OPELOUSAS — The St. Landry Parish Council voted in a special meeting Wednesday night to hire an attorney to represent it in the federal lawsuit filed against parish government by the developers of a proposed addiction center.
Following a lengthy closed session in which the council discussed legal options in the lawsuit filed by Acadiana Addiction Center, LLC, the council rejected in a 6-5 vote a Jerry Red Jr. motion to allow Acadiana Addiction to proceed with construction of a 52-bed facility in a residential area south of Sunset.
Residents in the area have been vocal in their opposition to the proposed center.
Another motion, to hire attorney James Gibson to represent the council in the lawsuit, passed by a 6-5 vote.
Council member Ronald Buschel, who served as chairman at the meeting, broke the 5-5 tied votes on each motion.
Gibson will be retained at a rate of $300 per hour with a $7,000 cap.
The council also voted unanimously to call another special meeting at 5:30 p.m. April 1 to discuss the lawsuit further with Gibson.
Acadiana Addiction alleges in its lawsuit that the council in August passed an ordinance with the purpose of preventing the facility from operating in the Choctaw Estates residential area.
The ordinance prohibits granting an occupational license for mental health centers, substance abuse centers, detoxification centers or related facilities unless 75 percent of the landowners living within 1,000 feet of the facility provide their consent.
The lawsuit alleges the ordinance discriminates against disabled patients the treatment facility intends to serve, and violates the Fair Housing Act.
During the public discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, council member Wayne Ardoin referred to a letter by former council attorney Lance Pitre, who wrote that attorneys for Acadiana Addiction met in November with him, parish president Bill Fontenot and several others.
Pitre noted the facility’s lawyers expressed concerns over the constitutionality of the ordinance.
He wrote that in January he and Acadiana Addiction attorney Charles Landry discussed a proposed meeting with Choctaw Estates residents in order “to bring the parties together.”
The meeting never occurred, Pitre wrote, because he resigned as council attorney in order to accept another position with the District Attorney’s Office.
Ardoin criticized Fontenot for not informing the council about the proposed meeting and for issuing a permit for Acadiana Addiction Center to operate just days before the council passed the ordinance.
Ardoin said that when he questioned Fontenot about the discussions with Acadiana Addiction representatives, the parish president told him the discussions were just “lawyer talk.”
Another permit, allowing for the facility to start construction on a 52-bed addition, was issued by the parish on Feb. 13, Ardoin said.
Fontenot, Ardoin said, failed to notify the council of both permits.
Permits are a matter of public record, Fontenot said, adding that Ardoin is “trying to cover your vote” on the August ordinance by “throwing me under the bus.”