Denham Springs — Within a half hour of being sworn in Tuesday evening, one Denham Springs city councilman began critiquing his predecessors.
Recently elected Councilman Robert Poole, who previously served on the council between 2002 and 2006, asked the city attorney to investigate a way to curtail the council’s power during lame-duck sessions, specifically referencing a controversial rezoning ordinance passed in November after the general election.
The previous council’s split decision cleared the way for the construction of a 272-unit apartment complex, amid blowback from residents and other parish leaders. As Poole noted, two of the three council members who voted in favor of the rezoning did not seek re-election. Poole said the vote should have been left to the new council. When the issue was brought to vote, Jeff Wesley, who had been elected to the council but not yet taken office, told the council “there seem to be a lot more questions than answers” in the matter.
“That was a very high-impact rezoning issue,” Poole said. “The impact of that decision has been placed on this council.”
He has asked City Attorney Paeton Burkett to research the legal precedent for a new city ordinance that would require a unanimous vote before putting a rezoning ordinance on a November or December council agenda during election years. The council unanimously voted to allow Burkett to explore Poole’s suggestion.
However, Councilwoman Lori Lamm-Williams, the lone supporter of the November rezoning to return to the council, voiced concern about Poole’s proposal.
“I’m worried abut it potentially stopping progress in election time,” she said.
“When we’re elected, we’re elected for 48 months. ... I’m not going to do anything differently or vote any differently in the last two months,” nor did previous councilmen, she continued.
Councilman Rene Delahoussaye rhetorically asked why the council should limit the provision to zoning issues and whether they should think about expanding the proposal to October or earlier when candidates are campaigning. He worried the city may miss an opportunity, such as a chance to lure a large company to the city, due to the proposed change.
Returning Councilman Chris Davis, who voted against the rezoning in November, saw merit to both sides, but wants to review Burkett’s findings after she has the chance to investigate. Poole originally asked the attorney to draft a new ordinance, but Davis convinced the council to discuss her results before committing anything into writing.
In other news, Lamm-Williams was elected to the position of mayor pro-tempore, should newly elected Mayor Gerard Landry ever be unable to fulfill his role.
Following an executive session, the council also voted to put a $5,000 cap on attorney fees concerning the ongoing civil service case involving allegations of a drug scandal cover-up by the city police chief and captain. The limit will apply only to work begun after the vote was held.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.