Looking to go a full 12 rounds, St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta plans to ask the Parish Council for money to hire a lawyer to sue the council.
Peralta, who has called a special council meeting for Friday morning to make his request, said he plans to file a lawsuit against the seven-member body in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.
He’s turning to legal action after the council this week overrode his vetoes of two ordinances that sought to end a controversial parish contract with a local technology services firm, ParaTech LLC.
In addition to overriding Peralta’s vetoes, the council also passed an ordinance banning ParaTech personnel from the St. Bernard government building and from accessing the parish’s computers.
“The council cannot dictate who my contractors are,” Peralta said Thursday.
ParaTech’s 2014 contract with the parish calls for it to “perform all necessary technology professional services.” But the council — which has had an increasingly bitter relationship with Peralta for the past two years — refused to use the firm for its email system, saying its owner, Richard Perniciaro, was too close to Peralta.
Last fall, the council told ParaTech it intended to hire another company to set up its email. ParaTech countered with a lawsuit, accusing the council of breaching its parish contract. It later offered to withdraw the suit with no money exchanging hands and an understanding that the council could use its own firm to handle its email, but the council refused, insisting it wants to cancel the contract altogether.
In addition to his own lawsuit, Peralta said he needs to hire another lawyer to defend the parish against the ParaTech suit.
It’s unclear how much the outside legal representation would cost the parish.
Peralta said the parish’s attorneys are too legally conflicted to represent him in his proposed suit against the council.
“That’s what this is: a childish game,” Peralta said about his escalating back-and-forth with the council.
Council Chairman George Cavignac said Thursday that the council “spoke loudly and clearly with our votes to implement a law that’s necessary to be followed.”
The tensions between Peralta and the council reached new heights Wednesday, when Peralta declared the entire parish in a state of emergency and called on a majority of the council to resign immediately, hours after the council overrode his vetoes.
Wednesday night, the council voted to cancel the state of emergency and stipulated that no other declaration of emergency or disaster could be issued for the purposes outlined in Peralta’s earlier declaration.
It was unclear Thursday afternoon how the council would respond to Peralta’s action in calling a special council meeting — the first time that’s happened during his tenure in office. Cavignac could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday.
Peralta, meanwhile, faces pending criminal charges in two jurisdictions. ParaTech’s owner, Perniciaro, confirmed last month that he received a target letter from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office indicating that prosecutors believe they have evidence that he’s committed a crime and are presenting it to a grand jury as part of a probe that’s also expected to lead to new charges against Peralta.
Cavignac said earlier Thursday that he’s unsure why Peralta is so intent on keeping the company’s contract intact.
“To me, it’s a common-sense measure,” he said. “If someone is accused of tampering with the cookie jar, you don’t put them in charge of the cookie jar while you’re investigating what happened.”
In recent days, Peralta also fired two employees — Donald Bourgeois, who worked in the parish Recovery Department, and Technology Director Jeffrey Brannon — who are known to be cooperating with the state’s criminal case against him.
Peralta said the dismissals were work-related and denied knowing that either of the men is cooperating with state investigators.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.