ST. FRANCISVILLE — West Feliciana Parish President Kevin Couhig has decided to douse his simmering feud with St. Francisville officials, at least temporarily, over a building permit for renovation work on an old grocery store.
The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously at its April 12 meeting to issue a stop-work order to the parish on the old Feliciana Supermarket building at 1292 Jackson Road.
The board did so after repeated attempts by building official Eric Parnell, aldermen and Mayor Billy D’Aquilla to get the parish to comply with the routine building permit procedure.
Couhig indicated he would cooperate with the building permit request only if the town could produce the Louisiana statute that stipulates a parish must capitulate to a municipality’s authority. He reasoned, since they didn’t produce the actual statute, the parish didn’t have to follow the town’s permitting procedure.
The parish bought the building, located inside town limits, after its previous owners relocated to the new Audubon Market on Highway 61. The building is being renovated and will become a government services building that will house social service organizations such as the Council on Aging, Clothes Closet and Food Pantry.
Couhig sent a letter dated April 14 to the mayor and aldermen that said, in part, “The Town of St. Francisville has chosen to elevate our discussions regarding its desire for the Parish to apply for a building permit to a legal matter by the issuance of the Stop Work order to the parish.
“You have taken this action despite the fact that you have been unable to provide us with any statute that requires the parish to apply for such a permit and you acknowledge that the parish has never had to do so in the past. Further, I have asked a number of parishes if the municipalities within their borders make such requirements and find that they do not. I believe that the courts would likely rule in the parish’s favor because the Parish is not in the Town, the Town is in the Parish.”
Couhig’s letter stated he considered it foolish to spend public funds pursuing a legal answer, and instead, he will direct Parish Public Works Director Jim Ferguson to require the contractor doing the work to apply for both a parish and a town permit.
Couhig later took a couple of jabs at the town, saying that his office has received complaints from several new business owners and investors trying to establish themselves in the town “about the unreasonableness of town officials and their arbitrary and capricious application of rules.”
Couhig concluded by saying the parish will continue to work with the town. “We must recognize the rules are in place to serve the people and not vice versa.”
Attorney Steve Villavaso, who consulted with the town when it created its ordinances, said by phone Wednesday he did not know the specific statute, or if only one existed giving towns authority in such matters, but case law, court decisions and rulings have always gone in favor of municipalities.
Villavaso said he had consulted with a dozen parishes from across the state with municipalities located in them and not one had ever had such a problem.
“Parishes routinely defer to the municipalities out of a spirit of cooperation,” Villavaso said. “He’s not an attorney and he doesn’t understand how the law works. It takes one word: cooperation.”
Alderwoman Abby Cochran is happy the situation is resolved.
“We are happy to be working with the parish on this project,” Cochran said. “And, I am pleased that Mr. Couhig agreed to apply for the permit, which is a one-page form. Our goal is to apply all ordinances in a fair and equal manner.”