SORRENTO — The Town Council voted Tuesday to declare all remaining Police Department items, including office equipment, electronics and even police cruisers, as surplus, a move that will further weaken Chief Fern Barnett’s one-woman Police Department.
Adding to Barnett’s situation, one resident publicly called for her resignation during Tuesday’s council meeting, claiming the work Barnett performs as police chief adds no value to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, the agency now contracted by the town to provide law enforcement.
“Fern, your legacy should be for the tireless effort you gave to the various organizations that promoted Sorrento, not for someone who stood in the way of the wishes of the majority of voters,” said Robert DeBate.
Barnett, a 71-year-old great-grandmother, did not respond to DeBate’s request for her to step down, nor did she answer questions from reporters after the meeting.
Barnett has faced opposition from the Town Council, Mayor Mike Lambert and some residents for her decision to remain police chief even after voters decided Nov. 4 to abolish the Police Department and the position of police chief.
But, Barnett, who is filling the remainder of former Chief Earl Theriot Jr.’s term after his abrupt resignation in February amid a sex scandal and charges of lying to federal authorities, legally can complete Theriot’s term.
The term ends June 30, 2017.
If Barnett chooses to resign, the position of police chief will end immediately.
The Town Council has refused to pay Barnett for any work she has completed since her swearing-in ceremony in October, claiming she does no real work. Lambert said Tuesday she still has not been paid.
Barnett is the only person in the town’s Police Department, which has been without liability insurance for more than a year since insurer Risk Management Inc. declined to continue offering coverage.
Without insurance, Barnett, who has no law enforcement experience, is unable to patrol or drive the department’s vehicles.
In an effort to move forward from the department’s embarrassing past and numerous lawsuits, council members, in a 4-0 vote, approved Councilman Don Schexnaydre’s motion to declare all Police Department equipment as surplus.
“And we move on,” Schexnaydre said.
The Town Council hopes to sell these items, including five Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers and a van currently sitting in the parking lot behind Town Hall, or exchange them for other equipment from local municipalities, Lambert said.
“The longer these cars sit here, the less they’re worth,” Schexnaydre said.
Lambert said he already had met with officers from the Lutcher Police Department who are interested in some of the Police Department equipment.
“I think it’s the first time Sorrento ever has been in the position to help out another agency,” Lambert said.