PORT ALLEN — One day after Mayor Derek Lewis resigned, then drove to federal court in Baton Rouge to plead guilty to a racketeering charge, the City Council selected his successor in a disjointed, sometimes raucous meeting Wednesday night.
The council voted 3-1 to install Mayor Pro Tem R.J. Loupe as the city’s new mayor.
Loupe steps into the office Lewis held since 2005.
“I’m glad Derek made the choice he made so we could move on,” Loupe said. “The city has had a lot of issues these past few months. I think the biggest part of moving on happened tonight.”
Council members described Lewis’ recent legal troubles as a distraction that marred his second term in office.
Lewis was indicted last year on federal bribery and racketeering charges — the result of an FBI sting that has netted convictions of former New Roads Mayor Tommy Nelson and former White Castle Mayor Maurice Brown.
On Tuesday, shortly after turning in his keys to City Hall, Lewis went to court, pleaded guilty and admitted that he accepted bribes from undercover FBI operatives posing as businessmen.
The fake businessmen were pitching a garbage-can-cleaning business known as Cifer 5000.
Lewis specifically came clean about taking cash and other bribes worth more than $15,000 in exchange for helping the Cifer 5000 business win a contract with the city — a sham arrangement that never materialized.
Lewis further admitted that he agreed to accept 10 percent of the profits from that contract.
In return for Lewis’ guilty plea and future cooperation in other Cifer 5000 trials, federal prosecutors agreed that it would be appropriate for the former mayor to receive a prison term of five years or less.
But U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson told Lewis that he could be sentenced to as many as 20 years in federal prison.
On Wednesday, the City Council stumbled around for the first 15 minutes of a meeting called to replace Lewis, unsure of the proper procedure to appoint Loupe as new mayor and then fill Loupe’s subsequent council vacancy.
City Attorney Victor Woods advised the council that Loupe had to officially resign as mayor pro tem, triggering a 10-day window to fill that position.
Other business the council addressed Wednesday night included:
VACATION TIME: After sorting out mayoral succession issues, the council took up one of Lewis’ last acts in office — barring employees from using accrued vacation time in excess of 60 days when nearing retirement.
The city’s former chief administrative officer, Barry Brewer, angrily accused Lewis of making that decision as a “parting shot” trying to “stick it to the employees.”
Brewer, a 33-year city employee left City Hall on Feb. 25 and planned to use his accrued vacation time until his official retirement on Dec. 31.
The City Council approved an ordinance overturning Lewis on that issue, thereby allowing several city employees to use up their accrued vacation time as a precursor to retirement.
Council members Ralph Bergeron, Irvrie Johnson and Ray Helen Lawrence voted “yes” to appoint Loupe as the city’s new mayor. Hugh Riviere voted “no.”
Loupe will serve as acting mayor until a special election is held to fill the remainder of Lewis’ unexpired term, which ends next year.