GONZALES — Three Gonzales city councilmen called a special meeting Thursday night to pass three resolutions directing the mayor to pay legal fees and court costs and asking him to explain why the city is not joining the defense of the three councilmen in a lawsuit filed against them and the city over a zoning issue.
However, such resolutions, two of which have to do with the payment of legal costs in the case, are nonbinding on the mayor, City Attorney Ryland Percy has said in previous council meetings.
“The Lawrason Act specifically gives the mayor the authority to handle these matters,” Percy said after Thursday’s meeting, referring to the state law under which Gonzales is governed.
“I will not pay and I will veto any proposed budget amendment to fund these lawsuits further until after the people of this city have had the opportunity to remedy this situation in the recall vote scheduled on Dec. 6,” Mayor Barney Arceneaux said, reading from a prepared statement at the beginning of the meeting.
A recall election has been called that day against Councilmen Gary Lacombe and Timothy Vessel.
Lacombe, Vessel and Terance Irvin are defendants in the zoning lawsuit filed in August by Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court, after the three councilmen rejected a rezoning request for property he owned at the time. The city also was named as a defendant.
One resolution that Lacombe proposed Thursday — and that Vessel and Irvin backed — asks the mayor to explain at the next regular council meeting why the city isn’t joining in a common defense with the three councilmen as defendants in the lawsuit.
“The whole intent of this effort is to bring this lawsuit to conclusion,” Lacombe said.
The city, represented by the mayor, hired a separate attorney from the three councilmen since, as the mayor has said, it disagreed with their vote, against the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission, to reject Turner’s request.
Arceneaux said the three councilmen’s rejection of the rezoning request was “the second time that the requested zoning change they have turned down affected property adjacent to Councilman Irvin’s family property, which is already zoned the same as the requested change.”
The first time was when an international firm sought to rezone property earlier this year to bring an electric supply business to Gonzales. The firm’s request died 3-2 in the council.
The two other resolutions made by Lacombe, which also passed 3-2 at Monday’s meeting, ask the mayor to pay for costs incurred by the three councilmen’s attorney in taking additional depositions and retaining experts in the case and also to pay any outstanding court costs.
In both instances, the resolution calls for the council, if payment is not made within 10 days of receipt of an invoice, to authorize the firm of the councilmen’s attorney, Robert Barnett, of New Orleans, to file a writ of mandamus against the mayor to compel payment.
At the regular council meeting on Monday, the council voted 3-2 to pay the latest attorney fees and court reporter expenses in the case, a total of $46,800.
Fees for Barnett, the attorney for the three councilmen, for September through Nov. 10 were $24,717.
Fees for the city’s attorney, Dwight Poirrier, for September and October were $9,380.
In presenting his resolutions Thursday night, Lacombe mentioned pressing court deadlines of Nov. 30, Dec. 15 and Dec. 31 that required the actions he suggested.
When Police Chief Sherman Jackson asked Lacombe if a continuance of the case could be sought to ease the deadline pressures, Lacombe said, “No, it would be too expensive.”
The trial in Turner’s lawsuit is set for March 4.