The new mayor of French Settlement is casting doubt on decisions made by her predecessor, who abruptly resigned — including the decision to seek federal emergency money from Tropical Storm Barry.
Toni Guitrau, who had been at the village’s helm since 2004, resigned abruptly in an end-of-year letter to residents Dec. 13. Alderman Danette Aydell Carrier, also the village’s Mayor Pro Tem, resigned a few days later.
That spurred then-alderman Rhonda Lobell to resign from her position to take over as mayor. Kim Demarest was appointed alderman to replace Carrier.
Wednesday marked the village’s first meeting under the new administration.
Lobell didn’t mention Guitrau by name during the meeting, but did reference the change in leadership and the difficulties that have come with it as the village enters the new year.
Lobell said she planned to withdraw a request for Federal Emergency Management Funds Guitrau made in the wake of Barry. She said the request didn't match up with work actually performed after the storm.
The village received minimal damage from Barry, Lobell said, and it required very little local response.
The reimbursement request would’ve covered 25% of volunteer work, Lobell said during the meeting. That includes 45 hours of work listed for one volunteer that included village briefings, patrolling and high water detail and a police officer’s use of a four-wheeler to clear 7.5 miles of roadway on La. 16.
Those two volunteers were present at the meeting and said that wasn’t an accurate representation of what they did. The police officer said he cleared about three quarters of a mile of roadway after energy companies scattered mud while they were staging for potential disaster response.
The other volunteer said he put in only a few hours’ work furnishing a generator and air conditioner that had lost electricity.
“I have to tell you it disturbs me and I won’t be a part to any of that,” Lobell said. “I will probably have it audited or reviewed and will withdraw. We just don’t need the money that bad and these documents are not correct.”
The Village of French Settlement is going into the New Year with a new mayor, a new alderman and a lot of work to do.
In addition, Lobell said Guitrau took down the town’s official Facebook page, canceled the town credit card and wiped both her desktop computer and a town iPad back to factory settings, Lobell said, meaning a lot of reconfiguration needs to be done.
She does not have access to the passwords for the back end of the Village of French Settlement’s official website, which means the site also needs to be reconstructed.
The one alderman position still vacant — Lobell's former seat — was filled during Wednesday night’s meeting by resident Gene Eleazar. Eleazar, who will also serve as the village’s Mayor Pro Tem and emergency management designee, is an architect with Alvin and Fairburn who has emergency management experience from helping with Livingston Parish School Board’s recovery from the 2016 flood.