The chairman of the Iberville Parish Council is calling for the resignation of Councilwoman Courtney Lewis, who hasn't shown up to work in months — but he says the calls haven't been answered because nobody can find her.
Lewis, 34, has missed every monthly meeting since April, while complaints from her constituents are stacking up. She has been collecting her monthly paycheck of about $1,600 but hasn't checked in with her colleagues on the 13-member board.
"I’ve been on the council 16 years and I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Council Chairman Matthew H. Jewell. “It saddens me because the people in that district don’t know what’s going on.”
Other council members have been fielding calls from Lewis' constituents in District 6, which covers the eastern part of Plaquemine, as well as areas south of the city. Those complaints have ranged from missed garbage pick-ups to help with downed trees and other areas in disrepair, Jewell said.
"I can assure you the people in the district weren't left without any help," Parish President Mitch Ourso said.
Records show Lewis has missed nearly 70 percent of the parish's council meetings since taking office in 2016.
Meeting minutes reviewed by The Advocate list her absent in 35 of the 51 council meetings during her time on the council. The longest consecutive stretch she's missed extends nearly six months — since this April. The only other meeting she attended in 2019 was in January.
The council doesn't have the power to remove Lewis from office and appoint someone else for the job in the meantime, and state laws only allow for a few legal paths to remove a local elected official. Residents can submit a petition to the governor's office asking for a Lewis' removal; more than one-third of voters in her district would have to sign it.
Lewis, a Democrat, didn't file for re-election this year, and four candidates are bidding for the open seat Saturday. The winner cannot take office until January.
Jewel said he plans to propose a change to the Home Rule Charter to allow for the removal of council members who miss meetings without having a good reason. Another option he's mulling would be to withhold a council member's salary, which is about $19,000 per year.
The council still has a handful of items on its to-do list before the end of the year, including the 2019 budget.
Jewell expressed concerns that certain projects in Lewis' district might be missed without a representative to push for them. Though the council has the option to amend its spending when a new member joins, the process takes time, and spending changes don't always sit well with the public or certain council members.
"I'm kind of disappointed myself," Ourso said. "The people in her district deserve representation."
Efforts to reach Lewis this week were unsuccessful, and messages to phone numbers under her name weren't returned. The phone number listed on the parish council website was also deactivated.
Local law enforcement said Lewis has not been reported as a missing person during her absence.
Jewell said he hasn't heard from Lewis since she called him this summer to request a new cell phone, which he rejected. He said others on the council don't know where she is and aren't even sure if she still lives in the area.
"I just wish we could find her and ask her to resign," Jewell said.