UPDATE: The St. Bernard Parish Council voted Wednesday night to cancel the state of emergency declared earlier in the day by Parish President David Peralta.
The council also said that no other declaration of emergency or disaster may be issued for the purposes outlined in Peralta’s earlier declaration.
St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta on Wednesday declared the entire parish in a state of emergency and called on a majority of the Parish Council to resign immediately, hours after the council overrode his vetoes of two ordinances aimed at ending a controversial parish contract with a local technology services firm.
“It has been determined that all areas of St. Bernard Parish should then be declared disaster areas and further that certain measures must be taken in order to insure that the authorities protect the persons and property of the residents affected by the parish,” Peralta said in a two-page declaration notifying “all residents and persons within the parish” that a “local disaster/emergency exists.”
The move is the most dramatic chapter yet in Peralta’s ongoing feud with the council, which has become more contentious as he has faced mounting personal legal problems in the past two years.
The latest dispute stems from the council’s effort to force Peralta to end the parish’s contract with the technology firm ParaTech LLC. The council claims that ParaTech’s owner, Richard Perniciaro, is too close to Peralta.
It’s unclear exactly what fallout may come from Wednesday’s emergency declaration. The council met Wednesday night to vote to cancel the state of emergency and override Peralta’s latest vetoes.
In his declaration, Peralta said he had “ordered that all necessary steps and precautions be taken to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of St. Bernard Parish.”
In a separate statement, he called for the immediate resignation of the six council members who voted early Wednesday to override his vetoes — moves that he said violated the parish’s charter because the votes were taken at a hastily called emergency meeting when no emergency existed.
“If there is a refusal of the councilmen to vacate their office, I will be left with no other option but to file suit in the 34th Judicial District Court to have the matter adjudicated in favor of the charter,” Peralta said.
Separately, he issued a new veto of a measure the council passed Wednesday morning. That ordinance was a budgetary maneuver that shifted to the parish general fund money previously set aside to pay for professional services. It was meant to keep Peralta from moving money from one department to another to pay ParaTech without the council’s approval.
In a statement that accompanied his veto, Peralta said the ordinance “severely disrupts the daily operations of government.” He argued that professional services contracts allow the parish to hire firms that have a required “level of expertise” for specific jobs, which saves the parish time and money.
“Without access to these valuable resources, the daily operations of parish government will be severely impacted and my administration will not be able to provide high-level, quality services to the citizens of St. Bernard Parish,” he said.
Peralta also said the parish’s charter requires him to “administer the affairs of this parish” but that the ordinance would make that task “impossible” and thus violated the charter.
He criticized the ordinance for having the potential to affect more than $9 million in the parish budget. “To separate out all the impacted funds would require hours of work, by trained accountants,” he said.
Finally, Peralta noted that the measure was passed by the council as an emergency ordinance but didn’t state a basis for such an emergency, which, he said, also didn’t adhere to the charter.
After months of simmering tensions, the latest confrontation began coming to a head Tuesday. First, the council voted unanimously at a night meeting to restore two ordinances that Peralta had vetoed earlier this month, both related to the ParaTech contract. One ordinance required Peralta to end the deal outright; the other stripped the money needed to pay the contract from the parish’s budget.
The council on Tuesday also passed a pair of emergency measures to drive home the point. One directed Peralta to ban ParaTech personnel from parish government property and electronic data systems, and also to secure parish computers by immediately changing passwords. The other ordinance was the budgetary maneuver that Peralta quickly vetoed.
Both measures passed unanimously. However, council Chairman George Cavignac said complications arose Wednesday because the ordinances had not made it to Peralta within six hours of their passage, as stipulated by the parish’s charter for such emergency measures.
The council’s clerk, Roxanne Adams, tried to drop off the paperwork at Peralta’s Meraux home after the meeting had ended — well past midnight — but Peralta didn’t answer the door. That led the council to meet in an emergency session Wednesday morning to pass both measures for a second time. They again passed unanimously, 6-0, with one member absent.
Afterward, council members lingered at the parish government complex in case Peralta immediately vetoed one or both ordinances. “If he vetoes them right away, since we’re all here, we’re just going to go back in and attempt to override,” Cavignac said.
It takes the votes of at least five of the seven council members to override vetoes.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the council also discussed potential lawsuits that may be filed against the parish by two recently fired employees who are known to be cooperating with the state’s multipronged criminal case against Peralta.
The employees, Donald Bourgeois, who worked in the parish Recovery Department, and Technology Director Jeffrey Brannon, were both fired in the past week.
Peralta, who faces pending criminal charges in two jurisdictions, said his dismissals of the two employees had nothing to do with the charges he faces. He denied knowing that either of them is cooperating with state investigators.
Meanwhile, 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.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.