GONZALES — Councilman Gary Lacombe called a special Gonzales City Council meeting on Wednesday where he expressed his outrage over comments Police Chief Sherman Jackson recently made to a Baton Rouge TV station about the poor condition of some of his department’s police cars.
“This is the first time I’ve heard as a councilman that this is an imminent” concern, Lacombe told the council at the meeting Wednesday.
His comment was greeted by laughter from the audience.
“First time he heard it’s imminent? I’ve been hearing for four months that he (the police chief) needs nine police cars,” Councilman Kenny Matassa said.
“It just boggles my mind that you’re going to sit here and … now you’re concerned because the chief said something about it on TV the other night?” Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.
“My God, we’ve all been saying the same thing over and over again and how easy would it have been — instead of you calling a special meeting tonight — for you, in two weeks, to say, ‘Let’s go with the capital outlay budget and … (the chief) has his cars’ and it would have been a done deal,” Arceneaux said.
Lacombe along with Councilmen Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin called the special meeting Wednesday.
Lacombe introduced an amendment, seconded by Vessel, to allocate approximately $262,000 from the general fund to purchase and equip nine police cars for the city.
The council will take the matter up for a vote at its next meeting Oct 6.
Police cars are usually purchased from the Police Department’s capital outlay budget. However, the three councilmen cut the Police Department’s funding by 25 percent in the capital outlay budget on three occasions, which led to the mayor vetoing that budget three times since April.
Without a new capital outlay budget in place, the city has been operating at 50 percent of last year’s capital outlay budget, as required by law.
Lacombe insisted Monday that Jackson still could have purchased the units even without the money in the capital outlay budget.
“Fifty percent of the capital outlay budget that was appropriated was available and still is available. When I hear on the news Monday night” that there are imminent problems with police units “it’s not acceptable,” Lacombe said.
“Monday night it got portrayed that this council is ignoring public safety, which is not true,” he said.
Matassa asked Lacombe several times why he was trying to fund the police cars out of the general fund, instead of the capital outlay budget.
“You have been turning down this budget since June, is that correct?” Matassa said.
“I’m completely mystified,” Jackson said in response to Lacombe’s comments. “I explained to you face to face, these (police) units are my guys’ office.”
The meeting grew increasingly acrimonious.
At one point, when Vessel began to talk while Arcenaux was speaking, Arceneaux said, “You open your mouth, you’re going to be out of the room.”
“Make me,” Vessel said.
“If this man interrupts one more time, and I’ve got the floor, I’m instructing you to remove him from this meeting,” Arceneaux told a police officer at the door.
In remarks at the end of the meeting, Arceneaux questioned the timing of Lacombe’s and the others’ calling of Wednesday’s special meeting “right after the events that took place yesterday.”
On Tuesday, the parish registrar of voters said there were enough signatures on a petition to recall Lacombe for the proposal to be on the Dec. 6 ballot.
“I tried to figure out what it is with you,” Arceneaux said to Lacombe. “I’m not sure I totally understand here … you’ve tried with methods from the day you were sworn in of shock and awe. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve failed in every effort.”
“The tactics you have done with your cohorts have more than demoralized not only our employees, (but) our citizens and this body of government,” the mayor said.