A 24-year-old Meraux resident used the Parish Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night to call on embattled St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta to resign, citing the first-term parish leader’s mounting criminal charges.
In brief remarks during a public-comment period at the start of the council meeting, the first since last month’s indictment of Peralta on stalking charges, Christian Serigne said he was preparing an effort to remove Peralta from office before his term ends next year.
“I don’t feel, with his continuing personal and legal issues, that he’s going to be able to continue to work as parish president,” Serigne told the council, adding that he would “like that all councilmen ask that he resign.”
However, none of the Parish Council members at the meeting seemed immediately ready to accommodate his request, simply moving on to the next item on the agenda without acknowledging Serigne’s remarks.
Peralta has faced earlier recall efforts that were unsuccessful, including a pair led by Arabi resident Peter Rupp, first in 2012 and again earlier this year.
Serigne, if he indeed submits a recall petition to the Secretary of State’s Office, would have 180 days to collect signatures, which must be verified before an election would be called. He would need to collect at least 8,500 signatures from registered voters in the parish.
Peralta was indicted last month by a state grand jury in St. Tammany Parish on a charge of stalking his ex-wife — the second time he has faced criminal charges this year. He surrendered to authorities two days later and was released on a $35,000 bond.
The felony stalking charge is in addition to a sexual battery charge against Peralta handed up by a grand jury in April. In that case, he is accused of raping Sharon Schaefer, his then-wife, last fall in the couple’s Meraux home. Peralta has said he engaged in “rough sex” with his wife on that occasion at her request, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Both cases are being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office.
If Peralta resigns in the coming weeks, the Parish Council would have 30 days to appoint an interim parish president, who would hold the position until a potential special election can be held in March. The regular election for a full four-year term is scheduled for October 2015.
Former parish councilmen Tony “Ricky” Melerine, now a community liaison at the St. Bernard port, and Wayne Landry, the interim chief executive of publicly owned St. Bernard Parish Hospital, have said they intend to run in a special election if one is held. Parish Council Chairman Guy McInnis has said he is considering entering the race as well.
Former state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge David Gorbaty, who has largely filled the chief administrative officer’s role on a volunteer basis since December, ruled himself out as a candidate during Tuesday’s meeting. “Let me make it positively clear to the people of St. Bernard Parish that in no way am I interested in running for parish president,” Gorbaty said in response to a question from a resident in the audience about who else plans to run for the top job.
The question drew a few laughs — and awkward pauses — among council members and other officials.
“My time as an elected official is past. It’s over,” Gorbaty added.
Melerine was at Tuesday’s meeting, sitting in the back row alongside former Parish President Charles Ponstein.
Peralta, 60, was not at the meeting. Instead, Finance Director Ross Gonzales, who last month was named interim chief administrative officer — first in the line of succession if Peralta resigns — read from prepared remarks on Peralta’s behalf, detailing recent events in the parish.
Gonzales said Peralta was dealing with “an illness in the family.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.