tangi town hall.jpg

Village of Tangipahoa

The mayor of a Tangipahoa Parish village blocked the town’s Board of Aldermen from holding a meeting, adding to an already bitter division between the mayor and the board, which accused the mayor this week of overstepping her authority and neglecting her duties.

Alderman for the village of Tangipahoa, a rural town of about 700 residents, had called a special meeting Tuesday evening. Residents had told the board that the city was shutting off water to some who had paid their bills while allowing several others to rack up hundreds of dollars in nonpayments.

But when village officials arrived for the late Tuesday afternoon meeting, the doors to the Village Hall were locked. They say Mayor Trashica Robinson ordered the village clerk not to let residents or aldermen inside.

Alderman Ricky Coleman, who also serves as mayor pro tem, said the mayor gave no explanation for locking the town hall doors.

“(The mayor) has no ability to lock the doors to the aldermen,” he said.

Robinson didn’t return messages seeking comment about concerns aldermen have raised.

The latest clash added fuel to a simmering feud between the village’s governing body and the mayor.

Last year, arguments over an ex-NFL player’s late-night club divided officials when aldermen sought to require the club close at 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m.

Each side dug their heels in when debating the ordinance for Club 81, which was opened in the ‘90s by now-deceased former Baltimore Raven wide receiver Michael Jackson Dyson.

Robinson had argued the club brings business to the community and had safety measures in place because its security relied on law enforcement working at the club. The three Aldermen had said they wanted a better image for the community and expressed worries about safety late at night.

The mayor vowed to veto the ordinance but was unable to do so after the town clerk abruptly quit. The clerk was the village's only employees, so the village hall closed for several days.

The nightclub sued the Board of Aldermen earlier this year, claiming that it retaliated against the club by denying a business permit because of a previous lawsuit.

The village has been without an attorney since January, and aldermen say they personally paid more than $1,500 in legal costs when the club sought a restraining order against them.

Coleman said he had hoped to address during the special meeting how the city can balance both its need to collect on water payments and work with residents with outstanding bills, while also balancing the important need of running water because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Officials were also planning to review an audit of village finances, which some say may have shed light on recent problems some residents have faced when their water was shut off even after they paid on time.

Another concern aldermen planned to address Tuesday was the lapsed insurance on the Village Hall, which lapsed in February. They say that puts Tangipahoa on the hook if a storm or other unforeseen accident damaged the building.

Alderman Debrah Cyprian said she and other officials didn’t find out the village has been without property insurance until last month.

“Hurricane season is not over yet,” Cyprian said. “If a storm comes through, we don’t have a city hall.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Micah “Ki Ki” Davidson, 30, said she’s fallen behind on her water bill after being laid off from her job. When federal unemployment lapsed at the end of July, her finances got even tighter.

She had also spent more than half of the $1,200 federal stimulus check on her water bill earlier this year. On a few occasions, the balance on her water bill didn’t reflect the times she paid what she could, a problem she says some of her other neighbors have had in the past.

“Everybody in Tangipahoa is saying they don’t know why their bills are so high,” Davidson said.

Earlier this month, the city shut off Raymond Fitzmorris’ water, which came as a surprise to him because he hasn't missed the $71 monthly charge in the seven years he’s lived in Tangipahoa.

Though he only went without water for a night, Fitzmorris said he had planned to bring up the issue to the mayor and aldermen during the village meeting.

The board plans to bring up their issues, including getting the village insurance for its property, at its upcoming meeting this month.

Some board members say they worry they’ll have little time to address the village's problems before the end of the year, when some of them plan to retire.

“We really have a mess,” Coleman said.

Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad