified letter I sent him.”
Rumor has it (neither will speak to The Creole) that Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel have taken to the streets of Gonzales in the attempt to convince petition signatories to withdraw their names, which they may do until certification by the registrar. Any voter wishing to add his name to the petition(s) may also do so within the same period.
LeBlanc provided the recall petitions to Gary Lacombe for copying on Thursday at Office Depot in Gonzales. Lacombe and Vessel refused to accept copies of the petitions after a Wednesday special council meeting they had called in order to authorize payment of their lawyer’s fees in the zoning lawsuit filed against the city by Judge Alvin Turner, Jr.
Lacombe insisted that he be provided the petition against Timothy Vessel who did not meet LeBlanc on Thursday. He left Office Depot satisfied while refusing to respond to any number of questions put to him by The Creole.
To make it onto that December 6 ballot the governor must issue a proclamation ordering the election “on or before the forty-sixth day prior to the election” according to Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1300.7. The governor has 15 days in which to issue that proclamation from the day he receives the certified petition(s) from Registrar Poche.
So long as the gubernatorial proclamation is made by October 21 the recall elections can be scheduled for December 6.
“We all could use a break to recharge the batteries,” SaveGonzales’ chairman/firebrand said Tuesday morning. “Come election time, there’s going to be an awful lot more to do. We have to maintain all the momentum we have because the job isn’t finished…not until Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel no longer occupy seats on Gonzales’ city council.”
LeBlanc’s sustained fury fuelled the recall efforts that he admits appeared to have stalled a few months into the campaign.
“Yes, there was a brief time when it looked like the recall was on its last legs. We have a core group of very committed citizen-volunteers who understood from the outset our mission had to be accomplished,” he remembered. “The effort took a lot out of every one of us. Fortunately, every time SaveGonzales’ momentum dwindled, Lacombe and Vessel…and Councilman Terance Irvin, would cast another outrageous vote.”
The votes to which Chuck LeBlanc referred decreased police funding from Mayor Barney Arceneaux’s proposed budgets. Three times Arceneaux proposed budgets; three times they formed a 3-2 majority to adopt amended versions. The latest vote occurred on September 8 and Mayor Arceneaux has ten days to veto same.
“Those three councilmen also voted several times to deny legitimate zoning requests and turn down business investment in the city,” added SaveGonzales’ Neal Bourque. “Those votes caused the city to be sued on a couple of occasions. These three councilmen require their own lawyer who charges ten times more than the lawyer for the city. The tax payers are footing that bill.”
If Chuck LeBlanc’s passion propelled SaveGonzales’ recall journey, it is Bourque who steered the course.
“Chuck and I are part of this team and nothing more,” the circumspect Neal Bourque insisted. “There are too many members to mention here but, to a man, they gave their time an effort to make these recalls happen. And don’t forget about the 2,700 plus residents who had the courage to sign the petitions. We want to thank each of them.”
Neal Bourque, though, is not prone to nostalgia and his attention immediately turned to the next thing to be done. His unease at turning over the petitions to the registrar of voters is palpable. While confident of recall certification, Bourque cannot manage, or micromanage, the process. It is in Robert Poche’s (and then the governor’s) hands.
“We fully expect the governor to issue the proclamation to set recall elections for December 6. We are ready to campaign for the recall of Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel as soon as that proclamation is issued,” Bourque assured.
Assuming one, or both, of the targets are in fact recalled in December, the mayor and remaining council members must “within twenty days appoint a person to fill the vacancy” according to RS 18:602. Since the unexpired term(s) of the recalled council member(s) exceeds one year “the governing authority (mayor and council) … within twenty days, shall issue a proclamation ordering a special election to fill the vacancy…In selecting the dates for such special elections, the governing authority may choose a gubernatorial or congressional election date, if such date is available within a year of the occurrence of the vacancy.”
If a vacancy occurs it will happen on December 6.
Louisiana’s next gubernatorial election is scheduled for 2015; October 24 for the primary and November 21 for the general election. Thus, should a special election be needed to fill a Gonzales council seat vacancy, such election could be set for the 2015 gubernatorial election date.