Perhaps not surprisingly, St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta couldn’t muster a quorum of Parish Council members for a special meeting Friday morning.
He was, after all, planning to ask them for the money he needs to sue them.
Peralta called the meeting late Thursday, hoping to get an appropriation so he could hire a lawyer to sue the seven-member body and let a judge decide whether the council has the authority to force Peralta to end a controversial parish contract.
Earlier this week, the council overrode his vetoes of two ordinances aimed at canceling a 2014 contract with a local technology services firm, ParaTech LLC.
“If the judge comes back and says the council controls contracts, fine with me,” Peralta said. “If the judge says the executive branch controls contracts, fine with me.”
However, only three council members — Casey Hunnicutt, Ray Lauga Jr. and Richard Lewis — attended Friday’s meeting, the council’s fourth this week. That left them one member shy of a quorum, so they couldn’t take action on Peralta’s request.
“I didn’t even get a chance to sit down,” Peralta said.
He said the parish’s own lawyers have too many conflicts to represent him in his proposed suit against the council.
It’s unclear how much the outside legal representation would cost the parish.
Peralta framed the dispute as a struggle over who has the ultimate say on contracts — his office or the council.
“If they can cancel a contract for no reason, just cancel it, what does that do for the other contractors?” he asked.
Peralta also wants outside attorneys to defend a lawsuit that ParaTech is pursuing against the parish.
The company’s contract says it will perform “all necessary technology professional services” for the parish, but the council has refused to let ParaTech handle council email accounts, saying the company’s owner, Richard Perniciaro, is too close to Peralta. The company says that amounts to a breach of contract.
A hearing in that case is scheduled for next week in 34th Judicial District Court in Chalmette.
Peralta said Friday that he will have to attend the hearing without a lawyer if the council won’t give him the money to hire one. But as of late Friday, it appeared he may get his wish: The council, which is scheduled to meet again Tuesday, is slated to discuss hiring the law firm Blue Williams LLP to defend St. Bernard in the ParaTech suit, according to the meeting’s agenda.
At the same meeting, the council is expected to consider launching an investigation into Peralta’s recent dismissal of two employees who were known to be cooperating with the state’s criminal investigation against him.
Tensions between Peralta and the council boiled over Wednesday, when Peralta declared a parishwide state of emergency and called on a majority of the council to resign immediately. That came just 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.
Peralta faces pending criminal charges in two jurisdictions.
ParaTech’s owner, Perniciaro, has received a target letter from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office indicating that prosecutors have evidence against him of wrongdoing and are presenting it to a grand jury.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.