LIVINGSTON — After the Parish Council refused to pay for an attorney to appeal a mandamus ruling against Parish President Mike Grimmer, Livingston’s chief executive announced he would hire his own attorney to appeal the matter.
“I may have to pay for it out of my own pocket,” Grimmer said Friday, adding that changing the opinion is important to parish presidents across the state.
Thursday night, the council voted 6-3 against Grimmer’s request that the parish hire an attorney to appeal a court order directing him to sign a parish check to pay a $453,000 bill for road engineering work.
Grimmer had balked at paying Alvin Fairburn and Associates and McLin & Associates for plans the companies put together for road resurfacing projects. Grimmer said he never authorized the work and the companies did more work than was needed.
Earlier this month, Judge Zoey Waguespack of 21st Judicial District Court ordered the parish president to pay the firms within 30 days.
Prior to that order, the Parish Council had adopted a resolution instructing Grimmer to pay the bill.
After the council refused Thursday night to pay for an attorney to defend Grimmer, the parish president said he wasn’t surprised at the council’s decision.
“That’s nothing less than I expected,” Grimmer said.
“This ruling is a bad ruling and it affects administrations statewide,” he said, adding that he would move forward with the appeal on his own.
In an interview, Grimmer said that under the ruling, a parish council could administer a contract any way it wants.
“If you have five votes (on the council), you don’t need a parish president,” he said.
Grimmer said he plans to hire the Taylor Porter Brooks and Phillips law firm to continue the appeal and will use the same attorney, Harry “Skip” Philips Jr., who handled the case in state District Court.
Grimmer said while he is ready to pay for the attorney himself, he hopes the public will assist him.
Phillips argued in District Court that the case should have been filed as a lawsuit, rather than a mandamus action, so that the details of the dispute could be heard in court.
A mandamus “short-circuits the questions” that could be taken up in a civil suit, Philips maintained.
A writ of mandamus issued by a court requires an official to take a specific action, such as paying the firms in this case.
Julie Baxter, attorney for the two firms, said in the hearing conducted by Waguespack that the parish’s home rule charter does not grant the parish president authority to veto Parish Council resolutions.
She said the contract was an agreement between the council and the firms, and the parish president’s only duties were to sign the contract and to pay the bills.
Baxter said no legal vehicle exists to resolve the matter, except for the mandamus action brought by the firms.
The matter involves parish road overlay work, an issue that has long been a battleground between Grimmer and a majority of the council.
Grimmer said he didn’t give written authorization for the firms to plan $11.5 million in roadwork, and the parish can afford to proceed with only $3.5 million in roadwork this year.
He estimated the amount owed the engineering firms for this year’s road overlay program is about $170,000.
The firms did the engineering on a list of roads given to them by the council, said Eddie Aydell, the chief engineer for Fairburn.
He said the firms had no way of knowing how much money the parish planned to spend on roadwork and that plans not used now can be used later.
Thursday night, the council voted to let a contract for $3 million in roadwork that was included in those plans to Coastal Bridge Co. LLC, which submitted the lowest of five bids received.
That work should start in 30 to 45 days and be completed in 160 days, Aydell told the council.
On the issue of paying an attorney to appeal the writ of mandamus, council members A.C. “Buddy” Mincey, Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale voted to pay for an attorney to represent the parish president. Randy Rushing, Jimmie McCoy, Eddie Wagner, Thomas Watson, Ronnie Sharp and Don Wheat voted against Grimmer’s request.