Arceneaux vetoes budgets approved by Gonzales City Council _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELLYN COUVILLION -- Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux announces his veto of amended budgets, passed by three of the five city councilmen, at a news conference on Wednesday. To the left of Arceneaux is councilman Kenny Matassa and to the right is Police Chief Sherman Jackson, with several police officers also present in a show of support for the veto.

Mayor Barney Arceneaux revealed Monday that Councilman Gary Lacombe recently asked the state to investigate the mayor for malfeasance in office — and that the Attorney General’s Office has ruled there are no valid grounds for doing so.

Lacombe alleges Arceneaux is violating a city ordinance by not removing two members from the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission who are serving beyond the end of their terms.

“I think we need to clarify all of this,” Arceneaux said at one point during the hotly debated issue. “Please understand the two people he’s talking about have voted against him and he wants them out.”

A city ordinance, adopted in 1965, says the five members of the planning commission are appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council, to serve without pay for five years, and that members may be reappointed or successors appointed when the five-year terms end.

Two of the members, Chairman Frank Cagnolatti and Commissioner Eddie Williams, have served for more than five years and were not reappointed for their current terms, said Lacombe, who offered a resolution stating the two spots are “vacant, because they’re expired.”

City Attorney Ryland Percy, however, said a recent Attorney General’s Office ruling, sought by Lacombe himself, makes that resolution invalid.

Arceneaux read aloud the letter by the Attorney General’s Office, written July 18 by Assistant Attorney General Kurt Wall, director of the criminal division.

In part it says: “Although the Code of Ordinances does state the procedure for appointing members of the planning commission and their successors, courts have been very clear that an appointing authority cannot be mandated to make an appointment,” the authority here being the mayor.

Arceneaux also read aloud the letter that Lacombe wrote in June, first seeking the opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, in which Lacombe said the mayor’s “lack of action” on the two commissioners “constitutes malfeasance in office.”

The attorney general wrote Lacombe: “After review of your complaint is does not appear to rise to the level of malfeasance in office on the part of the mayor. … As such there does not appear to be any valid grounds for the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the actions of the mayor in his failure to appoint any member to a board or commission and no further action will be taken by our office at this time.”

What it means, Percy said, is “the council has no means to enforce” the local ordinance on the commission appointments.

“Are you providing counsel for the mayor or the council?” Lacombe asked.

“I’m giving my best legal opinion to you, the mayor and the citizens,” Percy replied.

Councilman Kenny Matassa offered a substitute motion, which was seconded by Councilman Kirk Boudreaux and was approved, offering a resolution that the mayor reappoint the existing members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The debate over the Planning and Zoning Commission overshadowed a 3-2 vote, taken earlier in the meeting, adopting the amended general fund and capital outlay budgets.

The vote gives the city a budget for the current fiscal year, which began in June, after weeks of delay following a mayoral veto and the dropping, by Lacombe, of a controversial $800,000 budget item for an Interstate 10 service road study.

The significant changes in the amended budget mean $50,000 for the Ascension Economic Development Corp., instead of $75,000, and about $100,000 less than requested for the city’s Police Department, giving it a budget of approximately $320,000.