GONZALES — After months of wrangling and three mayoral vetoes intended to protect Police Chief Sherman Jackson’s proposed budget, unusual council bedfellows aligned Monday to give the chief more than he was asking for when rancorous budget fights began this spring.
With his two council allies, Gary Lacombe and Timmy Vessel, facing recall elections Dec. 6, Councilman Terance Irvin sided with his often-times budget opponents, Councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux, on a key vote that opens the door to giving Jackson roughly $450,000 to $460,000 for his capital requests pending a final vote in two weeks.
“I think that the public is ready for the police department and the council and the administration to move forward,” Irvin told reporters after the meeting.
Jackson, who is an elected chief, had requested $437,000 months ago to buy and equip nine new police cars and buy two motorcycles, security cameras and other equipment.
But the council power troika of Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel had insisted on cutting the chief’s budget request by $110,000 that, they say, was part of broader Gonzales departmental trimming to fund other priorities, including transportation.
The chief’s capital outlay money, through budgetary shifts, is now spread across the general fund budget, which got a final vote with Matassa’s amendment Monday, and the actual capital outlay budget, which still needs final approval after introduction Monday.
Irvin’s vote for Matassa’s amendment inserted $114,800 for motorcycles and cameras into the general fund budget and amounted to something of a last-minute head fake by Irvin.
Irvin had spent parts of the meeting earlier Monday along with other councilmen in sharp exchanges with the chief over his budget priorities and had voted with Vessel and Lacombe to cut Jackson’s remaining proposed capital outlay request by $109,678 to $64,800.
In one exchange, Irvin told Jackson that the chief had said the new police cars were a public safety emergency, but the council majority had proposed since June that he have $327,600 for capital expenses — an increase over last year — and Jackson had not moved to buy any cars.
Even with the mayoral vetoes, Irvin added, Jackson still had 50 percent of last year’s capital outlay budget available to him under state law. But Jackson pointed out that he can’t make those kinds of big purchases without an approved budget.
“OK, because I’m responsible. You’re not. I can go to jail if I go over my budget, OK,” Jackson said. “Alright, so don’t fuggaboo the people and act like I can just spend money on cars.”
After more arguing among the chief, various council members and the mayor, Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel voted to introduce the cuts to capital outlay over the objection of Matassa and Boudreaux. Matassa punctuated his vote by staring directly at Vessel, who sits next to him, and saying, “No.”
But when it then came time to cast the final vote on the general fund budget and Matassa motioned to lump $114,800 for motorcycles and cameras with $272,783 already shifted last month from capital outlay into the general fund to pay for Jackson’s cars, Irvin supported Matassa and Boudreaux. Lacombe and Vessel voted against the amendment.
Irvin’s shift led to immediate speculation that he may move for additional reductions in two weeks. When pressed on that point afterward, Irvin replied: “I may. I may not, but as of right, as of right now, I supported it (Matassa’s amendment).”
The budgetary shifting left Jackson uncertain as to what exactly he will be working with, already months into the 2014-15 budget year.
“He (Irvin) did come up with some figures, but I don’t now what equipment he’s saying, ‘Yes,’ to and what equipment he’s saying, ‘No,’ to,” Jackson said.
The police chief said, when asked, that he believes the council majority’s involvement in his budget revolves around a dispute with him beginning about a year ago when he opposed proposed changes to the city ambulance service and has continued since.
“It’s personal,” Jackson said.
“No, it’s not personal,” Irvin said. “It’s about projecting the future and planning for the future.”
Irvin said the council majority has asked several departments to level off their spending and prioritize major expenses. Jackson’s department is one of them, but Jackson is an elected leader, not an appointed one.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.