GONZALES — Ascension Parish Councilman Aaron Lawler and Recreation Director B.J. Romano engaged in a shouting match after a recent public meeting over the condition of a children's playground area that grew so heated another administration official stepped in to break it up.
In an argument that was loud and face-to-face, at times, Lawler could be heard yelling at Romano to "do your job right," as Romano shouted at Lawler to treat him like a professional, stop cursing and to care for more recreational matters than just the parish soccer fields and children's playground area at Lamar-Dixon.
"You haven't called me. You haven't emailed me and you don't come to my office, OK," Romano said in one of the more heated moments of the dispute.
"Do your job right," Lawler shouted back. "Do your job right. I'm tired of this."
Can't see video below? Click here.
Lawler was complaining about the conditions at a fairly new recreation amenity at Lamar-Dixon that the councilman has championed, first as a community activist and later as a public official.
In a later interview, Lawler said the play area is overgrown with weeds because recreation crews failed to put down the proper barrier and sand to smother weed growth and didn't put down enough mulch.
Lawler asserted that the weeds and the depth of the mulch were not just a matter of aesthetics but also one of safety for kids using the playground. The mulch is intended to cushion children should they fall from the playground equipment, he said, and a lack of the proper cushion could put the parish at some legal risk.
He said that when he had questioned Romano in an earlier setting about the provisions for the playground, Romano cited materials that suggested the parish had complied with safety protocols. The councilman disputed that claim.
Romano declined to comment about the dispute following the argument, and administration officials did not return an email for comment Monday.
Councilman Travis Turner, who chairs the Council Recreation Committee where the dispute happened, said Monday that he expected his fellow councilmen and parish employees to act like adults.
"And if they have any disagreements, I want them to talk those issues out like adults and not get in involved in shouting matches," Turner said. "I want everybody to act like they're adults."
The argument happened at the end of the a recreation committee meeting Thursday night at the Parish Council chambers in Gonzales, but after the meeting had adjourned and video recording for television broadcast and internet streaming had ended.
Other council members, parish staff and a few members of the public were still lingering in the public meeting area, which had not yet closed for the night.
Lawler, who sits on the committee, left the area where council members sit for meetings and approached Romano along a side wall of the council chambers to question him about the play area.
"Did you put a weed preventer barrier down? No," Lawler confronted Romano at one point early in the dispute. "Did you put a sand barrier down first? No."
He then cursed at Romano, saying he was failing to do his job.
"You want to be professional you don't talk to people like that," Romano, who questioned whether any method would fully prevent weed growth, shot back moments later.
From there, the argument went into a dispute about whether Romano had been responsive enough to Lawler's requests for information and whether Lawler had an interest in other areas of recreation besides the soccer fields.
Both men disputed the accusations from the other man.