GONZALES — The unusual situation of two different attorneys representing the city of Gonzales and some of its councilmen in a suit over zoning is having growing financial ramifications.
Representing Councilmen Gary Lacombe, Terance Irvin and Timothy Vessel in the suit brought by a local judge over a rejected rezoning request is New Orleans attorney Robert Barnett, whose fees for September through Nov. 10 are $24,717.
The three councilmen he represents voted earlier this year against the request of 23rd Judicial District Judge Alvin Turner Jr. to rezone undeveloped property he owned, allowing for smaller lot sizes.
Representing the city of Gonzales, through Mayor Barney Arceneaux, who disagrees with the councilmen’s stance on the zoning issue, is Gonzales attorney Dwight Poirrier, whose fees for September and October were $9,380.
And the meter for both attorneys is still running.
At Monday’s council meeting, Irvin and attorney Barnett urged the mayor to have his attorney join forces with Barnett to bring a quicker end to the lawsuit — a request that raised some eyebrows.
“I represent the city of Gonzales. The administration directs me,” Poirrier said. “I do not think my position here is to align myself with Mr. Barnett.”
Since Turner filed the lawsuit in August, he and his wife have sold the property in question, 29 acres between West Worthey Road and South Darla Avenue, but remain as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Turner said in a phone interview before the meeting his selling the property “doesn’t negate their violation of my equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, by denying me my rezoning request, at the same time there was neighboring property with that zoning designation.”
Turner sold the property on Oct. 3 to Joshua McCoy, of McCoy Property Holdings of Denham Springs, for $722,500.
McCoy has joined the suit as an additional plaintiff.
“I do wish to get (the property) rezoned in order to do some type of subdivision there,” McCoy said in a phone interview late last month.
At the council meeting Monday, Barnett brought up the property sale.
“He has sold the property,” Barnett said. “It seems to me the city should join in to get out of the lawsuit.”
“I’ll be glad to discuss it at a later date,” Arceneaux said, pointing out more than once that the meeting’s agenda item regarded the payment of the attorney fees, not the case itself.
“We have to decide whether we’re going to pay or not,” Arceneaux said, adding that the discussion brought up by Irvin and the attorney seemed to be timed with the Dec. 6 recall election against Councilmen Lacombe and Vessel in mind.
“You are not going to come in here and tie my hands and put the heat on me,” Arceneaux said to Barnett. “If you want to do that in court, that’s fine. If Mr. Irvin is your mouthpiece tonight, that’s fine.”
The council voted 3-2, with Councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux voting “no,” to approve legal fees to date of $46,800, for the two attorneys as well as for court reporter expenses.
Meanwhile, months of controversy ended without discussion Monday when Arceneaux let the clock run out on possibly issuing yet a fourth veto on the capital outlay budget, after Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel repeatedly voted to cut funding to the Police Department.
Arceneaux allowed the matter to come to a final vote Monday, with the council voting 3-2 to approve the capital outlay budget, with Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel again casting the three “yes” votes.
The approximately $5.47 million capital outlay budget allots $327,600 for the Police Department, roughly 25 percent less than what the police chief sought in April.
“We felt like we just have to move forward,” Arceneaux said after the meeting. “One of our biggest concerns is our roads,” which require a capital outlay budget in place.
Road projects are expected now to gear up at the beginning of the year, he said.