GONZALES — Gonzales City Councilman Gary Lacombe resigned Tuesday, almost two weeks before a recall election targeting him and fellow Councilman Timothy Vessel.
Lacombe, who was two years into a tumultuous first term of office, delivered his resignation letter by hand to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday, canceling his planned recall election Dec. 6, officials said.
Lacombe said in the letter that he was resigning for “personal reasons” and touted his “major accomplishments” while also lamenting unnamed people for spreading “negativity” about the council.
Among those accomplishments, he wrote, were a balanced city budget and the council’s “record of rejecting proposed zoning changes that would have given unfair advantages to certain property owners over others.”
Lacombe said he had also donated one-half of his pay as a councilman to fund 13 merit scholarships, to date, to East Ascension High School graduating seniors.
“Despite these and other significant accomplishments, certain individuals have continually spread negativity and misinformation to our citizens about the efforts of the City Council to follow its ordinances and to position Gonzales for an even brighter future,” Lacombe wrote.
Budget cutting and the rezoning votes, however, helped fuel the recall effort. Critics and recall supporters claimed that those and other council decisions were the hallmark of a voting bloc by Lacombe, Vessel and Terance Irvin on the five-man council and have been undoing the city’s well-being.
A group of residents called Save Gonzales launched the recall effort against Lacombe and Vessel in April.
The group did not try to recall Irvin, who has been on the council since 2000.
Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux, who has clashed with Lacombe, said he learned late Tuesday afternoon about Lacombe’s resignation.
“The city has been through a rough period of time these last couple of years. We obviously feel this is a necessary step toward resolving our issues and moving the city forward,” Arceneaux said in a statement.
“I think this is a good step,” he said of Lacombe’s resignation. “I certainly hope the residents of the city will take the final step and vote for the recall of Councilman Vessel.”
Chuck LeBlanc, chairman of the recall effort, echoed the mayor’s comments, saying, “Save Gonzales thinks it was the right thing for him (Lacombe) to do.”
Lacombe’s departure along with an interim replacement who will be appointed by the City Council has the potential to break the three-man voting bloc on the council.
Vessel, who still faces a recall election Dec. 6, said Tuesday evening that he was not aware of Lacombe’s resignation and declined further comment.
“This is my first I’m hearing about it,” Vessel said.
Irvin did not return a message left on his cellphone Tuesday.
In a letter to Gonzales City Clerk Clay Stafford advising the city of Lacombe’s resignation, Erin Delaney, an administrator with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, said the city has until Dec. 15 to appoint someone to fill Lacombe’s seat until a special election can be held.
The council must ask for a special election so voters can elect someone to fill the remainder of Lacombe’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2016.
The next scheduled elections are the March 28 primary election and the May 2 general election, with qualifying dates of Feb. 4-6.
Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said Lacombe’s name will remain on the ballot Dec. 6 because ballots have already been printed.
But voters will be notified at the polls on election day that Lacombe’s recall election has been canceled. She said any votes cast that day will not be counted.
Neither Lacombe nor his attorney, Charles Spencer, returned calls for comment Tuesday evening.
A letter from Lacombe’s attorney and Lacombe’s letter of resignation also were filed with the Ascension Parish Clerk of Court about 3:44 p.m. Tuesday.