SORRENTO — Amid a rowdy audience of town residents chanting, “table it, table it!” the Town Council at a special meeting Saturday opted to delay until Tuesday two critical decisions regarding the continued existence of the town police department.
In two separate 3-0 votes, council members Patti Poche, Randy Anny and Don Schexnaydre voted to table, or postpone, action on the two choices facing them — purchasing new liability insurance for its police department or authorizing a six-week deal with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office for police protection.
Council members Wanda Bourgeois and Marvin Martin did not attend the meeting.
The town’s current liability insurance policy with Risk Management Inc. will end at midnight Nov. 19.
Police Chief Earl Theriot Jr., who had been out on medical leave for several weeks after knee surgery, attended Saturday’s meeting. He said his officers would not patrol the municipality after the Nov. 19 deadline unless the Town Council comes to a consensus and acts before then.
The police department and Town Council have been working to find a new insurer since Oct. 21. That’s when Risk Management Inc. informed the town in a letter it was canceling its liability insurance coverage for the Police Department and the department’s vehicles effective midnight Nov. 19, citing the department’s excessive number of claims, officials have said.
The Town Council met Saturday to decide whether to accept the only quote it received after reaching out to several insurance companies — a $67,692 annual insurance policy rate from Beard Insurance & Financials, of Baton Rouge. The other alternative was to go with Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley’s proposal of providing six weeks of police protection from Nov. 19 through Dec. 31 at a cost of $37,521.
Risk Management Inc. charged the town $30,000 annually for its insurance policy, Mayor Mike Lambert has said.
Saturday’s meeting began civilly but soon degenerated into a shouting match.
Schexnaydre initially motioned to accept the sheriff’s proposal of police protection until Theriot could return to resume his duties, explaining that the Town Council didn’t need to make a “rash decision” in such a short time.
But Anny argued that paying more than half of the insurance company’s annual cost for just six weeks of protection by the Sheriff’s Office didn’t make financial sense, especially since Wiley has already agreed to help provide police protection by covering shifts for town officers.
Poche said she spoke with Wiley, who told her the town would not pay the full $37,000 since Sorrento would probably not need the use of a detective, for instance.
Any Sheriff’s Office employee patrolling the streets would be paid by the hour, Schexnaydre said.
Choosing the sheriff’s proposal would also allow the police department time to receive more insurance quotes, Schexnaydre said.
“Can we buy time to review more than one (policy)?” Schexnaydre asked, eventually saying he thought the council should take action immediately on the issue of police protection from the Sheriff’s Office.
Anny said he would rather have the full council present to vote on the issue, over the objections of Mayor Lambert, who wanted the council members who were present to vote then on Schexnaydre’s motion.
As Lambert and Anny argued, several members of the audience loudly joined the fray, including Sorrento Police Officer Cathy Gil, drawing an angry reaction from Lambert.
“Are you a police officer here? Keep your mouth shut!” Lambert snapped at Gil, causing the audience to erupt noisily.
“Table it! Table it!” the audience demanded as Lambert attempted to gain control of the meeting.
Anny motioned to table, and Schexnaydre seconded the motion, saying he needed to see more options than just the two council members had before them.
“I’m not impressed with the policies, so I need to see more,” Schexnaydre said. “Period.”
Council members unanimously voted to table voting on the sheriff’s short-term proposal and Beard Insurance & Financial’s proposal until Tuesday’s meeting.
Lambert left the Town Hall room after he adjourned the meeting, declining to comment on the stormy meeting and the delay in action.
Anny said after the meeting he thinks meeting the Nov. 19 deadline still might be a possibility. Anny said he has been speaking with the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, former Gonzales Police Chief Bill Landry and current Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson to “revamp” issues and policies within the town’s police department.