The Harahan City Council considered two measures Thursday night, each tied to a separate dispute with Mayor Tina Miceli, with whom the council has been feuding for many months.
It let one measure die but put its foot down by passing the other over the objections of the city attorney.
Despite having the four votes necessary to override Miceli’s veto of the controversial 2016 operating budget it passed in December, the council voted 5-0 against doing so.
The city’s new certified public accountant, Linda Hite Lulue, echoed Miceli’s concerns that $95,000 in line items the council stripped from the administration’s budget defunded critical services and that putting the money into a “surplus revenue” item was ill-advised from an accounting standpoint.
Council members decided to wait for the roughly $6 million new budget Lulue is putting together, which the council will consider at a special meeting at 6 p.m. March 10.
But Miceli and the four-member council bloc she often butts head with remained divided on who was to blame for the line items’ removal.
Council members Dana Huete, Craig Johnston and Carrie Wheeler reiterated that they had asked Miceli to explain the details of those items in December and set aside the money because she couldn’t elaborate on them.
Miceli and Sue Benton, her lone ally on the council, countered once again that they think the council was wrong to pull the line items — which fund some responsibilities of the mayor’s office and things like video recording of council meetings — simply because Miceli, with no accountant present at that meeting, wasn’t comfortable trying to explain what the items entailed.
The second measure considered Thursday was an ordinance asserting the right of the council to place items on the agenda for its regular and special meetings — a dispute that stretches back into last year, in the early months of the new mayor and new council’s terms in office.
Council members quickly began to chafe at what they said was Miceli’s overly tight control of the agenda, an accusation Miceli has denied.
She requested an Attorney General’s Office opinion on the matter after the council passed a similar ordinance about adding items to the agenda in August. That opinion came back several weeks ago, saying council members have that right.
The ordinance Huete proposed Thursday sought to adopt the wording from the opinion as an ordinance.
City Attorney Gilbert Buras, however, said the way the ordinance was written would not properly amend the existing code.
Rather, he explained, it would go into the books in a completely different section, which could sow confusion down the road.
After 20 minutes of explanation on the best way to amend and propose ordinances, Buras said he didn’t think the ordinance was necessary.
“We would agree with you,” Huete said. “Unfortunately, I felt the need, and obviously the other council members who approved it in August felt the need, for something to be put in place to explain it further, because (the existing ordinance) was not being followed.”
The council voted 4-1 for the ordinance, with Councilman Tim Baudier joining Huete, Wheeler and Johnston in support and Benton opposed.
Johnston told Buras he understood his concerns but felt it was important to pass the ordinance.
“There are a lot of trust issues,” he said.
The meeting highlighted yet again the often abysmal relationship between Miceli and the majority of the council.
Even the normally routine act of approving the minutes of the previous meeting didn’t escape unscathed, failing even to get a second.
Huete objected that the proposed minutes characterized something she said at the January meeting as an interruption.
She echoed recent complaints that minutes prepared by a staff member filling in for regular City Clerk Nicole Lee, who returned from maternity leave Thursday, have not been a fair representation of what’s been said at the meeting.
The council tabled approval of the January minutes and will reconsider them next month.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.