OPELOUSAS - A state district judge ruled following a 27th Judicial District court hearing Friday that an Opelousas alderman should be immediately reinstated as the city’s mayor pro tem.
The decision by Judge Donald Hebert granted a preliminary injunction request in a lawsuit filed last month by Alderman Reggie Tatum that sought to overturn a June 14 decision by the Board of Alderman that replaced him as mayor pro tem with Alderman Julius Alsandor.
Hebert signed a temporary restraining order last week that blocked Tatum’s removal as mayor pro tem until a court hearing could be held in the matter.
In his ruling Friday, Hebert mainly found issues with a revised June 14 meeting agenda item which Hebert said lacked specific wording that might have alerted Tatum that a discussion of the appointed position would occur.
Hebert also ruled he found no evidence of “deceptive intent” in the wording of the agenda item and that the city was not obligated under the state’s open meetings law to publish a revised agenda 24 hours before the state of the June 14 meeting.
Hebert said Mayor Donald Cravins Sr., Alsandor and Aldermen Louis Butler Jr. and Jacqueline Martin, named as defendants in Tatum’s lawsuit, have 72 hours to file objections to his ruling.
Trial testimony indicated Tatum was recommended in January by Cravins to become mayor pro tem. A unanimous vote by the aldermen at the meeting followed, electing Tatum.
Tatum’s removal came after “yes” votes by Alsandor, Butler and Martin. Aldermen Blair Briggs, Joe Charles and Tatum abstained.
Following an opinion from city attorney Pride Doran, which said that votes to abstain should be considered “no” votes, Cravins cast the tie-breaking vote that removed Tatum.
Tatum testified Friday he was “blindsided” by a motion made by Alsandor on June 14 to remove him as mayor pro tem or that the item would even be discussed.
Discussion of the mayor pro tem item wasn’t specified on the revised agenda, which was emailed to him less than three hours before the start of the meeting, Tatum testified.
City Clerk Karen Frank testified that the revised agenda item stated, “discussion of the mayor’s board appointment.” She also testified that Cravins instructed her to place the item on the agenda and submit it to the aldermen.
Tatum testified that he would have not voted to accept the agenda amendment to discuss board appointments if he knew beforehand that it included discussion of the mayor pro tem position.
Alsandor, Butler and Martin all testified that they were told by Cravins at different times before the June 14 meeting that the mayor pro tem position would be a discussion item.
All three testified that Cravins did not ask them to vote for removing Tatum.
None of the three indicated in trial testimony why they voted against Tatum.
Cravins testified that he attempted to “reach out to Tatum” about what Cravins perceived as Tatum’s attitude about his role as alderman.
“I thought we could bury the hatchet and move forward. I got no response (from Tatum),” Cravins testified.
Tatum has been part of a three-man group investigating the Opelousas Housing Authority, whose appointments were made primarily by Cravins.