ST. FRANCISVILLE — They sparred with Parish President Kevin Couhig, with members of the audience and among themselves as the first West Feliciana Parish Council seated under the parish’s Home Rule Charter convened for the last time. A new council will be seated Jan. 11.
Almost from the outset of Monday’s meeting, the tone was contentious. Councilman John Kean’s attempt to add an agenda item to review parish financial information was shot down for failure to receive a unanimous vote, with Mel Percy voting to keep the item from being added.
The most combative discussion involved payment by the parish of an outstanding legal bill to the firm Phelps Dunbar for appeal work in the lawsuit by the Lambert Gravel Co. against the parish.
Couhig has maintained he will not authorize payment of the legal fees for the appeal, which total more than $46,000 so far. To date, the parish has spent more than $720,000 defending the lawsuit. Couhig said because the council did not authorize the payment with an ordinance, he will not authorize payment. A string of emails and other correspondence between Couhig and the law firm confirm that he warned attorney Dennis Blount he would not authorize payment of the bill because the council had not authorized payment via the ordinance process.
However, council Chairwoman Heather Howle contended there is $30,000 in the parish’s legal budget account, and that money should go toward the bill.
“I’m not paying the bills,” Couhig said after the meeting. “I also told the council I would veto any ordinance they passed, and they didn’t have the (two) votes necessary to override my veto.”
Earlier, during the public hearing phase, a proposed ordinance introduced at the Dec. 14 meeting and reworked by Lea Williams was reintroduced. The ordinance allocates $80,000 from the parish’s Buildings and Grounds account with no more than $65,000 to purchase land totaling roughly 5.23 acres near the Mississippi River front, plus $15,000 for other fees such as a survey of the parcel.
After a plea by Percy for the council to not take action, the measure passed, with Percy and Melvin Young opposing and Kean, Williams, Howle and Otis Wilson supporting it. Ricky Lambert abstained.
Even appointments to the Tourism Commission stirred tensions, with Percy, incoming Councilman Bill May and audience members imploring the council to allow the new panel to make the appointments in January. Nevertheless, the council reappointed Susie Tully and Catherine Leake and appointed Jerry Landrum to the commission.